By: Steeve Simbert
Originally published on THE COEUS HOUSE.
Race is not singularly an American experience, but a global phenomenon. Indeed, Barack Obama, the subject of this essay, is himself a melting pot and racially complex mixture of ethnic and cultural bloodlines rooted in various parts of the world. Barack Obama, the President of the United States and the most powerful man in the world, is who he is today because of his past, his experiences, and his self-created identity. Likewise, as I aim to comprehend race in America, I must bring my perspective as an immigrant who enjoys life as a citizen of the global community of nations. I must not only view these issues through the lens of global nomad, nor simply as an independent immigrant pursuing the American dream; I am exploring the world in an attempt to understand my true purpose for living and realizing my mission in life before my death.
With this personal perspective, I will write a biographical account of “Barack Obama and Race” as a black man. In addition, I shall explore my interpretation of race in the United States and the world, since what occurs here impacts all who participate in this globalized and interconnected world. It would also be remiss of me not to mention all the hard work of my ancestors who have fought an interminable battle for centuries to combat global racism. I, as Isaac Newton wrote, stand “on the shoulders of giants,” so I must touch upon the role of the Haitian Revolution, the Négritude movement and the U.S. Civil Rights movement that created the path for a “Barack Obama” today. Although Barack Obama never campaigned on a black agenda, I take second seat to no one that President Obama can and should be doing more for people of his same or similar heritage, especially as an empathetic thinker with an extraordinary comprehension of his past, his own struggle for identity, and the struggle of his people. In the 2010 event “We Count! The Black Agenda is the America Agenda”, one of America’s most renowned public intellectuals, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson said it best:
I tell you Mr. Obama to deal with the Black Agenda just like every president before you had to do. How are you going to be different? Abraham Lincoln had to deal with race. George Washington had to deal with race. LBJ had to deal with race. How come you are the first President that ain’t got to deal with race. It wasn’t a Black President who passed the Civil Right bill. It wasn’t a Black President who passed the Voting Right Act. It wasn’t a Black President who passed the Fair Housing Act. It wasn’t a Black President who dealt with fair housing. It wasn’t a Black President who dealt with affirmative action. If you want to be like every President, deal with race. If you want to be great, deal with the Negro question.
None of us – black, white, Latino, or Asian – is immune to the stereotypes that our culture continues to feed us, especially stereotypes about black criminality, black intelligence, or the black work ethic.
Race is at the core of our nation’s identity. This issue is very important to me because that struggle is a part of my ancestors’ legacy and has created the path to success for my generation. The struggle of black people takes place worldwide. In that regard, I am a wounded man in my heart as a black man in the world. It is critical to address global racial issues, if we are to respect and honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nation in this global era. Clearly, as an American resident, I should join the forces in this movement here in the U.S. At the same time, when I see the struggle of my people around the world, I have a greater duty to develop a global self-created identity as a universal citizen in the community of nations. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, I have a dream: I dream that one day, as black man in the world, we have a global movement, and a universal peaceful revolution to promote our African Négritude Dream. This dream must create opportunity, economic sustainability, and prosperity to our union. Thus, I am no longer as concerned about what the status quo can do for the disparity gap that exists among blacks and other races, although I understand the necessity of using the “accommodationist” model by working and trading with the people in power. I am also not a fanatic to only use the “revolutionary” model, although I understand its historical importance. Moreover, I have no appreciation for the “isolationist” model. Instead, I am concerned about what it is that we can do for ourselves, and our own people who are struggling in all four corners of the world.
In this essay, I will discuss Barack Obama and race through a global lens. I embrace a mindset that through an African Négritude Solidarity Movement people of African descent will become one hundred percent accountable for our own actions and success, particularly if we commit ourselves to make the world a better place for everyone. It is only in that way that we can create and guarantee a better and brighter path for future generations. As conscious citizens of the world, we must dig deeper into the words of Socrates in the Apology, line 38 A, when he wrote that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Let’s challenge our souls to always have the courage to think critically and to cure the ills of the world. In doing so, Barack Obama and all of us can embrace and practice the message of Dr. King: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Haitian Revolution and its Racial Impact in Our Historical Global Community
“Haiti où la négritude se mit debout pour la première fois et dit qu’elle croyait à son humanité.” – Aimé Cesaire
It is impossible to talk about race without addressing the historical global impact of the Haitian Revolution. In the words of Francis Bacon, “It is the true office of history to represent the events themselves, together with the counsels, and to leave the observations and conclusions thereupon to the liberty and faculty of every man’s judgment.”
With this in mind and in order to have a greater understanding of race in the age of Barack Obama, we must briefly comprehend its historical global racial implications. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
The Haitian Revolution, indeed, changed the course of the black race in the history of the world.
“My decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block forever the march of the blacks in the world,” famously proclaimed Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the world’s greatest military leaders and emperors who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century. Despite this declaration, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture, challenged the authority of Napoleon. Toussaint believed that although he was born a slave, nature gave him the soul of a free man. In the words of Toussaint, “Whatever defamation of character my enemies are spreading about me, I do not feel the need to justify myself toward them. While discretion obliges me to remain silent, my duty compels me to prevent them from doing any more harm.”
Toussaint Louverture, depicted by Montfayon
Even in the late 18th century, when Negroes were considered subhuman, Beauchamp would say, “Toussaint had a driving vision to create a society in which people of all races would be equal before the law and could rise according to their abilities.”
In the end, Toussaint’s military genius and political acumen led to the creation of the independent black state of Haiti, transforming an entire society of slaves into a free, self-governing people. Even though he was later forced to resign by forces that were sent by Napoleon, Toussaint famously declared during his captivation, “In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of the black liberty in Saint-Domingue – it will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”
Because of the vision and courage of my ancestors, Negro slaves in Haiti led the greatest revolution in the history of the world against colonialism, slavery, and racism to establish Haiti as the world’s first independent black republic. As a result, the Haitian Revolution “shocked the Western world, reshaped the debates about slavery, accelerated the abolitionist movement, precipitated rebellions in neighboring territories, and intensified both repression and anti-slavery sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic.”
The Haitian Revolution is a stepping-stone for Negroes around the world. As Aimé Césaire wrote in his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land): “[Haiti est] où la négritude se mit debout pour la première fois et dit qu’elle croyait à son humanité” “[Haiti is] where négritude stood up for the first time and said it believed in its humanity.”
Distinguished professor Gregson Davis best summarizes the works of Aimé Césaire’sCahier d’un retour au pays natal in regards to its racial implication in the context of the Haitian Revolution and self-enlightenment:
Self-knowledge pursued mercilessly and aggressively has led to both psychic liberation and empowerment. The finale of Cahier is grand and heavily orchestrated. The speaker now assumes the mask of a triumphant apostle of freedom who is envisaged as ascending to a paradise in which racism is finally left far behind.
To summarize the significance of the Haitian Revolution, the prominent Canadian political philosopher Peter Hallward extraordinarily argues:
Of the three great revolutions that began in the final decades of the eighteenth century —American, French and Haitian— only the third forced the unconditional application of the principle that inspired each one: affirmation of the natural, inalienable rights of all human beings. Only in Haiti was the declaration of human freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day. Only in Haiti were the consequences of this declaration —the end of slavery, of colonialism, of racial inequality— upheld in terms that directly embraced the world as a whole. The declaration of Haitian independence thereby dealt the myth of white supremacy a mortal and thus unforgivable blow.
Finally, the Haitian Revolution examined and surpassed the ontological and political suppositions of even the most radical intellectuals and writers of the Enlightenment period, as it represented a remarkable model of black intelligence that challenged the dominant racist discourses of history. These historical facts have enlightened intellectuals about “the political ethics of universalism and anti-colonial sentiment, and were motivated by the desire to demonstrate and celebrate black agency.” It has reclaimed the belief “in human rights, and they remain sources with which to critique the material and political realities of our present, and to imagine a different future.”
As Dr. Dyson powerfully conferred at Arizona State University, learning “Black History” is essential. The success of Negroes slaves in Haiti who fought to the death and took their independence from what was at the time the most powerful army in the world empowered Negroes in the U.S. and the world to strive towards the prospect of freedom and liberty.
Self-Enlightenment & Global Intellectual Interconnectedness of the Négritude Movement
The literary and ideological Négritude movement, developed by francophone black intellectuals, writers, and politicians in France in the 1930s, was guided by by the poet and future Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor, as well as Martinican poet and politician Aimé Césaire, and the Guianan poet and politician Léon Damas. In Césaire’s own words, “Négritude is the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture.” As a result, “the concept of Négritude thus provided a unifying, fighting, and liberating instrument for the black Francophone students in search of their identity. It was an expression of a new humanism that positioned black people within a global community of equals.”
Young Aimé Cesaire
In his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Césaire writes:
My Négritude is not a stone, its deafness hurled against the clamor of the day
my Négritude is not a leukoma of dead liquid over the earth’s dead eye
my Négritude is neither tower nor cathedral
it takes root in the red flesh of the soil
it takes root in the ardent flesh of the sky
it breaks through opaque prostration with its upright patience.
In other words, Césaire discusses about how his Negro qualities, his blackness or ‘Négritude’ is not the motionless object that society views ‘him’ or ‘his people’ as. Instead, his black character is an energetic one that has to face and endure all kinds of injustices ranging from racism, colonialism, inferiority, to his inhumanness.
As these Africans, or more specifically those from the Caribbean, Africa or the United States, became aware of their mistreatment, they realized the importance of working together to improve the living conditions of black people around the world while confronting colonialism, racism, and Western Imperialism. Indeed, a quite notable demonstration was when Harlem Renaissance intellectuals such as Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, and Claude McKay fled to France to escape racism, segregation, and bigotry in the U.S. It is also worth noting that later on, other American black intellectuals such as James Baldwin fled to France after various kinds of internalized impediments in the quest of being accepted for being a black man in society. Indeed, these kinds of experiences impacted Baldwin’s life tremendously and engrained in his spirit a much-enriched writer, poet, and activist with a global perspective. Today we learn from this rich tradition when we study James Baldwin and his contemporaries and the many others they have influenced.
Haitian poet Jaques Roumain
This entire movement, which was led by influential intellectuals from various colonies of France became more effective worldwide and opened more doors for black people as they immerged from a collective intellectual identity. They interacted with prominent Harlem Renaissance intellectuals and activists, and as a result, the amalgam of their shared knowledge have contributed and impacted the works of black intellectuals and leaders around the world. A remarkable example of such interaction is when the eminent African-American poet, Langston Hughes, translated some of the greatest works of his friend, one of the most prominent figures in Haitian literature and political activist, Jacques Roumain, including Gouverneurs de la Rosée (Masters of the Dew).
As I have made the case in a number of prominent instances, all of these examples clearly demonstrate the mutual exchange that took place between Negroes around the world. These exchanges, in fact, have shaped the future works of black leaders in the United States, starting from the Moses generation and ultimately leading to progress in how we interpret racial issues, both if the U.S. and globally.
Civil Rights Movement: The Moses Generation
Perhaps I should only discuss how there was prejudice and racism during the presidential election and how we are not a post-racial society. But I feel compelled to take more from an analysis of Barack Obama and how his past experiences have helped make him who he is today. Obama had to recreate himself as Malcolm X once did—and in that process he taught himself how to ‘be’ black, in part by reading the works of all those noteworthy black figures who came before him. Obama had great respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, both of whom changed the course of black history around the world.
First, I demonstrated the consequence of the Haitian Revolution as a clear testament of black people manifesting their human right. Second, I connected the impact of the revolution on the intellectuals in the Négritude Movement who aimed to restore the loss of humanity, dignity, integrity, and subjectivity of black identity. This tradition that black people have inherited has enabled our intellectuals, activists, and average citizens to challenge the anthropological and philosophical argument that black people were less intelligent and inferior to white people. As a result, poets and writers had committed to put their artistry at the service of the Négritude, which soon became a literary movement with ideological, philosophical, and political ramifications for global Negroes and their human rights. Indeed, this global racial movement empowered Black leaders in the United States to wish a better future for themselves and their people and thus demand their civil rights. Malcolm X affirmed this when he said:
The common goal of 22 million Afro-Americans is respect as human beings, the God-given right to be a human being. Our common goal is to obtain the human rights that America has been denying us. We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens there until we are first recognized as humans.
These words embody the true nature of the civil right movement in the United States and worldwide, which has stood for equality under the law, including the rights of minorities.
Barack Obama and Race: The Joshua Generation
Given black people’s experiences during slavery in which they endured the worst kinds of abuses imaginable, the black tradition in the United States and many parts of the world started in a state of chaos. But as Frank Etienne, the prolific Haitian novelist, poet and painter says, “chaos is the womb of light and life.”
We must utilize our past as a foundation to know where we come from in order to understand where we are today, and to ultimately change our destiny. Frank Etienne further states, “What I don’t like is nonmanagement of chaos.”
We must stop the divisive actions that exist among us. It is only when we do so that we can come together in the spirit of brotherhood to embrace the national motto of our first black republic, Haiti, “L’Union fait la Force”, which means, “Unity Makes Strength.” The struggles of Dr. King and Malcolm X embody that quintessential hope that still exists today. We must learn from our past, for it is only through our union that we can ultimately hope for a brighter, sustainable future for the millions of black people both in the United States and around the world.
Indeed, hope was a slogan in Barack Obama’s presidential election. He even wrote a book with the name, “The Audacity of Hope.” Clearly, Obama understands the true meaning of hope. In his own words:
Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.
The question now, as we have discussed throughout Barack Obama and Race class is whether Barack Obama, the President of the United States, has a moral and conscious obligation to do more than what he is doing now to help black people escape poverty? The reality is: People of color suffer disproportionately from incarceration and custody at considerably higher rates than their white counterparts.
Furthermore, in the criminal-justice system, racial disparities impend communities of color – marginalizing thousands by controlling voting rights and refusing equal access to employment, housing, public benefits, and education to millions more.
It is statistically proven that the incarceration rates excessively impact men of color: “1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.”
One in three black men is likely to go to prison during their lifetime.
The “war on drugs” has been directed largely toward communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive harsher sentences.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the racial structure in the U.S. prison and jail population in 2008 was “60.21% (African American (non-Hispanic), 20.29% Hispanic, 13.44% White American (non-Hispanic), and 6.06% Other (American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander American, and Multiracial American).”
The racial disparities, mass imprisonment, and overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal system have deprived them from their most basic civil rights and precluded them from being reintegrated into society and engaging in the democratic process.
Furthermore, there are even more examples that solidify the urgency for helping black people in America, given the fact that their condition needs the most amount of help. In the article, published in 2011, 8 Important Statistics that Black American Needs to Recognize, the disparity that exists between blacks and other races in the U.S. is profound. According to a recent analysis issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February 2011, “Although blacks make up only 13.6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 50.3 percent of all diagnosed cases of HIV.”
Moreover, according to a study conducted by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University, “The wealth disparity between white and black households has more than quadrupled, regardless of income bracket.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost half of blacks students in the US “attend high schools in low-income areas with dropout rates that hover in the 40-50% range.”
Because Obama wants to be viewed as the President of the United States and not simply the first black President, the black community, through love, needs to hold him accountable and challenge him to do more for the black people. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson eloquently responded to Tavis Smiley’s question in 2010 “We Count! The Black Agenda is the America Agenda” when he posed the question, “what about the notion that Barack Obama is the first Black President, he doesn’t have to be if we don’t want him to be the last, and there is only so far down the field he can push the ball, maybe our expectations of him as the first are unreasonable?” Dr. Dyson firstly praised Obama for his uniqueness and then compared him to Jackie Robinson:
I am the very first one who said he got to ‘hola’ at white folks and wink at us. So don’t tell me that I didn’t understand that you had to engage in code’s switching, which is the predicate for acceptance in the largest circle of white supremacist logic so that you can get in with the black voice. But don’t get up in there and become whom you said you were again to begin with. Your point is: [and] I am not talking about black vs. white. I am talking right vs. wrong. So my point is: You are the President of everybody, which includes me. I am from America too. I am from Detroit, Michigan. That’s in America…I ain’t got to be White to be part of America. Latinos asking him for something, and they got something. Gays and lesbians say Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, change it. Jewish brothers and sisters say deal with Israel, deal with it. All of these are specific entities. Why is it when it comes to Negroes, why is it when it comes to black folks, all of a sudden we are persona non grata [an unwelcome person]?
The crowd went wild with loud echoes of approval and praise. Dr. Cornel West and other black leaders around the table agreed with Dr. Dyson and were motivated and ecstatic with Dr. Dyson’s comments.
In this spirit, Obama himself “has acknowledged that he owes a great debt to the ‘Moses generation’ of American civil rights-era leaders – activists who made it possible for him to lead his own ‘Joshua generation.’”
Obama discusses in his book, The Audacity of Hope that the Moses generation fought hard to liberate their people but “never saw the ‘Promised land’ of racial equality.” Thus, early on before his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama presented himself at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, and said “I’m here because somebody marched…I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
He boldly, carefully, and intelligently described himself as the leader of the Joshua generation and that he will continue the works of the Moses generation. At the same time, both Democrats and Republicans agree that Obama ran his campaigns “largely on language, on the expression of a country’s potential and the self-expression of a complicated man who could reflect and lead that country.”
Obama made his biracial origin a symbol for his aspiration to form a wide alliance of support, to unite Americans behind a tale of moral and political evolution.
Obama at Occidental College
Indeed, Obama’s book, Dreams from my Father, represents him as someone who has a prodigious comprehension of his racial struggle. Not only was Obama frenzied with insecurity, trying always to reunite the troubling paradoxes of his history, he writes about the stereotypical view that people have about his complexity, “Privately, they guess at my troubled heart, I suppose—the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds.”
Thus, to better understand his past, his struggle, and the struggle of his people, Obama read the works of James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, W. E. B. Du Bois, Franz Fanon, and other black intellectuals and leaders, creating a new identity for himself while reconciling the world in his own perspective given the nature of his surroundings:
But there was no escape to be had. In every page of every book, in Bigger Thomas and invisible men, I kept finding the same anguish, the same doubt; a self-contempt that neither irony nor intellect seemed able to deflect. Even Du Bois’s learning and Baldwin’s love and Langston’s humor eventually succumbed to its corrosive force, each man finally forced to doubt art’s redemptive power, each man finally forced to withdraw, one to Africa, one to Europe, one deeper into the bowels of Harlem, but all of them in the same weary flight, all of them exhausted, bitter men, the devil at their heels. Only Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me.
As Obama learned how to be black, he mastered the art of human socialization. He writes that people, “were satisfied as long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved—such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”
These kinds of examples clearly demonstrate why the current Vice-President Joseph Biden made the comment that, “He’s the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Indeed, Obama as a shrewd negotiator said, “I didn’t take Sen. Biden’s comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns and no one would call them inarticulate.”
Moreover, even Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid made pejorative comments such as, “[Barack Obama] speaks with no Negro dialect, unless he wants to have one.”
After receiving much criticism, Senator Reid apologized, “I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.”
Certainly, Obama, as a mediator of the first order said, “I accepted Harry’s apology without question because I’ve known him for years, I’ve seen the passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice, and I know what’s in his heart.”
Obama, who clearly understands the reality of our time, orchestrated this by saying:
None of us – black, white, Latino, or Asian – is immune to the stereotypes that our culture continues to feed us, especially stereotypes about black criminality, black intelligence, or the black work ethic. In general, members of every minority group continue to be measured largely by the degree of our assimilation – how closely speech patterns, dress, or demeanor conform to the dominant white culture – and the more that a minority strays from these external markers, the more he or she is subject to negative assumptions.
At the same time, Obama faces prejudice against African-Americans. Firstly, black politicians have regarded Obama as arrogant, especially after he unseated the progressive activist, Senator Alice Palmer in 1996 by having his campaign volunteer, Ron Davis, file objections to the legitimacy of her nominating petitions. Next, after Obama became a Senator in the Illinois State Senate he tried to run against Bobby Rush, a former leader of the Black Panthers in Chicago. Rush mocked Obama as being inauthentic and not being black enough. He said, “Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it.”
In addition, although Obama won 95% of the black vote in 2008, at the beginning of the presidential campaign almost an equal number of black leaders supported Hillary Clinton. Firstly, many of them felt that they owed a debt to the Clintons. Nobel prizewinner Toni Morrison called President Clinton, “our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.”
In a 1998 New Yorker essay, Morrison wrote, “[Bill Clinton] displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”
Secondly, as a first-term U.S. Senator, “Barack Obama could not run his campaign for the Presidency based on political accomplishment or on the heroic service of his youth. His record was too slight.”
As a result, many black politicians and leaders didn’t think that Obama had a chance to win the Presidency, and thus stayed loyal to Hillary Clinton. It was only until the end that many black leaders changed sides. John Lewis, a civil rights leader icon, politician, and a strong supporter of the Clintons at the beginning of the race switched sides to Obama when he realized he was in the wrong side of history, “I think the candidacy of Sen. Obama represents the beginning of a new movement in American political history that began in the hearts and minds of the people of this nation. And I want to be on the side of the people, on the side of the spirit of history.”
Likewise, it is worth noting that although black people voted for Obama by a large margin, they had always voted as such for Democrats. Bill Clinton received 83% of the black vote in his first-term and 84% of the black vote in his second term, and Al Gore obtained 90% of the black vote in 2000 and John Kerry gained 88% in 2004.
Black people have overwhelmingly voted for Democrats for six decades for a host of reasons that benefited them. Now, when it comes to other presidents whom black people have voted prodigiously for, black leaders have held them accountable to promote their black agenda; however, when it comes to Obama, for the most part, African-Americans always want to protect him and defend him from any criticisms by other black leaders.
Interestingly, Obama criticized the Congressional Black Caucus in his speech at the Annual Phoenix Awards: “I need your help…Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes…Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.” The black leaders were furious for Obama to have the nerve and criticize his own people in the national media. Yet, they argue that Obama will never dare to criticize white people in the national media.
Another prominent example was when a police officer arrested a distinguished African-American intellectual, Henry Louis Gates, in his own house after the door was jammed upon his arrival home from a trip to China, his neighbors assuming that he was a burglar. Many black leaders criticized this situation and viewed it as a perfect moment for Obama to discuss race relations and law enforcement throughout the United States—and Obama said in a press conference that the police “acted stupidly.” His comments attracted national attention. Obama, as a careful mediator indeed extended an invitation to both Gates and the officer to share a beer with him at the White House.
Months later, President Obama made a remark regarding the killing of 17-year-old- Trayvon Martin, and conservatives condemned Obama for saying, “When I think about this boy, I think of my own kids.”
GOP former presidential contender New Gingrich backfired, “What the president said in a sense is disgraceful. It’s not a question of who that young man looked like.”
Newt Gingrich continued, “Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?”
The reality is: many people do not want to talk about race in the U.S., as they feel that there are some more important issues in our national agenda. However, most black leaders discuss race relations in the spirit of promoting the urgency to help the millions of black people across the U.S. who are under-represented and under-served. Many people simply want to move on from the white vs. black issues. As a response to that, black leaders say it is not a black vs. white issue, but what is “right vs. wrong.” It is a very complicated matter and is one of the most difficult subjects to discuss in America.
In addition, many black leaders from the Moses generation (Martin Luther King Jr.’s time) have endured discrimination, racial profiling, and prejudice. These individuals are more persistent to help their black brothers and sisters. Conversely, the Joshua generation (Obama’s generation) and especially the X,Y,Z generation (my generation) have not faced some of the same injustices that existed in the past for the Moses generation. Undoubtedly, all sides argue that in terms of race relations, we have progressed as a nation and as a world, but our struggle still exists and we must do our part.
As Gandhi said, our part is “to be the change [we] want to see in the world.” As a citizen of the world with a global perspective, it is a breath of fresh air to learn where we come from and study our history in order to better understand and value where we are today so we can create a more sustainable future for everyone. Despite the difficulties of our time, black people around the world are proud of Barack Obama as the President of the most powerful nation in the world. Let us all be reminded of the word of the prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Let us all be reminded of the word of the prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Barack Obama said it best in his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, “There is not a black American and white American and Latino America and Asian American – there is the United States of America.” Let us all join in the spirit of brotherhood to help our less fortunate and vulnerable brothers and sisters around the world. It is only when we do so that we will guarantee a brighter future for all.
Steeve Simbert is a 4th year student at Georgetown University and will study at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris this Fall