Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Last night HBO showed a documentary entitled, "The Black List, Volume One." The program features Blacks from various backgrounds talking about their life, their memories, their hopes, their fears, their opinions, their present, and their future. It was candid in that it truly conveyed the variety of people from the African Diaspora, and allowed them an uninterrupted opportunity to just talk.
On the show, Chris Rock spoke about something his father use to share with him. His father said that "you can not beat the White man by a point or two; you can't have 6 and he have 5. You can't let the scorecard go to the judges, because you'll lose. You have to knock em out."
That story made me think of something my mentor Fordham University professor Dr. Mark Naison said this week. He cited how Barack Obama needs to follow the example Harry S. Truman and James Brown by tirelessly working. To be at every single place were you can find working-class people. He said this is how Barack can win over working-class America.
Chris Rock’s story made me think of Dr. Naison’s analogy: Barack Obama is going to have to knock out his opponent; and the only way to do this is to outwork him.
My other mentor, Dr. Brian Purnell, pointed out that he needs to out work him in a way that is meaningful. Dr. Purnell spoke about the work of Bobby Kennedy. He said
“Before his decision to run, Bobby spent time in some of the poorest, most struggling sections of not only the country, but the world!
As Senator Kennedy, before he was the official candidate, Bobby visited America's urban and rural impoverished ghettos; he even toured mines and slums in South America.
By the time King was murdered, Bobby was able to speak…to people who were enraged and hurt and they felt him in a way that would have been impossible if he did not learn to empathize, internalize, as well as intellectualize people's economic and social pain in an honest, direct way.”
Indeed, this comment brought me back to the work Senator Obama did before he was even a senator; when he was a community organizer in Chicago. And it reminded me what Obama needs to continue doing.
He needs to be in the housing projects of the Bronx; in Atlanta's or Michigan's troubled school systems; in the streets of urban Philadelphia and Baltimore; in towns like Flint, MI, or Youngstown, OH; in the communities of Liberty City, FL. Senator Obama needs to be there not for photo-ops, but to hear and (most importantly) feel the struggle.
What makes a leader great is their ability to feel their people's struggle enough that they can resonate it to any crowd, to any audience. And that feeling within them, becomes strong enough for the people to believe in them.
Barack's brilliance is that he attempts to convince all of us to be leaders, by trying to make us see the best within ourselves. Obama is trying to follow in the spirit of what a great leader does: Love us at our worst, because you want to help us be our best.
Racism, sexism, patriarchy, elitism----all of these show America at its worst. And all these things have been salient over the past twelve months of this Presidential election. It has been really ugly. But most illuminating, it shows we may not be as far past prejudice, inequality, discrimination, and segregation as we would like to believe.
On Charlie Rose yesterday, Connie Schultz of the Cleveland's Plain Dealer said how people that say "they don't really know Barack Obama," "is he patriotic," or "is he really one of us," are all code for race. For me, it sounds like "I don't know this Black man; and I don't trust him either."
For nineteen months Barack has been trying to transcend the idea of race. Even his Philadelphia speech attempted to directly face his own identity within America's racial construct, but to confront it in a way that allows us to move past it. And as Schultz evaluation points out, it hasn't quite worked out.
Obama can only attempt to inspire change. The rest is left for us: to really look inside ourselves, and examine our beliefs and behaviors.
In the face of mainstream press coverage that over the past ten days has ridiculously emphasized every negative and every doubt that exists about Barack's resonance with "working-class America" (AKA White people who are not convinced yet); in the face of still being bombarded with rhetoric about a Democratic candidate who lost already, but yet the media still harps on every single day; in the face of a Democratic political dynasty that is still visibly upset about their improbable lost during this campaign, and still will not exhibit a visible, sincere advocacy for the winner of the contest; in the face of all of this, last night Michelle Obama still found a way to give a exceptional opening night speech that exulted her roots, her husband, her political party, and even the unyielding Hillary Clinton.
She was truly inspirational.
And so tonight, my only hope is that Hillary Clinton is gracious. Gracious enough to humbly acknowledge her defeat head-on, to recognize the large constituency that still clings to her, and to be self-less enough to turn it into a sincere call to support Barack Obama.
Otherwise, she and the Clinton legacy will only mirror the very bitterness and resentment Barack pointed out in his March race speech.
Race is still an issue in America because of all the other issues that come along with it: prison-industrial complex, funding for public schools, etc. Race is still an issue because it underpins some of the foundational problems of this country dating back to it "founding fathers." Race is still an issue because it works at the intersection of so many of America's contemporary problems.
This election brings out the issues of the times, if you can look past the political squabbling and media rhetoric.
What we need from a President, what we need from our leaders, what we need in all our communities, are truth-tellers that help us see these issues. We need people who love us at our worst, because they want to help us become our best.
That's what we need in a President.