Barack Obama’s three-day presidential campaign swing through Southern California concluded on Fat Tuesday. Unfortunately, I missed the 1.3 million dollar Beverly Hills fundraiser co-hosted by media mogul and Clinton nemesis David Geffen. Instead, I was in my five-year olds classroom assuming the enormous responsibility of designated daddy helper.
When I walked in, the walls were splattered with patriotic themes. Prominently featured was George Washington, the nation’s first president who conceivably could have owned one of my relatives, and Abraham Lincoln, a perennial loser who ultimately played a historic role in uniting the country during the Civil War.
What I found particularly noteworthy were the black silhouettes of every student under the title Future Presidents. Interestingly enough, the lesson plan focused on the letter O.
Although this wasn’t my first time investing in my son’s educational future, I was struck by the exponential growth I’ve observed over the last few months with these young minds that will soon be of voting age. Similar to the throngs of crowds for Senator Obama in Iowa and New Hampshire, the kids appeared ecstatic to have me there. Yet I don’t recall any of these children questioning whether I was black enough to handle administering a test, cutting paper supplies, assisting in coloring, or stapling take-home reading materials for their parents.
In fact, it seems the only occupation these days where a sliding scale of one’s blackness is a factor in securing the job is leader of the free world.
And that’s ironic, especially with former presidential candidates Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Carol Mosley Braun, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Alan Keyes having each run in both major political party primaries. But their skin color was more peripheral because republicans and democrats alike knew these candidates were incapable of winning. Obama, however, is someone who could conceivably cross the finish line. While a Gallup Poll conducted earlier this month estimates Obama’s support at 21 percent as opposed to 40 percent for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, another poll indicates that 62 percent of Americans have stated that they’re actually ready for an African-American in the White House.
That said, the mainstream media continues to fan racial flames while feigning ignorance as to how this single issue sensationalizes the 2008 presidential election. Reports that Clinton currently outpolls Obama among likely African Americans voters ignore that the racial makeup of his home state of Illinois is 68 percent white, 15 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Asian. It disregards that a place like Texas is 52 percent white, 32 percent Hispanic, 11 percent black and 3 percent Asian. These geographic areas, not to mention Florida and California, are essential for any candidate who wants to secure the party’s nomination.
Speaking about education, healthcare, and rural development at a recent visit to South Carolina, Obama wasn’t vying with other hopefuls for black support. He’ll get it, and both Clinton and former Senator John Edwards knows it. African-Americans comprise fifty percent of the Democratic primary voters there. First to secede from the Union and recently crowned the best place for blacks to live, South Carolina has been generous to compelling candidates who also happen to be of color. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 primary win is the clearest affirmation of that.
Whether African-Americans are allegedly "divided" over Obama’s "blackness", however, misconstrues some of the underlying concerns many of us privately voice. Will he be assassinated if he’s elected? Does he have sufficient armor to withstand the attacks on his family, background, and limited experience? Will he embarrass us and jeopardize the gains made by our ancestors? If white folks are so stricken with Barack fever, does that mean that interests unique to African-Americans will be hijacked? These are the probing questions currently being contemplated.
History tells us why. While earlier leaders of African descent came from education, law, and labor, the black leadership mantle was usurped by theologians starting in the 1950’s. With mega-church congregants as a captive audience, too many individuals today with reverend or pastor in front of their name are either dead like King, grappling with ill health like Farrakhan, or representing themselves to be the exclusive voices of black America a la Sharpton.
Obama doesn’t portend to be such a voice. Instead, his actions speak – volumes. Part of a legal team that forced implementation of a federal law to assist disenfranchised Illinois voters, Obama also worked to redraw discriminatory ward boundaries drawn up by the Chicago City Council after the 1990 census. Elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996, the former constitutional law professor has sponsored over 152 bills and resolutions since his two years in Congress.
Americans right now are looking for vision to trump experience in resolving challenging domestic problems as well as the current Iraqi stalemate. Which is why, contrary to conventional wisdom, the 2008 election will not be the most unusual presidential race in its history. The only thing unusual will be that white men may no longer have an exclusive monopoly over securing the brass ring.
Barack Obama has been quoted as saying. "At every juncture in history, there has been somebody who said we can’t so we shouldn’t even try. I am here to tell you — YES WE CAN."
My son’s the only black kid in his class and lives in a comfortable, predominantly white suburb. His personal connection to slavery and Jim Crow laws is exclusively through his grandparents. When this boy grows up, will he be accused of not being black enough?
By the time both my sons and their schoolmates are parents, raising the issue will seem meaningless. By then, Obama won’t be featured on a wall for future Kindergartners because of his lineage. He’ll be featured despite of it.
Former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross is a legal, social and political commentator.