As the first 100 days of the Obama presidency draws nigh upon its superficial close, I am proactively processing the (in)significance of this arbitrary time marker for myself before the empire’s pundits attempt to convince me that the red punch is kool-aid. Undoubtedly, a Black (i.e. invested in the liberation and holistic being of black people) perspective will remain conspicuously absent while CNN continues to disseminate drivel as serious journalism. Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien (and other microphoned jesters masquerading as the informed) will conjecture ad nauseam about the implications of President Obama’s first 100 days in office. However, for the descendants of slaves, 100 days is a grossly inadequate window of time to hold President Obama accountable to. The gravity of 400 years of horrific suffering and systemically engineered genocide is a more fitting timeline to situate President Obama in. This is the timeline that black folk must consider if we desire to critically and accurately assess the meanings and merits of President Obama.
That said, there is an overwhelming tendency for black Americans to be enthralled (both meanings are appropriate and applicable here) by an Obama presidency, but few of us (Americans of African descent) have taken the time to consider what a “historic” moment means- and more importantly, what it will mean- once contextualized by the history that informs that moment.
For many black folks like my mother, this moment is poetic justice. My mother (a 60 year old black woman born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama) has experienced America’s state-sanctioned and federally approved domestic terrorism firsthand. She knows the dehumanizing reality of Jim Crow and she can still taste the shame in her tears every time white children called her father, boy. She will never forget the soul-numbing screams that arrested her ears and paralyzed my grandmother that Sunday morning when their place of worship, 16th Street Baptist Church, was bombed and her four classmates were murdered in order to protect American values and a status quo power dynamic that has been rigorously enforced with noosed rope and tree limb, police brutality and judicial misconduct (pardon the euphemism) since the Dred Scott decision of 1857.
My mother, patient and strong, after raising 3 boys into men while working nights and weekends at the post office for 35 years, never thought she would see the day when a black man would operate the political machinery of slave owners. But alas, that day came on January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. Determined to observe this event firsthand, my mother traveled by train to the nation’s capital, stood hours in a bone-chilling cold, and shed joyous tears as she witnessed the first African American sworn in as president. I stayed at home.
While at home, I grew weary and disgusted with the media’s incessant offensive of agenda setting campaigns that hoped to convince me and my 17 month old daughter that January 20, 2009, serves as an epoch for race relations in America. Unfortunately, I know too many shriveled raisins in the sun to be suckered into the sensationalism of a rating-crazed media cycle. The career triumph of Barack Obama (despite its historical significance) does little to speak to the enduring legacy of hunger, desperation and marginalization suffered by disenfranchised black people. This undeserved and underrepresented faction of the American populace still can’t afford the audacity of hope when they are constantly assaulted by the farce of the American dream.
This year, I found celebrations of Dr. King and his legacy to be extremely problematic. As the media attempted to wed Dr. King’s holiday with Obama’s inauguration, Dr. King’s already trivialized and sound bitten dream was further boiled into a homogenized broth of nothingness and left to stew in its own watered-downed juices within the debasing melting pots of politics and culture. I’m still wondering how people justify their comparisons of Dr. King and President Obama. Dr. King opposed and protested against the hypocritical political vehicles that President Obama is determined to drive. The resistance and purpose of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom should not be lost in the ostentatious hoopla of an inauguration jubilee, especially when the black masses are still vying for economic empowerment and financial autonomy and are still fighting for social/political liberation.
Months removed from a vacuous inauguration ceremony, my mother still advances that President Obama is worth celebrating. She articulated her views to me as we watched the evening news and dined on leftover meatloaf and peas. Although she admonished my skepticism with her quixotic notions of hope, she managed to question her irresponsive president via a 19-inch black and white television in her quaint kitchen, “Why you still givin’ all that money to them banks? Why is you puttin’ all them Wall Street cons in yo’ office fo’? What is you doin’ on Leno when Mr. Moore still got to choose ‘tween his rent and medicines?” After a sigh and sip of tea, she answers herself, “Lawd, have mercy.”
Despite her recent concerns and dubious dinner conversation, my mother still believes that President Obama is a political milestone that signifies radical change and brings us closer to actualizing Dr. King’s dream. I guess that after weathering 60 years of oppression and tiring struggle, I’m just glad she found a dream worth holding on to. My personal perspectives on progress (or the dire lack of) don’t grant me that much room for dreaming. My mother often tells me that I find too much credence in Malcolm X’s famed speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in which he asserts,
I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American. Why, if birth made you American, you wouldn’t need any legislation, you wouldn’t need any amendments to the Constitution, you wouldn’t be faced with civil-rights filibustering in Washington D.C… No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism… I’m speaking as the victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.