This article appeared today as the first of my weekly contributions to the online magazine, BlackPower.com. Thank you to Taylour "Little Chicken" Johnson for helping with the editing of this article.
Without a doubt, Tuesday, November 4, 2008 will become a date that is memorized by students across the United States, and in the world, as a great day in human history. It will be marked as a day when the most powerful, and arguably the most racist, nation in world history elected a person of African descent, the most vulnerable and exploited people in history, to lead itself.
But the election of Barack Obama does not change the fact that this country was built on the backs of African peoples. His election does not change that this nation continues to thrive and survive on the stolen and undervalued labor of people of color, particularly black folks, immigrants, and the unpaid labor of women in our homes. His election does not change the fact that America is an occupying power and continues to practice colonial rule at a time when even the old European colonial powers have largely recognized the fiscal, political, and metaphysical drain that pulls on perpetual colonizers.
Now that Senator Obama is President-elect Obama, he holds a unique responsibility to not only speak a rhetoric of change but to act as a change agent. If the hope that he has inspired is to grow instead of becoming a collective canker, he must show that he is willing to challenge, at least inasmuch as he can, the imperialist and capitalist nation that he will soon lead. In essence, a President Obama, if he expects to live up to the expectations that he has created, must imagine a new U.S. that begins to reject America as usual.
Barack Obama was elected President of the United States because of a confluence of personal charisma, a message of hope, and a set of political and economic circumstances created by eight years of monolithic Republican rule. Under that rule, the Right made no attempt to veil its attempts to transfer as much wealth from the working people of this nation to the corporate elite of America. November 4, 2008 was a grassroots repudiation of Wall Street politics.
Barack Obama rode into the White House on a wave of angst and a deep, fundamental need of the people to believe in something greater than themselves, something tangible, something different and yet something that looked and felt familiar. Working class people (white and black, brown, yellow and red) turned out based on hope. Barack Obama, through his words, actions, and astute politicking latched onto a nascent kernel of hope and fanned it into an impressive, historical, grassroots movement not seen in this country since the Civil Rights era. To win an election based on a message of hope is an awesome spiritual, mental, and political feat. Yet, with the raising of hopes comes the raising of expectations. And having the audacity to hope and to inspire hope in others also comes with a responsibility: the responsibility of hope.
Unfortunately, Obama, an avowed capitalist, seems to have a heart of gold and a mind that is still partially colonized. To judge him for being a product of the nation in which he was raised is not helpful. Recognizing it helps us all to see that the responsibility of hope also resides with each of us. There will come a time when President Obama disappoints us. That is why it is incumbent on us, people of African descent, to use this political and spiritual moment as a time to organize our communities both as a basis for our own localized change but also as a physical, spiritual, and political support for President Obama when he inevitably stumbles.The chains of the mind, even in as inspiring a man as Barack Obama, are deep, long, solid, and largely invisible.
Fifty-two million people believed enough in Obama to go to the voting booths and vote their hopes. The day after the election the United States was still the United States. We are still at war in two nations. We still hold Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands in bondage. The unemployment rate continues to climb and the number of uninsured as well. The material nature of America did not change from one day to the next. But, anyone that has ears to hear and eyes to see or a spirit to feel could touch and taste the alteration of our perspective. The spiritual landscape of the United States radically shifted at 11:00pm EST when the last polls closed on the West Coast. At that moment, we set our feet to a new path, that if walked together, hand in hand with our new President, can lead us into a new way of being, one about which so many of us have dreamed, but one that few of us believed could even begin to happen in this lifetime.
We stand at a critical moment in our black history. Barack Obama owes a debt of hope to the people of this nation. His actions must begin and end with lifting up the least of us. Anything less is a betrayal of the inspiration and feeling that sent him to the White House. Yet, it is also our responsibility, We the Hopeful of these United States, to commit ourselves to living and being in a way that promotes freedom, builds and strengthens our black families and our communities, and helps, supports and holds lovingly and critically accountable Barack Obama.
We shall overcome. Today.