I could not help but be moved last night given the historic circumstances that we are living under. But as I saw black folks running in the streets, loudly cheering, honking horns until 2 and 3 in the morning I could not help but feel a bit dazzled, bewildered, and downright scared at what the future holds for Black America...The media has appropriated Martin King's "dream" and juxtaposed it with Barack's victory--yet by 1968 King knew that the larger battle was, in some way, defeating the demons of economic exploitation that proved to be as much of an evil as racism was and is in America. Barack made an important point in his victory speech last night of saying that his win is only, and essentially, a minor victory as there is tons of work to be done. In the spirit of this line of reasoning I came across a piece written by James Baldwin for Esquire Magazine in 1960 entitled "Fifth Avenue, Uptown." This except captures my sentiments;
"The people, however, who believe that this democratic anguish has some consoling value are always pointing out that So-and-S0, white, and So-and-So, black, rose from the slums into the big time. The existence--the public existence--of, say, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. proves to them that America is still the land of opportunity and that the inequalities vanish before the determined will. It proves nothing of the sort. The determined will is rare--at the moment, in this country, it is unspeakably rare--and the inequalities suffered by the many are in no way justified by the rise of a few. A few have always risen--in every country, every era, and in the teeth of regimes which can by no stretch of the imagination be thought of as free. Not all these people, it is wirth remembering, left the world better than they found it. The determined will is rare, but it is not invariably benevolent. Furthermore, the American equation of success with the big time reveals an awful disrespect for human life and human achievement. This equation has placed our cities among the most dangerous in the world and has placed our youth among the most empty and most bewildered. This situation of our youth is not mysterious. Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. They must, they have no other models. That is exactly what our children are doing. They are imitating our immortality, our disrespect for the pain of others."
The brotha has risen to heights unimaginable and we honor him but we cannot see this as the victory. We are still battling levels of residential racial segregation that rival any era in American history. We are still battling a failing and broken educational system. We are still battling health disparities along racial and income lines. And, if Barack's race-neutral posture during the election is any indication, we are still battling racism--albeit in a mutated form--institutional racism. The political machine that continues to reproduce these inequalities is the one that got him elected and, which will be the real test of his integrity and resolve, SHOULD be the one he seeks to challenge and, to the best of his ability, change. How will a black man with the highest executive job in the land be constrained? What have we really overcome?
I have no overwhelming sense of joy today...but rather, an overwhelming sense of anticipation. Some may call is cynicism. I call it criticism. You can call it what you like. But we have got a long way to go. As passionately we have supported our now President-Elect in this campaign we must be equally so in holding him accountable as the days, months, and years move forward.
In the SAME America that elected a Black President, Florida, California, and Arizona all voted in favor of amending their constitutions to ban gay marriage, Arkansas voted to ban gay couples from adopting children, and Nebraska voted to ban affirmative action. We have a LONG way to go.