2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Obama a Contemporary Don Quixote?

 

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Few of us have really stopped to think of the almost insurmountable obstacles that Barack Obama must and is facing in his quest of the presidency. I have used the word “quest” purposefully since that, which, in my view, Senator Obama is facing, reminds me of what the Man of La Mancha—Don Quixote faced in his legendary quest when he too dreamt of what became an impossible dream.

Like Quijote, Senator Obama is consumed with passion, hope and vision. Unlike Quijote who could not persuade Sancho Panza to see what he saw and to embrace his quest, Senator Obama has been able to exude his passion, fervor and quiet strength to a segment of the American people hungry to embrace a better and brighter tomorrow. Thus, he has been able to assemble an army of Americans who, like him, are seeking to fight the heretofore unbeatable foe and to right the unrightable wrong. He is running where few of the Black brave have dared to run.  As I look at the political landscape and attempt to think through the dilemma he faces and the morass of contradictions that confronts him   in the bowels of America I feel for him.  Consider this.

Senator Obama is presently challenging the “center of power” of the Democratic Party – those whose surrogates - Black, White and brown, speak of “change” but whose sights are really on yesterday and who are not prepared to relinquish the reins of power that they presently hold. He is engaged in a battle against an aging former president who unable to leave center stage uses the defense of his spouse to articulate a vision, who some believe, may be his own. I have heard it said, and it need not be accurate; that when his wife, the real candidate, in New Hampshire said that she had “found her voice” in part that statement was her attempt to retake center stage from her politically ego-centric spouse. 

Senator Obama must overcome the many years of ingrained systemic racism heaped upon people of color, which has left its indelible mark on the psyche of so many Blacks and so many whites. How does one persuade those who have, for centuries, held one in physical and psychological chains that the person they have held in such contempt is now capable and willing to lead them through the darkness that together they face? How does one convince Black people that they should “march into hell” and to reach for the heretofore “unreachable star” when they have been thought that it could not and cannot be reached?

Senator Obama must walk on “egg shells.”  He is not even permitted the right to rally supporters on the issue that he would be the First African American President. Were he to do so, he would be accused of playing the “race card” and in so doing drive away white support of his candidacy. On the other hand, his principal opponent is not held to the same standards; she can rally support of women by factually stating that she would be the First Female President. She has yet to be accused of “playing the gender card!”

Senator Obama must overcome the perception by many that the socio-political and economic playing field for Blacks and the poor in general has been re-aligned and that that they are indeed players when the economic, educational, and cultural data clearly demonstrates the inaccuracy of that proposition?  In this regard he still has to convince Black women, without being accused of playing the race card, that they should not ignore the reality of their race for the reality of their gender.    

Finally, on this list, Senator Obama must overcome those Blacks who say that he is not politically Black enough, or “progressive enough” to warrant their support. They, with a litany of, in my view, self righteous "pronunciamientos," argue that Senator Obama is not addressing the fundamental issues that affect the Black Diasporan Community. How can he do that and expect to win the presidency? Is it, at this potentially momentous time in our history, more important to ignore the realities of a political race in a nation that has been obsessed and impregnated with racism, imperialistic fanaticism, and an organic genuflection to corporate greed, in favor of politics of ideological correctness and purity? My response is a resounding NO! We must continue to attempt to grab hold of the “Bully Pulpit” of the planet and be able to preach, teach, and address the fundamental issues plaguing humankind.

Super Tuesday is an opportunity for African Americans. Lets face it, were Obama to win the nomination, it would not, I repeat would not, substantially alter the direction of the nation, except on the Iraq war, and an approach to health care, but it would impact and affect the psyche of Blacks and whites. For Blacks the glass ceiling would be cracked, and for whites the fear of a powerful Black man would be diminished as expressed by their vote. Bottom line. Would Hillary or McCain be better for Blacks and as a corollary question better for America? Some folks will vote for Cynthia McKinney - again symbolic... At this time in my life, in light of the possible, I cannot go that route. Do you think that if Obama did not pose a threat and have a real chance that the Clintons and the Democratic establishment - Black and White, would seem so scared? Puhleeeze!   As the kids say "Give me a break!" Why do we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., near the end of his life, said: “Sooner or later all people of the world will have to find a way to live together in peace and thereby transform this cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality” Were Dr. King here today I believe that he would reprise the truth of that statement and I would passionately join him. 

Senator Obama’s entire campaign so far, has essentially echoed, in many subtle ways, Dr. Kings’ desire for “A Beloved community.” It is because of this that I am concerned that those who do not share the dream will continue to attempt “to scorn” Senator Obama and “cover him with scars.”  I believe that Senator Obama will be “true to his glorious quest” and that he will continue “to strive with his last ounce of courage to reach what appears to be an unreachable star.”

I have used the words “appears” because it is my sense that in spite of all of the obstacles that I have mentioned facing Senator Obama, I am convinced that, as Dr King reminded us, “Truth crushed to the Earth will rise again.”  Therefore, no matter how many obstacles the realistically possible First Black President faces, if we – those of us –Black, Brown, Asian and whites; those who believe that it is not hopeless, together, through the thistles and thorns that fills our path, we can reach the bright star and be victorious.  I am convinced that the dream is not impossible and that hope is contagious and springs eternal.  We should, as Adam Powell admonished, “keep the faith… baby!”

Carlos E. Russell, PhD is Professor Emeritus C.U.N.Y. - Brooklyn College.  In the sixties, he served as an Associate Editor of the Liberator magazine. As such, he was one of the first to interview Malcolm X after he left the Nation. He is best remembered as the founder of Black Solidarity Day in New York in 1969 and as the Chair of the Black Caucus of the Conference on New Politics in 1967. In addition, he was a consultant to Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. during the planning for the Poor Peoples March. Excerpts of his participation can be seen in Citizen King and Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set). Born in the Republic of Panama he has served as that country's representative to the U.N and the O.A.S. with the rank of Ambassador. He has also served as the nightly host of "Thinking it Through" a talk show that was aired on WLIB in New York.  He is a playwright and poet as well. Click here to contact Dr. Russell.

 
 

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