Written July 4th, 2012
Since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, America has birthed, perhaps, the most volatile political climate in its history. Politics in the United States of America have changed—the agendas, the strategies, and the tactics— in a way that has, in effect, forever tarnished the presidential office. Our country’s most highly-regarded position has been marred. Never again—or, at least, not in the foreseeable future—will the presidential office be greeted with the global esteem and reverence it has been in years past, and that reality, though initiated by a small portion of the population, is to be shared by all American citizens. It is with the most critical of eyes, then, that we examine how fear of the dark in America has led to the devolution of the presidential office.
On Tuesday, January 20th, 2009, America breathed a sigh a relief, as the inauguration of its first African American president dismissed over two centuries of racial inequity: The segregation—the redlining—the lynchings—the burnings of Tulsa and Watts—the beatings—the golliwogs and sambo dolls—the Tuskegee Experiment—these events and the many similar; all dismissed with the election of a Barack Hussein Obama—or so we believed. The cultural significance of Barack Obama’s election is not to be undermined, however. For any African American to obtain the most powerful position in the world, the U.S. Presidential Office, marks one of the most tremendous feats in human history, given the tradition of racial unrest in America. Such an achievement ought to be placed in perspective, however, and while a large portion of the United States clamored in support of the nation’s first African American president, another portion of the nation (most notably the African American community) knew all too well how, even as president, Barack Obama would endure the same hardships endured by many African Americans before him. Thus, at the very instant Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, America simultaneously advanced and regressed as a culture.
Superficially, with the election of Barack Obama, America mended the wounds inflicted by its own racial malfeasances. All was “well”. Deep within the bowels of the country, however, was a racial concern and conflict that began to fester. The path endured by President Obama, at least in terms of the cultural obstacles he has faced, is eerily similar to the path demanded of many other African Americans who have risen to prominence. It makes sense, then, how those in the African American community who had been weathered by these same obstacles (the “wise elders”) anticipated the opposition to be faced by the President. Let the us not overlook the historically justified concerns of some within the African American community that the President would not even survive his term.
Again, the cultural obstacles pitted against President Barack Obama are nothing new. Before President Obama was elected, his political acumen and his capabilities as a leader were brought into question. Throughout American history, the African American man has been required to “prove himself worthy” before seating himself among other Americans; he was forced to verify his mental fortitude to the dominant culture, and this is evident in African American men’s struggles in becoming doctors, lawyers, quarterbacks, musicians, journalists, and more in America. Surely, these tactics alone may not mark racial inequity, but it is important to note how the questioning of mental capability fits into the history of the African American male: this is the first step in a process.
The next step demanded for the African American man to reach prominence in America has been for him to denounce his fellow African American men. Former White House adviser Van Jones, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, have each faced unprecedented attacks on their character; not merely to mar their names, but more so in an attempt to force the president to distance himself from them. Such a divisive strategy has been used ad nauseam against the African American man, with the burning of the Watts Writers Workshop in 1975, the media portrayal of the Black power movement during the early 1970s, and the intra-racial battle between the house and field Negro serving as prime examples. For the African American man to excel, it has often been required of him to separate himself from his culture, and that type of behavior is socially damning.
The process of attaining prominence does not end there for the African American man, however, and it did not for President Barack Obama. A narrative has reared itself throughout American history which has questioned the legitimacy of the African American man as a citizen of the United States. Undeniably, the most recent example of this narrative can be found in the “birther” movement, which literally questions whether President Obama was born in the United States, and prompted demands that the President provide his birth certificate…multiple times. The conscious efforts of some to paint President Barack Obama as an “other”, or to prove he is not culturally “one of us” (the “us” referring to Americans), are not new developments. Rather, they hearken back to the days of second-class citizenship in America; the days in which slaves were required to carry with them their “freedom papers” or risk being enslaved yet again.
The most important issue characterizing this year’s election will not be the economy. It will not be foreign policy, it will not be the debt, and it will not be immigration. The most important issue in this year’s election will not be marriage rights or abortion rights. The most important issue in the presidential election will be, undeniably, how we, collectively, view the presidential office; whether the presidential office is granted the respect it has been granted in years past. The most important issue in this year’s presidential election will be whether politics can be just politics—absent from the deep-seated hatred and disgust for the president and who he is; The hatred which has driven some to interrupt the president in the Rose Garden, or question the president’s citizenship, or insult him during a congressional address, or call him a monkey, or compare him to Hitler. And while these actions reflect sickeningly on the individuals carrying them out, what they imply about our country is markedly worse: They imply we are weak and they imply that we are so overrun with pure hatred that we cannot overcome it, even with the fate of our country hanging in the balance