Friday, July 25, 2008

Having Had Some Time

Having had some time to reflect on the ascendency of Senator Barack Obama has been an enlightening experience. For me, he has been a rebate on the so-called black tax. The black tax is the ever present burden of consciousness associated with being black in America. Once you are aware of the stifling realities that cut short the ambitions and dash the hopes and dreams of so many black people in the country, it seems that your feathers are never really in full splendor. Every happiness and accomplishment is ever so slightly diminished by the knowledge that – here, by Grace am I, but there by the complexities of America are so many of my community. Somehow, in Barack Obama’s rise, I feel I’ve been given back some of those fractions of happiness and slivers of satisfaction that I’ve left on the path. My happiness and exultation in his success is unburdened, it is free, full and overflowing.

To that end, he has already made an immeasurable contribution. On the eve of the final primaries I was speaking with the security guard at my daughter’s school. He is an older black man who came to Atlanta in the late 1950’s. As we stood and talked he told me about the various places in Atlanta that black people couldn’t go when he was younger. He rattled off places that I know and frequent. He told me about the changing street names because white people didn’t want to have the same addresses as black people. He went on to say that, “Breh, I can’t believe I’m seeing a black man running for president in my lifetime.” With that, tears welled up in his eyes. He finished by saying, “I hope he wins. It would mean a lot.”

I don’t profess to know, nor do I even have the tools to help me appreciate the humiliation that black people must have gone through in those days. What I could see in the security guard was the effects of the staggering taxes he has had to pay in order to maintain his dignity and his manhood in the midst of such an antagonistic society. What I am learning to appreciate about Obama’s success is what he means to ordinary black people like me and the security guard.

Quite apart from the public slogans and the political fracas, Barack Obama has a meaning for a lot of black people that is quiet, private and profound. His dignity, intellect and comportment are things that we can be proud of. In his eulogy to Malcolm X, Ossie Davis suggested that, “It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion.” In a manner similar to Malcolm X, Barack Obama has given us another opportunity to hold our heads high, spread out our arms as if on the mountain top and experience hope, pride and happiness without reservation.

kamau