Usually, I’m pretty definitive about writing this column. I choose a topic that interests me, or that seems to offer an opportunity to present something meaningful to OurWeekly’s constituents, and I’m off.
This weekend, I’m conflicted. Clearly, the significant victory for the Obama administration in the Supreme Court’s healthcare decision is heavy on my mind as well as the uncivil sore losing by the Republicans. Just as weighty is the House Republican’s contempt citation for criminal and civil misconduct dumped on Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to hold that job and the first attorney general to be treated in this fashion in the history of the country.
Besides, the African American public really needs a fact-check lesson concerning this “Fast and Furious” scandal–it is clearly not what it seems to be. It is classic African American aphorism stuff–hold something down, starve it, impoverish it, and then blame it for being poor and incompetent. Additionally, there is a critical need to provide a public analysis of why President Obama does not deserve the “bad president” sobriquet being tossed around by even some Democrats. Complex 21st-century leadership requires calculated risk-taking, and he is clearly such a leader, going all-in on more than one occasion to honor his oath of office.
This is also the 4th of July holiday week, the celebration of America’s 236th year of independence and international influence. This, to African Americans, is our yearly bout of ambivalence. We know we are Americans. Some of us still know we are Africans in America (aka, Black Americans).
We know we have fought to ensure, defend, and to expand American freedom in every war this country has fought. We know we have an enviable record of massive contributions to the progress of this country, relentlessly reaffirming both our love for it and our unextinguishable hope that it would finally love us back.
President Barack Obama (and the first family) is the personification of that undying hope. He is also the lightning rod for all the historical obstacles that have denied us the full realization of that “faith that the dark past has taught us . . . (and) hope that the present has brought us.”
We still have “slavery by another name”‘ (mass incarceration as an abuse of the 13th Amendment), seriously disproportionate healthcare coverage, educational inequalities that rival pre-Brown v. Board days, growing “Stop and Frisk” laws and other ethnic profiling, cultural criminalization, addiction to both drugs and internalized disrespect of each other, and a boatload of other troubles brought on just by being Black in America.
At the same time, we have very much to be proud of. We’ve been astronauts, explorers, sailors, winners of Medals of Honor and Croix de Guerre, inventors for the cell phone and personal computer, physicists, surgeons, brilliant lawyers and justices, Nobel-Pulitzer-Hugo award-winning writers, MacArthur genius awardees, architects of famous American landmarks, and heroes/sheroes in all walks of American life.
We’ve lived, we’ve produced, we’ve planted, we’ve created, we’ve spoken, we’ve saying, we’ve helped make this country what it is today, and we’ve left many an enviable and indelible mark, if rarely acknowledged and more regularly stereotyped. We’ve repeatedly demonstrated that color does not and cannot determine intellectual capacity, talent or creative depth (nor can gender or size). Unfortunately, this country in general suffers from achievement amnesia regarding us, so we’ve had to be redundant 24/7 to remind them and ourselves of what we’ve done and what we remain capable of doing.
President Obama asked to shoulder the many burdens we and this country carry, got hired to do so, and continues to carry the weight with dignity and integrity, just the way we need him to do.
As we have said in this column before, if he does nothing else, walking that walk and wielding that cudgel as if he’s got some real home training is more than enough for most Black folk over 45. Just don’t let us down and keep setting the table for others to follow.
For some others, it’s the details and specifics that matter more and we want to frequently show our acumen and our limited experiences by deriding the president’s performance for not having taken care of this interest of ours or the other, from not promoting Juneteenth as a national holiday to not paying enough attention to the poor. But none of us has sat in that chair. None has had to referee between the hundreds, even thousands of demands/requests every day, and to keep the nation safe at all times. We judge from our own limitations, and we need to be more cognizant of that without also saying he should get a free pass. He’s not infallible, he does not know all, and he has not pretended to be either.
But, including him and the many other positives we can identify in our 2012 circumstances, are they enough? Are we now safely into the fold to the point that the 4th of July is our holiday, too, as we also sing and celebrate “America”? Or is Frederick Douglass’ 1852 remonstrance still echoing in our ears?
Well, the increasingly uncivil behavior focused more on the president’s and the attorney general’s African Americaness than their administrative performance continues to give us pause–too many American “firsts,” like the disrespectful shout-outs of the Tea Party congressman during the State of the Union speech and the reporter during the White House press conference, or the congressional contempt citation (which didn’t even happen during the McCarthy witch-hunt days). We have to pay attention to the relentless patterns of hiring, firing and not even interviewing just because the person is Black, and the images of nooses, monkey pictures, military disobedience, and the like, which won’t recede.
And then Chief Justice John Roberts renews and restores our faith and hope that the system, and enough individual White folk, still can rise above their expected adherence to Manifest Destiny and partisan maintenance of the status quo by stepping out and up to proper legal ground and nervously reading his rationale for supporting the Affordable Healthcare Act. I dreamed on Monday (June 23) that Chief Justice Roberts would break the mold on Thursday (June 25), and he did. I’m not necessarily prescient, but like President Obama, who called the Chief Justice and Justice Anthony Kennedy out a few months ago to follow the law, not their political party, in evaluating the healthcare law, I have been raised to believe in the possible and probable and not just following the herd.
On this July 4, 2012, celebration, I, too, can sing “America” (with James Brown thumping in my head and “I’m Black and I’m Proud”…”Living in America!” Ha, ha.)
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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