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Because He's Black
On the morning on November 5, 2008, I went to school tired but excited. The night before, I had seen what I thought was the most important moment in my life, and one of the most important in this country’s history in the election of Barack Obama. But when I got to school, I saw that not only was excitement over the election limited almost exclusively to black students, but white students were already largely irritated by mention of the election only seven hours after we had discovered that the United States would have its first black president. At first I thought this was due to the vast majority of white students at my high school identifying with the Republican party, and the election of a Democrat frustrated them. But when even apathetic students were “tired of hearing about Obama,” I knew something there was something deeper.
I didn’t realize how heavily racial the issue was until I started asking some people why they were so unhappy. The overwhelming responses were from McCain supporters who believed Obama won “just because he is black.” There is a scarily obvious factual issue with this belief; blacks comprise 13% of the electorate. Last time I checked the Constitution, 13% did not correlate with a majority needed to win the election. In fact, Washington D.C is the only state with a majority of blacks, meaning that voting strictly along racial lines would have yielded Obama exactly three electoral votes.
But let us assume that this data is irrelevant. What seemed to irk white students the most was the fact that “every single black kid in this school likes Obama, and most of them wouldn’t know why except that he is black. The same thing goes for this country.” At first, I wanted to argue that rural, uneducated voters have flocked to republicans in the past for simply the reason of tradition, and that there is likely about the same percentage of McCain supporters who voted against Obama because he was black. But then I realized that the significance of the election of Barack Obama to the black community is one that white students not only could not relate to, but simply could not understand.
We all remember the Reverend Wright fiasco; one hateful, unpatriotic, bitter preacher whom Barack Obama distanced himself from as soon as possible. Surely no one in this country is as unamerican as Wright. Right?
What white students do not understand is that the cynicism so venomously spouted by Reverend Jeremiah Wright is not unique. Dislike and distrust of our government is rooted within the African-American community, and has evolved into almost complete apathy in black youth.
I cannot say that I am immune to this sentiment. Being the son of two immigrants and being one myself, I was never taught at home to love America or to be patriotic. While I was told that America is the great melting pot and that all men are created equal, history lessons painted America a much different picture. The very foundation of America was due to the genocide of its natives, and its economy was formed on the shoulders of slaves from Africa. Every freedom given to minorities has had to be extracted through war or civil disobedience, and life has had to be lost for this nation to inch towards giving its citizens equal rights. While all men were created equal, the Constitution had proclaimed blacks as exactly 3/5 of whites until less than 150 years ago. Black history is still seen as a contribution to American history, not a part of it, and therefore warrants America’s celebration for only the month of February. Only 40 years ago, blacks were being hosed down in the streets and attacked by police dogs. If America was the land of the free and opportunity, then why did blacks have to fight for freedom? Is that not what George Washington fought for 200 years ago? It is now as if Washington’s army had fought for the freedom of white America, only to oppress its people even more viciously. Essentially, America’s history was that of the novel Animal Farm.
This is how I, a half-black non-American, felt about America. Imagine what blacks across America felt like. It explains the lack of African-Americans at the polls throughout history. Why participate in a government from which you must struggle to squeeze every ounce of its promises?
In young people, this acceptance of apathy led to an acceptance of unimportance. Except in sports, blacks felt they were not destined to become much of anything, and the most prominent influence in young black children’s lives were negative influences from the hip-hop culture. While whites would argue that this culture perpetuates negative stereotypes of blacks being poorly educated and criminally involved, this culture would have never arisen had whites throughout history not subjected blacks to inferiority.
This is why Barack Obama’s nomination as president was a moment many thought they would never see. Finally, a candidate they could relate to, would fight for them, and one would finally represent them in Washington had arisen. Blacks across the country were mobilized in numbers never seen before, and the youth of America came with them. Barack Obama carried approximately 95% of the African-American vote: educated, uneducated, old and young. It was beyond simple race; it was the emergence of hope for African-Americans.
I can see now why white children, born in the United States and decades removed from the nightmares of the 60’s, would see unheralded support for Obama as frustrating and naive. Some went as far as to call Obama supporters racist against blacks. But in fact, it is the history of racism that caused support for Obama among older blacks, and the coming forth of a long-awaited role model for the African-American youth. For most, it is a race far more important than politics. The messages of hope and “Yes We Can!” signify much, much more than what many believed was empty rhetoric. While white voters saw the linkage of Obama and Martin Luther King as despicable, that one cannot compare a politician and a selfless humanitarian, the black community finally saw a voice to lead itself out of long inactivity. Although saying that “most of blacks in the country support Obama only because he’s black” is inaccurate, white students my age simply do not have the perspective to understand the movement we are witnessing. “Change” meant a lot more than party politics for African-Americans in this election.
I admit, when I saw the crowd at Obama’s acceptance speech, an endless mix of all races and all ages, celebrating a common cause, my view of America fundamentally changed. Obama had broken a barrier that so many had seen and run away from, and its perception was perhaps a greater hindrance than its reality. In short, Barack Obama’s election means less to America’s history than it does its future. Obama has not just opened a door; he has thrown open the shutters to a world which many did not even comprehend as being theirs, too.
It is ironic that in a time of such crisis, policies mattered less to blacks than the candidates themselves. But it didn’t hurt that Obama’s policies won the vote of the other 87%, either.