Black History Month 2013
BLACK AMERICA: Looking Back; Forging Ahead
When Barack Hussein Obama on Jan. 21 paused for a last look back at the presidential inauguration multitude on the Washington Mall, he provided yet another metaphor for how far Americans, and particularly Americans of African descent, have come.
The president then turned to climb the Capitol steps and take the next step forward toward tackling his responsibilities. And now Americans, particularly Americans of African descent, must turn to their work too.
So what better time, than while looking back during Black History Month, to recall ways in which African Americans have led the rest of America, if not the world, even as myriad concerns continue crying out for attention, including politically, economically and morally.
The re-election of President Obama, son of a Kenyan African and a white Kansas Caucasian, has provided yet more affirmation for the human spirit both here and abroad.
Looking back, however, it is notable that win or lose, African Americans consistently have voted on the correct side of presidential history: most recently for Bill Clinton — twice; against George Bush, twice; for President Obama, twice.
In the 2012 election African-American voters once again were in the lead. What one observer described as President Obama’s “strength and undiminished composure in the face of unrelenting opposition,” during his first term, applies not only to African Americans historically, but also to how African Americans just stepped forward again, big time, politically.
Perhaps it took Barack Obama’s candidacy for others to take notice, as this time there again was solid help from women, youth, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and other voter subgroups. As a result, it is a safe surmise that there never again will be too white males atop a successful presidential ticket.
African-American leaders must continue building their broad new coalition for progress, putting into effect the direct action exemplified by the Civil Rights Movement that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led with his “fierce urgency of now.”
Politics is just one aspect of African-American leadership. Another is economics, where clearly much more is needed.
From the African American Economic Summit at Howard University, for example, my colleague Mike Fletcher of the Washington Post reported Friday that, regarding the disparities that have long separated blacks and whites, “We are basically talking about an economic system that is shot through with discrimination,” said Bernard E. Anderson, a former assistant secretary of labor.
The remedies need to be bold because “racial disparities are persistent and they are ubiquitous,” Fletcher quoted Enrique A. Lopezlira, a lecturer at Howard.
Lopezlira added, “It is hard to explain in a context that does not include some sort of institutional racism going on.”
To cite another example, the Wall Street-leaning Obama administration spectacularly has failed to stem the bleeding from the greatest transfer of wealth out of black communities, the ongoing mortgage foreclosure disaster.
Yet even the president’s harshest African-American critics have offered little in the way of solutions — much less corral congressional support for the more massive economic stimulus legislation that newly re-elected President Obama clearly would love to sign.
In any event the majority of African-Americans, as evidenced by the election, seemed poised to ignore the naysayers, with an eye toward building a stronger, more effective winning coalition.
The bigger challenge, even as the president and the majority of voters step forward into new American realities, is the Unreconstructed Southerners, whether in Arizona or Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa, who find it impossible to accept the nation’s progressive outlook.
The problem is not just in their financial interests — as they continue holding hostage not only the U.S. economy but the world’s, while looking to cement their centuries-old class advantages — but in their souls.
Yet enlightened economic strategy not only will help eliminate the plague of African-American neighborhoods owned by others. It also will help deliver a universally recognized tool — quality education — so that America can stop sacrificing its future Martin Luther Kings, George Washington Carvers and Barack and Michelle Obamas.
To speak of faith or spirituality in common discourse scares too many people, while the much-abused term values has become cliché.
Yet in African-Americans communities, few disagree with the call, whether from the pulpit, the beauty shop or the barbershop, for greater morality.
Still, while it is widely recognized, as Stevie Wonder once sang, that “The force of evil plans, to make you its possession,” the question remains whether African Americans can continue to serve as the Conscience of America.
Although evil has no power except to invite, too many of us seem all too willing to accept that invitation — as evidenced by the pants sagging off the backsides of black teens and men.
To gird up our ethical leadership, African Americans must remember the promise that “We as a people will get to the Promised Land” — not just King’s, but our Creator’s — and act like it.
Becoming aligned with our Creator’s Will, which will be done, would seem a next major challenge — as it has been humanity’s challenge of all time.
Yet once again, Americans of African descent are ideally positioned to lead.
Despite these and and other challenges facing African-Americans and our leadership, there is much more to be encouraged about. That includes the fact that long before Barack Obama was a thought — much less thought of running for president — African Americans were making significant contributions to what the country and the world will become.
Looking back — at the sacrifices, the hard-won victories and lessons learned — is a prerequisite. Moving forward — politically, economically, morally — will require more dedication than ever.
The concept of Sankofa, a traditional African term that translates as “to go back and get it,” is depicted by a bird flying forward with its head turned backward, an egg in its mouth, representing the gems of past knowledge upon which wisdom is based and the coming generations who will benefit from that wisdom.
“I want to take a look one more time,” the president said, pausing to look back at his fellow witnesses to history, before climbing the stairs back into the Capitol to continue the work of his second term. “I’m not going to see this again.”
Thirteen years into this new millennium, the challenge now is to ensure that the world sees something even better.