Sunday, March 9, 2008

Barrack Obama: The man who brings us together may ultimately divide us

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Barack Obama’s emergence as a powerful Presidential candidate is truly worth celebrating. Beginning as a modest participant in the election, his creative political genius gave African-Americans the courage to support a black man. Hillary Clinton’s role as the “political sugar substitute” came to an abrupt end once Obama came with the real cane. Obama created his base of believers by going to the whitest parts of white America and showing that he could build a bridge long enough to gain universal trust and support.

As he gained the backing of white America, his black audience ran up in droves. The words “Did you hear what Obama pulled off?” were echoed across Black America, as silly terms like “hope” and “change” actually started to mean something. Some of us gave up on hope after the last season of the TV show, “Good Times”, since the family never quite seemed to make it out of the projects.

But the latest numbers lead one to wonder if too much black support is causing Obama to lose love among white voters. Last week in Texas and Ohio, Obama saw many white voters head toward Hillary Clinton. Clinton grabbed nearly two-thirds of the white votes in Ohio and over half of the white votes in Texas. This is a sharp reversal from the “political ass-whoopings” Obama has been handing Hillary for the past couple of months.

I’ve always feared the possibility that Barack Obama could end up becoming “the black candidate” in this election. I thought about it during his highly publicized challenge by Tavis Smiley (which I told Tavis that I disagree with) and his battle with Hillary Clinton over Martin Luther King’s legacy. Personally, as a man who speaks about race on a regular basis, I’ve never been rewarded for talking about race in America. Fortunately, I’ve never had to worry about people liking what I have to say. I came into this game well aware that extracting the disease of American racism would surely ignite the spite of a country that has spent 400 years in denial. But Obama, on the other hand, actually NEEDS everyone to like him. In his case, nearly any discussion of race is going to be incredibly counter-productive to his goal of being elected president.

The peculiar issue of political racism hit me first hand while watching my little brother run for student body president during college. My brother, who is going to attend graduate school at either Cornell or Harvard this fall, isn’t a “big mouth black man” like myself. He possesses quiet strength, builds bridges and is liked by nearly everyone he meets. In fact, he even looks like Barack Obama, which is just a little weird.

My brother’s campaign for student body president was a strong one, as he gave one stirring speech after another, met with all sororities and fraternities, produced innovative ideas and inspired tremendous energy from the students. All the while, he spent very little time discussing racial politics and worked deliberately to find common ground with the non-black students on campus. The black students, less than 10% of the student body, knew he was “playing the game”, and felt that he would support them once elected.

My brother found himself going into the election with over 95% of the black student body behind him. He was the Barack Obama of his campus, the hippest thing going that semester. He even substantially increased black voter turnout, which had been historically low. The problem was that his possession of such powerful and vocal black support on such a racially polarized campus transformed him into “the black candidate”, leading the white students to run for the woods. He dominated the African-American vote, but got almost none of the white vote. And he wasn’t even a Dangerous Negro.

I often wonder: if my brother had been a young Bill Clinton, a white male so readily endeared by the black community, would the outcome have been the same? I am not sure, but I sincerely doubt it. Like Vanilla Ice, JFK, Eminem and Elvis Presley, Hillary and Bill Clinton were never served a political liability for having overwhelming black support. Additionally, they were never attacked by individuals like Tavis Smiley for not being truly accountable to the black community, even though their years of leadership have led to highly questionable outcomes.

As a calming voice in the O’Reilly-Hannnity-Post 911 world, Barack Obama’s campaign has revealed the greatness of America. It may also reveal what is still wrong with America. African-Americans have become quite offended with Hillary Clinton, and the indication I’ve received from recent radio interviews is that there may be a movement towards a “Black Out” of Democratic votes if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. Simultaneously, the election of Obama may lead many older white voters to become resentful that “the black guys are taking over”. The notion that a black man can control the White House and simultaneously promote an agenda that is supportive of African-Americans could very likely lead to a backlash. At least that’s what history tells us, but Obama is rewriting history every day.

I recall my own grandmother telling her children not to visit black doctors, because she didn’t trust them. If some black folks feel this way, I can’t imagine how some whites must feel. I also can’t help but wonder how long America can fully trust a black presidential candidate with the middle name Hussein, who also possesses past ties to the Muslim community. I can only “hope” that Obama’s success can “change” me into an optimist. The last season of “Good Times” is still lingering in my brain.
To our country’s credit, I will say that the overwhelming support of Obama implies that we’ve come a long way. At the same time, we have murdered and tortured some of our greatest heroes when it comes to moving the country forward on issues of race. Advancing racial equality is like being a lineman in a football game: to clear the path, you get bloodied and your face is smashed into the ground. However, the lineman is not the one who dances in the end zone. When one considers our nation’s 400 year addiction to racism, one must ask whether the addict, long in denial, long denying treatment, who continuously kills the messenger, has truly kicked the habit of racial inequality.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Dr. Boyce State of the Black Union Address 2008

Dr. Boyce Watkins Delivers a State of the Black Union Address

My state of The Black Union Address is below. I delivered it to highlight critical issues in the black community that should be addressed during 2008. The State of the Black Union Address being offered here is meant to complement, not to compete, with that of Tavis Smiley and his State of the Black Union Conference.

I humbly submit these ideas to the Your Black World Family in two parts. Part 1 covers The Economy and Education. Part 2 covers Health Care and The Criminal Justice system.

The State of the Black Union is something that evolves through time, and I do not believe in talking about black people from a point of negativity. I am a believer that we have worked hard to overcome a great deal through time and will continue to improve our plight. We are not "headed to hell in a hand basket" and we are not a "troubled people". We are a diverse people, with some of us on top of the world, some of us on the bottom.

My point is this: A State of the Black Union conversation must start from a position of self-love, positivity, productivity and courage. We can't all change THE world, but you can change YOUR world that lies within our reach.

Let's change YOUR BLACK WORLD.

The State of the Black Union Address is below. I hope you enjoy.

With complete sincerity and love,

Dr. Boyce Watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins State of the Black Union Address - Part 1

Dr. Boyce Watkins State of the Black Union Address Part 2