On the eve of the historic presidential election four years ago, I wrote about how nervous Democrats were about then-Sen. Barack Obama’s chances of winning the White House. But I zeroed in on what I called “black angst.” That is, the sinking feeling among African Americans that “they” (the infamous, faceless “they”) would not let Obama, Michelle and the girls move easily into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Well, “they” did. We as a nation did. And, while it’s difficult to remember, we were most proud of what we’d done by electing the first black president. But the angst is back. This time, it’s not just about reelecting Obama and safeguarding his policies. For many African Americans, it’s also about safeguarding the symbol he represents.
A friend shared with me an e-mail she sent late last month to family and friends urging them to vote for the president. She put into words what I haven’t been able to articulate.
“Yes, we have come along way but we haven’t come so far as to forget what it is like to be the first, only or one of a few in a room, on a job,” she wrote, explicitly stating an unstated dynamic faced by many African Americans. Then she recalled a conversation she had with a relative who crystallized this view even further.
It is about the legacy of the first black President, it is about saying ‘yes we can’ to our sons and daughters — you truly can be anything you want. And we understand no step of your journey will be easy but we will not abandon you on the rough side of the mountain!
When you reach the top — every day someone will try and knock you off. This President is living the journey we each know personally. You had a promotion within reach, yet it goes to someone else! Your daughter is at the top of her class but the recognition goes to someone else.
Those against this President ... have cultivated a white-hot anger against him — and they are confident this election is won because they are counting on you to stay home. Don’t quit on this President, don’t quit on the dreams of our future generations.
Yes, this is an overtly racial appeal. But don’t think for a minute that that’s the only reason why blacks are voting for Obama. If they were so blindly race-loyal, they would have rallied around Herman Cain. But the former Godfather’s Pizza chief had that exquisite mix of incompetence and nonsensical policies that made him a nonstarter for everyone. Had the Republicans put forth, say, former Secretary of State Colin Powell (or maybe Condi Rice), the conversation would be completely different.
For African Americans, Obama embodies their hopes, dreams and aspirations. The biracial son of a single mother who had his share of tough times but who also worked hard enough to walk through doors once thought impossible. Helping put him in the Oval Office was an act of pride for African Americans. Helping him stay there for a second term is as much about securing his legacy as it is reinforcing ours.