Thursday, November 13, 2008

Neckboneology: Obama offers hope, but will things change for African-Americans?

By Publisher Ken Lumpkin

I sometimes wonder where my childhood friend Ken Hawkins is these days. As children growing up, we spent much of our pre-teen years wondering how America would look 50 years from then. We talked about the riots in Watts and the sit-in's in Montgomery during those hot summer days. Over the years I have watched as America in its own way tries to lose grip of its aberrant past ¬– a past riddled with racial human injustices and barriers that denied a group from its society based on the color of their skin. I still cannot forget watching fire hoses being spread on civil rights protestors as they demonstrated in Birmingham. But for the two of use, we would ask ourselves quite often, "Will we have the same freedoms as white folks when we are adults?" For so many that day has come.

So you can imagine at my age of 61, why Barack Obama's election was a great lifetime experience. Ken Hawkins and I would listen to Dr. Martin Luther King's, "I Have A Dream," speech, and our expectations for change were high even back then.
But some 40 years later, does Barack Obama's election assure Black folk that, "there's a change a' coming"?
It's a safe bet the majority of African-Americans support affirmative action or racial and gender preferences in employment, college admissions, and government contracting. It's an even safer bet most Obama supporters have not considered the devastating impact an Obama presidency could have on those preferences, particularly racial preferences.
What could do more damage to the argument that African-Americans deserve racial preferences than a majority of Americans voting to put an African-American in the White House? Little, from where I sit.

In fact, be prepared to hear from anti-affirmative action proponents who will point to Obama's success as evidence of how all people can lift themselves up out of poverty and achieve great deeds.

But we know on the eve of a change in America, the Supreme Court is slowly whittling away the use of racial preferences. In June 2007, the court struck down plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle that assigned students to K-12 public schools based partly on the color of their skin. This was the most recent in a series of cases since the mid-1980s in which the court struck down quotas and, later, preferences. The best we can hope for is that Obama's appointments to the Supreme Court will slow the process down.
Of course, there will still be economic data showing African-Americans disproportionately represented among low-income Americans. But the argument that racial bias is widespread in American society becomes that much more difficult to make.
I believe that many of my white brothers will begin to ask why are Blacks not now satisfied. I am reminded of Dr. King's speech:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for white only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Although we can no longer point to these extreme type of injustice of the 50's and 60's, we can continue to see the silent subtlety of discrimination.

Three quarters of African-Americans says Obama is a good influence on the black community. Even greater number says that about that about Oprah Winfrey, 85%, and Bill Cosby, 65%, who are the most revered by blacks. By contrast, only 17% say that rap artists 50 Cent is a good influence for the blacks.
Another report point out that nationwide blacks are more concerned about black progress now than at any time since 1983.
A good influence is not a good replacement for a good job and a way to feed a family. Most young people living in urban America feel America has turned her back on them. This could be due in part to the fact that during the presidential primary, as well as the general election, very little was said about the state of affairs of poor people. Obama is indeed the president for all of the country, however poor people seems to be pushed aside when it comes to setting the national agenda.
Sylva Cunegin, of Racine, says it's important that young people see Obama as a beacon of hope. Now they can dream of a day when the doors of opportunity are open for them.

Although most people feel that it would've been political suicide for president-elect Barack Obama to campaign on issues that would have been beneficial to poor and oppressed people, many of us agree that both McCain and Obama were mute on the issue.
But for many of us the concern is no longer what Obama will do for us. It's time we took the lead and ask, "When will we come together to do for ourselves?"
Obama has set the stage and given us (African-Americans) "Hope." Now it is up to the leadership in the Black community to move forward and set a pathway for real change.
To my friend Ken Hawkins, wherever you are, today we do have the same freedoms as white folks. Now, we need to rise up and use them.

This is my opinion, what is yours. Feel free to e-mail your comments to the insider news at the

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