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  Afro Challenge

America's Challenge
By Steven Malik Shelton

The election of Barack Obama to the lofty plateau of President of the United States and the celebration of his inauguration has sparked a kaleidoscope of emotions and perspectives.

Most blacks, after the initial skepticism of his chance at success, react to his donning the presidential mantle with a synergy of pride, hope and joy. And many Americans (regardless of race or ethnicity) see in the Obama's victory a new America where bigotry and racism no longer occupy center stage but has been regulated to the perimeter of the nation's consciousness.

Some white Americans view the election of a black man to the highest office as proof that what keeps blacks down is not white racism but the failure of blacks to follow Obama's example and pursue undaunted the golden opportunities available in America and to ditch the old victim mentality that has acted as a self-crippling mechanism.

Yet other whites perceive, in the stark reality of a black president, the personification of their worst racial fears that blacks would break free of their centuries old restraints and physical and psychological barriers and displace whites from those areas of prestige and viability that had been solely there's from time immemorial; or that the rise of blacks would simultaneously usher in an age of white debasement and cause an irreparable fissure in the throne of white supremacy, superiority and power.

The mind set of white- assumed favor and ascendancy is not new, but has thrived throughout every era of Euro-American history and hovered like a specter of fear, suspicion and malice above and around the inter-actions of blacks and whites in America.

A few of the more obvious examples are: the post reconstruction period of the 1870's and 1880's which initiated the rein of the Klu Klux Klan and the infamous Black Codes: the 1980's and the Reagan era which saw the repeal social, economic and educational programs for blacks; and the eight year Clinton presidency which resulted in the passage of federal laws that increased prison sentences for the sale of crack cocaine (considered an urban black crime) and highlighted Clinton's indifference to the slaughter of almost a million blacks in Rwanda. Hua Hsu writes:

The 1990's may have been a decade when multi-culturalism advanced dramatically, when American culture became "colorized" as the critic Jeff Chang put it, but it was also an era when a very different form of identity politics crystallized.

These phenomena reflected a growing sense of cultural solidarity defined by a yearning for American "authenticity," a folksy realness that rejects the global, the urban, and the effete in favor of nostalgia for "the way things used to be." 1

The civil rights movement of the 1960's was phenomenal because it was, perhaps, the only time in American history when significant numbers of whites empathized with blacks and locked arms with them in their quest for freedom and equality. Yet with the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. the dirge was sounded for this phase of the movement along with the active support of many whites, who seemed to retreat back to their comfort zone of selfish conformity or who were stifled in their beliefs that blacks had all the help that they deserved.

In this light, although the spectacle of Barack Obama reaching the apex of political power is amazing, what would be even more amazing would be an equitable and fundamental shift in wealth and resources. And a sincere and collective effort by Americans to establish justice for all, and to abolish privilege of the few at the expense of the many.

"The problem of the 20th century, W.E.B.Dubois famously predicted, would be the problem of the color line," writes Hua Hsu. "Will this continue to be the case in the 21st century, when a black president will govern a country whose social networks increasingly cut across every conceivable line of identification?"2

Within this statement is a question and a challenge. Let us hope that 21st century America is both honest enough and courageous enough to meet it.

Steven Malik Shelton is a journalist and human rights advocate. He can be reached at:

"The End of White America?" Hua Hsu, The Atlantic Magazine- January/February 2009 p. 54
Ibid p. 55

© Jan 2009 By Afromerica || [TOP]


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