Monday, January 14, 2008

Why Obama's Election is Crucial to the Dreams of This 23 Year-Old Black Man

A 23 year-old Black business man addresses, "Why Barack Obama's candidacy has already created change for young Black people, and why any hint of lack of support from older Blacks is a reflection of color-aroused anti-Black sentiment among us Blacks:"

When I was a child, I spent years studying at virtually all-white schools. With all due respect to predominantly Black schools, I do attribute the experience of attending integrated schools to making me who I am today. Not because I was surrounded by pale faces, and not because I am suggesting that the education provided was any different, but I was asked in those schools a profound question that contributed to the direction of my life:

I was asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Precisely because I was studying among whites and yet considered this question to apply to me as well, I didn't get the sense that the normal stereotypes limited my answer and the reach of my dreams. I was not confined to being a basketball player or a rap star. Nor was I compelled to accept that if I failed in those unrealistic dreams I would instead have to be a drug dealer and convict. In those white schools, I was allowed to dream just like white children.

The answer I gave to the question of what I would do with my life is of no consequence today, but the ability to think that grandly is part of who I have become today.

Flash forward to my senior year in high school, when we were visited by a representative of a local technical college. Amongst other things in a rambling introduction of himself, this college representative said,

"You guys should be very interested in our vocational training programs since you're very good with your hands."

This comment stunned me and many of my fellow students. I remember flashing back to the moment when I was given the choice of what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I wondered if my fellow students had been given that choice as well, or were they having that choice imposed on them by societal stereotypes?

My guess at this point is the latter, that Black students had only been given the impression that their best shot at success would be through being an entertainer, a sports athlete and, if not, then a manual laborer trying to get by on minimum wage. I say that because a number of my fellow students moved on to nothing, and scores of students who came before me and after me had done just the same.

The responsibility to give students a sense that there options are boundless is not primarily a responsibility of teachers. Sometimes, people's imaginations and, therefore, possibilities are limited to what they have seen before, unless they are pushed to imagine even more, as I was.

Parenthetically, at the age of 18 I remember searching the Internet for examples of outstanding Black men who were living in the present and who notably successful in their own rights. Although more surely existed, I was only able to find a handful, comprised mostly of entertainers and athletes. Although there are surely more Black businessmen who exist, many of them may keep a low profile to avoid negative attention from a system that doesn't favor their success.

I was left asking myself, 'Where's my Black Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Bill Clinton?' How can my current generation of young Black minds be expected to think beyond our immediate circumstances when there are so few prominent Black figures for us to emulate?

For those who think that Barrack Obama's presidency would have no real relevance for making change for Blacks, I can say that you may be absolutely right. His presidency may make no difference in healing your old and broken spirit, or giving you a new sense of directions and possibilities, particularly now that you have had your shot, are licking your wounds, and have conformed to the stereotypes and roles of Blacks in American society (including the role of angry Black people who complain but do nothing about it.) But for the scores of young Black minds who are still wondering what is possible for them and their futures, Barack Obama's presidency represents a new hope and a new possibility.

Barack Obama may not instill any barrier-breaking policies or personally hand you a reparations check, but his mere victory would represent for Black young people a new era in what we believe is possible. That, by itself, might not take every kid off the streets and out of gangs. But those who hope for nothing will fall for anything. If Black older people want younger Blacks to hope and to aspire and to strive to build a better America, then they will respect our younger need for hope and support Barack Obama when he offers it to us.

I am insulted when I hear of a Black person who is not supporting Barack Obama. Who are you to deny me my opportunity to dream bigger than even I, as a free-thinker, have been able to dream. Hillary Clinton can offer me nothing in terms of policy that is more valuable than hope (and she can always be vice president and implement those policies without crushing the dreams of Black young people).

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