Race matters, but Not For The Reason You Think

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I am very proud of President Barack Obama and his incredible accomplishments, not only in this, his last term as President, but his entire career. I think he had great, novel ideas and he helped to lead this country out of the economic and political quagmire it had gotten into. He’s intelligent, articulate, savvy, and a person of reputable character.

Of course, I don’t think any black person voted for him as a result of any of those variables. They voted for Barack Obama because they could relate to him. After all, he’s black, like them.

            It gives me the utmost pleasure to report that the above statement is entirely theatrical and in no way accurate. I’m glad it got your attention, however.  Let’s get this right out in the open. I think it is very significant and important that Obama and his family is black. I have a son, whose self-confidence and self-worth shot through the roof when he saw a black face in the white house (no puns intended, I swear). Heck, he might  get inspired enough to run for President of the United States one day. After all, if Obama can–yes we can. We need faces that look like us in every high and lofty place so that our children have a goal to shoot for and role models to emulate. That’s how this thing works, right?

Sound egalitarious. ..except for one snafu. There had never been a Black President of the USA before Barack , so….who did Senator Obama look to for inspiration? There was never in the history of basketball a greater player than Michael Jordan…so…who did Jordan look to? Don’t get me started with golf with Tiger Woods or talk shows with Oprah. All of them, pioneers in their niches, with no racial examples to look to for emulation.

The new discriminator is Economic Classism.

I’m hoping that my point is clear. There is nothing askew with celebrating the first Black woman astronaut or the first Black billionaires. There is nothing wrong wanting a Black president. But we cannot wish Barack or anyone of any particular ethnicity to be President simply because they are of that particular ethnicity. In other words, we shouldn’t vote black just because he’s black. We shouldn’t vote female because Hilary is female. That is intellectually and civically dishonest.

Many, many times decisions have been made, and lives affected (and lost) over color. We as Black people understand this all to well. Since we know that racial bias is harmful and caustic–we must not engage in it ourselves. The Civil Rights movement afforded us some political and civic freedoms as Black people, but that very same war still wages in our collective opinion of ourselves. We don’t have to wait for someone else, even a fellow African American to convince us that we’re worthy and valuable and significant. Jesus doesn’t need to be Black for me to be OK with my ethnicity, (and once again…people…the Jewish diaspora are not the African Americans of modern times!). Obama pursued what he believed to be was his destiny, with no presidential trailblazers having gone on ahead of him. We too can blaze our own trails.

Don’t misunderstand me. As an African American, I know that race matters (Dr. West was spot-on). Tigers cannot change their stripes; colored people may never move beyond the question of color entirely because our color greets us every morning and tucks us in at night. At the same time,  the new discriminator is economic classism; it is no longer race, at least not largely. For Blacks who have “arrived”, race is clearly not a big enough issue to make a stink about it—ever catch Oprah or Michael Jordan at an Al Sharpton event?

Ask yourself some questions about these lucky few: how much, (yes, quantify), has Oprah improved life for African Americans in the USA as a whole? If you got a pair of car keys under your seat last show, I guess you can forgo this question. For the other 99% of us, well, we’re not exactly on Oprah’s short list. How about Russell Simmons? How much has his influence and money and position helped African Americans as a whole? You may gently remind me of all the good that Bill Cosby and Collin Powell has done for us as a people, and I would certainly agree with you.

And that’s my point.

We all had hope that President Obama would really shake things up and make things better for us as a people. The results and outcomes of that hope are debatable. There’s no guarantee, no promise that having a black anything will help Black people just by virtue of that “anything” being black. If we vote for another black or female president, it can be because of the variables of gender and ethnicity,  but it shouldn’t be solely because of those variables. I don’t want a white surgeon cutting me open just because there haven’t been that many white surgeons historically. I want a surgeon who knows exactly, expertly, what he’s doing, be that person white, black, Latino, etc.

In this battle between Clinton and Trump, I honestly wish that people will vote for whom they consider to be best qualified. Wealth, gender, status look great on paper, but they are null token objects. They don’t necessarily translate into sound leadership and governance. Michelle Haimoff wrote that,

“If people are voting against him because he’s black we need to make sure that people are voting for him if only because of this. The reality of a black president is the only way to defibrillate the racial inequality of our political system.”

Sounds logical, but by that logic, why not elect a teenager, or someone who speaks English as a second language? Is it about race or age or sex? No. It’s about qualifications. We must be careful and cautious. Yes, it does say a lot about our country and the incredible progress we’ve made to be able to say, “We elected a black man president of this country.” I only fear that ideological conscious-soothing has replaced what every bull-rider know he has to come to the table with —plenty of skill.