Tuesday, August 7, 2007

‘Barack Obama for President!’ The Representation of Hope and Tragedy in the United States

By Vincent Willis, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

It is November 5, 2008 and news stations, such as Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, report that Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United Sates. Never before in American history has the President been anything but a white male. Most blacks are ecstatic while other ethnic groups are concerned. The truth is nobody can say what this means.

There has been a resounding question of whether Obama is “Black enough.” The real question is assessing with whom a young African American senator is allied with and how he plans to cut across different ethnic and economic groups in order to create an agenda that will be embraced by all Americans. Moreover, what would his victory symbolize? Most importantly, how would his victory impact race relations in the United States?

While Barack Obama’s candidacy may represent hope for a new America, it also has the potential to have a profound impact on race relations. Each racial group has its own agenda and struggles and no group wants to be left out of the political process. It is nearly impossible to improve race relations in America without deconstructing and/or creating a new system. The potential impacts on race relations come about when we consider the available options. Option 1 involves a massive redistribution of access to the national governing system. Traditionally excluded groups will have the opportunity to be included in the decision making process, while the traditional gatekeepers of the decision-making process will incur a loss of power and influence. Option 2 involves an attempt to centralize power and influence by majority decision makers and resistance by minority groups. Here majority whites will attempt to hoard power since they are faced with the possibility that their position of privilege might end. In either a proactive strategy or as a response to the actions of the majority, minority groups will engage in conflict with the majority in an attempt to secure their own power and create a new system of American order. Option 3 would involve a temporary truce where all parties would retain their positions and the status quo of the American governing system remains unscathed.

Time has moved forward. President Obama has occupied the Oval Office. He has put together his Cabinet and begun to work on his agenda for a better America. When he entered office the divide between the haves and have-nots was steadily rising. Poor children, black and brown, were suffering from the failed promises of No Child Left Behind. Blacks and Latinos were steadily being incarcerated at record numbers. Nevertheless, on Obama’s website, these issues are not at the top of his list, but in the middle. How can anyone, Obama, Clinton, or Richardson, symbolize a new America using the same old American system? Politics is no different than anything else meaning if you always do what you have always done, you always get what you have always got. Therefore, brand new ideas are needed to improve race relations in America. The next president must be able to lead the citizens of America into a different pathway of thinking. He or she must illustrate that “leveling the playing field” can only benefit America, as opposed to running the “political rat race” of which we are all victims. Thus the so-called “tragedy” arises when we consider that a sure destruction of racialized American traditions is the only way to assure the emergence of American values.

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