In a country where insiders dominate the political sphere in myriad ways great and small; where the elite manipulate the nation’s government to serve their own interests at the expense of ordinary citizens who want only a fair shot at the American dream; in a country where white privilege was revealed in its ultimate expression, with the terrible, immeasurable global consequences of the disgraceful Bush presidency, undemocratically elected and inexplicably, democratically re-elected; in a country with a tragic tradition of fluctuating between rationality, justice and reason, and boldly irrational injustice; a country which has widened access to information and knowledge more than any other, and yet disdains and distrusts intellectualism; in such a country, the election of Barack Obama by overwhelming majority is indeed indicative of change.
And yet, in one of life’s glorious contradictions, the inauguration of President Barack Obama does not represent the change we need. It represents only the opportunity for change. A great, historic, momentous opportunity, but an opportunity nonetheless.
All children are still to be properly educated, and given an equal opportunity to achieve all the possibilities offered by society. All citizens are still to be guaranteed affordable access to high quality health care. Social justice is yet to be placed at the center of political, social, and economic questions. Mankind is still to find a way to sustainably exist in balance with the Earth. Society is still to eliminate violence between its citizens, and rehabilitate rather than lock away [mainly black] transgressors in inhuman conditions [for private profit]. The world is still to eliminate war as a means of attempting to solve problems. The human rights of every human being are yet to be guaranteed.
America still applies morality selectively in international issues.
Palestinians are still oppressed in their own land.
white life is still worth more than black life.
In Africa, conflict still rages. We still rape and brutalize our women and children. Disease still ravages our people. We still cannot feed ourselves. The Sahara still grows ever steadily. We continue to die, losing parents, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and children to HIV/AIDS. We still engage in corruption, stealing from our nation’s possibilities, for our own greed.
Today represents great change. But for everything that matters, today represents only the beginning of a great opportunity for change.
Nonetheless, this afternoon I will savor the occasion, I will sit with my African-American mother and share in her joy in watching a black man be sworn in as President of the United States, an event which truly represents a dream for her and others who came of age in an America contemptuous of them for their blackness and African origin. I will watch as a man who carries in my veins the blood of Africans wrested from their homeland, brutally enslaved to build prosperity for others on stolen land, subjected to almost unimaginable cruelties and oppression, and yet through the strength, purpose, resistance, sacrifice and struggle of my ancestors, I stand on their shoulders to see this day.
Some have argued that Obama’s heritage as the son of a Kenyan immigrant and a white mother, means that he is not truly African-American, in the sense that he does not share the lineage of Black America: from West Africa, through the Middle Passage across the Atlantic, to the Caribbean and the US, through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era, and so on. This is an artificial distinction. What is important is that Barack Obama has located himself in Black America, in that heritage, as evidenced by his accounts of his development, including rooting himself in his adulthood in Chicago, and in the woman he married.
I will watch the millions gather on the mall for this historic moment, and I will remember marching in protest there in 2003, against an unnecessary war. I was discouraged that day, watching President Bush on the evening news brushing aside the protests as mere evidence of the democracy he sought to bring to Iraq. Thinking back to that day, I am struck by how in that moment of frustration, the thought of President Bush being succeeded by a black president would not have crossed my mind. Now 6 years later, I am thankful for the knowledge that actions, especially great, unjust, just plain wrong ones, do indeed have consequences. Those who relished their narrow, shortsighted victories at the time, must now reckon with the knowledge that their ideas have died a quick death, their work is rightly seen as a national disgrace. Rather than establishing a permanent majority of leadership by the few for the few, they have merely exposed the contradictions of that ultimately catastrophic enterprise, paving the way for an African-American President of the United States to lead a coalition of young and old, black and white, to seek progressive change, for the great many rather than the few.
Today, I am enriched by the lesson that momentary setbacks can presage great change, victory and progress. One must take the long view.