Obama’s Oath of Service.
by Chris Stevenson
Imagine all the pomp and pageantry of a presidential inauguration being directed toward a black man. Even as I caught the first glimpse of Barack Obama walking alone several paces behind the political procession twenty minutes before he took the oath, my subconscious wasn’t ready to view him. I expected a white guy to appear. I was naturally conditioned to think a white man was going to be filmed walking toward what I long considered his spot where he would raise his hand and take his oath near his White House.
Don’t get me wrong, I had stopped watching live presidential inaugurations pretty much since I left home (my parents generally made me watch since I was little). I considered such affairs as the Oath of Office, family weddings etc., to be horrendous overkill (Understand I remember Tricia Nixon’s wedding was broadcast on all 3 major networks, this was before cable. I wanted the Black Panthers to crash the ceremony, kidnap her and eventually brainwash her into robbing banks, just to break the boredom). Yet Here I am checking this out until the cameras and the sun set on nothing more than a White House minus the large gathering of earlier and the commentators are still talking.
President Barack H. Obama wrote and gave a memorable speech to the largest DC gathering since the Million Man March (and yes that too was easily one million) where he thanked the activists and wartime soldiers who gave their lives in order to create a nation where his victory was possible, about putting away childish things, personal responsibility, and making hard choices. As Obama spoke, I imagine a lot of our youth are slowly feeling their license to act stupid is about to be confiscated from them. Black youths like those brainless baboons who couldn’t wait to get into a fight over the weekend at an after party (reportedly at Brooklyn’s Djumbala club located in Canarsie) for the new rap film “Notorious.” Youths like the ones shown recently on camera beating a young male student after school because he stopped them from beating up a lone female student (Four of them are said to come from the same family known for violence).
While those acts were likely perpetrated by the army of single mothers’ failures, a crowd of 1.4 million were there to personally witness a single mother and extended family success story. And now many of our excuses for underachievement and low ghetto expectations are starting to dwindle.
I watched our US President neatly dressed and groomed, with the look of both confidence and graciousness and I thought about the blacks from slavery to Civil Rights who did the dirty work to get him to this moment right here right now: Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, David Walker, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale. These are just the best-known figures, but the oddity of it was the first President their blood and sweat paved the way for, was someone who escaped much of hostile racism African Americans have undergone. Our first black Commander-in-Chief is a biracial brass-knuckle organizer whose street-level experience and political legislative efforts dwarf most African American politicians.
If you read into it, Obama’s speech Tuesday signaled to me that he didn’t just do what most newly elected politicians do; take an Oath of Office. An Oath of Office just promises you will be there, you are just promising that your butt will occupy a seat for the duration of your term. And from that standpoint the title Oath of Office is true and that’s been part of the problem. What Obama said yesterday signified to me that he just took an oath of service. You know what? During the next 4 years I really think our biracial President is going to teach black politicians how to serve. During the next 4 years our black President is going to teach white politicians the meaning of hard choices.
When Obama said “our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age,” what was he really saying? Usually US Presidents in the past walked away trying to convince us some bad bill they signed was a “hard choice;” Reaganomics, Welfare Reform, a crime bill, reduced funding for schools and colleges, community programs and small (black) businesses. Generally the bill wasn’t hard on the President or any of his big business cronies was it?
Call me naive, but when this president said it, I got a different feeling from it. In spite of his victory being a white success as well, Obama still has enemies and he will make more enemies among the army of white American Joe-Six-Packs within the coming months. These are the mid-to-low level workers who laughed when Obama announced his run 2 years ago and are stewing in their beer and tears now.
A lot of Obama doubters were made to eat crow yesterday and I must admit some satisfaction over that. One sister told me she remembered being the only black in a Catholic school in a northeast PA town and how even many of her teachers demonstrated their racism, but with tears in her eyes she said “I’d pay the price again for this day.” And why not? This is Presidential Crow, not Joe Lewis or Jesse Owens beating Hitler in the Olympics crow, not a Doug Williams first black quarterback to win a Superbowl crow, not even Tiger Woods winning his first Masters crow. Tuesday’s festivities was thus far the biggest most unexpected crow of all, because it is advancement of a black man to an office previously believed to be the most exclusive in the nation and a large part of racism against blacks has always been a war over potential.
Chris Stevenson is a columnist for the Buffalo Challenger, email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org