I can only imagine Senator Barack Obama’s
handlers whispering in his ears, “Lincoln, Lincoln.”
So the “rock star” of the contemporary political scene
stood where the icon of presidential rock stars once stood—and
Black America did not hear a damn thing.
I cannot imagine Obama arriving to this spot, in
the heartland of America, by way of the African Diaspora and hearing
the voice of Lincoln screaming, “Go back! Go Back to Africa!”
His handlers would have blocked out all the historical resonance.
Obama choose to listen to these handlers and announced
his candidacy for president at the Old State Capitol in Springfield,
Illinois. One report described the TV crews, cables, and
satellites lining the streets to the Old State Capitol.
In the cold weather, people, too, came from across the country
to catch a glimpse of the “young” guy who has no “baggage".
Do these people mean that Obama is young enough
to be molded to be even more like them? Is the word “baggage”
code meaning “guilt, culpability, and/or complicity”
for American slavery and the exploitation of Black Americans?
Does Obama really mean to them someone who is “clean”
and “fresh” because he does not remind us of folks
he almost looks like?
“Baggage” could also trigger an image
of that other political icon who was once dubbed the first “Black”
president—William Jefferson Clinton. There are the
Lincoln-Obama comparisons. Where are the Clinton-Obama comparisons?
For some, Clinton’s audacity to blatantly
expose the sexual drive of white men is unforgivable. How
many presidents committed adultery at the White House? News really
sells when there is a sex scandal. But Clinton violated
the protocol of secrecy among the boys. Worse, it was the
Bill Clinton who, as Sakura Kone, Media Coordinator for Common
Ground reminds us, “added fifty-nine more charges for the
death penalty.” It was on Clinton’s watch when the
mandatory minimum drug sentencing provision was passed, and, as
a result, the prisons are swelling with Black, low-level users
or street dealers. It was Clinton, the first “Black”
president, who, “when he took away welfare", said Kone,
told Black Americans that he knew the welfare bill he signed had
nothing to do with reforming welfare for the benefit of recipients.
He knew it would actually impoverish 1 million children, “but
if you re-elect me, I will fix it.” He did not, of
That Clinton did not really listen to us.
He used us to get our votes. That Clinton, loved by Black
Americans, defended by Black Americans while white America proceeded
with impeachment hearings against Clinton, that Clinton smiled
and winked at Black audiences while he ordered his handlers to
uphold the status quo of white rule and dominance.
So now we have Barack Obama, a Black man, but not
one who has experienced what it means to be a descendant of the
enslaved and to have survived the dehumanizing efforts of white
Americans, not one who seems to know this—our history and
Obama did not announce his candidacy among Black
Americans. He did not announce at the Hampton Convocation
Center where 10,000 Blacks did meet to hold the annual State of
the Black Union symposium. So he could not hear those voices
like that of Rev. Al Sharpton, calling for his “agenda and
policy” to be accountable to the “best interests”
of Black Americans. We were waiting to hear him acknowledge
that he notices how we are suffering from criminal foreign and
domestic policies. But it seems Obama hears only the call
of his handlers, “Lincoln.”
We have been through this before. People who seem
to look like us and talk like us, but who do not have our best
interest as part of their agenda because the agenda is a simple
one, similar to Lincoln and Bill Clinton: maintain dominance of
the business and corporate interests. And that translates:
There are 9 million uninsured children in America,
said Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s
Defense Fund. Do you hear her, Obama? Katrina children are
floundering in New Orleans, she said. Do you hear them?
There is no room for us in the American agenda
of fortifying an empire. Black interests and social justice
cannot be heard in that agenda.
In fact, if Obama made an about face and lent his
ears to the voices of Black Americans, if he sincerely expressed
disgust at the conditions Blacks face in New Orleans, at the targeting
of poor Black youths for the war for oil in Iraq, at the abhorrent
incarceration rates of Black men and women, and at the equally
dismal education gap between white students and Black students—if
Obama said enough is enough, we will effect fundamental change,
really, wink, wink, he might find himself at least physically
close to Lincoln, in the hear after. There is a history
of that violence and hopefully his handlers will tell him that,
too. But he will not have anyone to tell him that we have
been there and done that—and we go on—anyway and stand
on the shoulders of those who stayed strong and in the struggle.
But Obama will not take the risk. He is young
and ambitious. I imagine the handlers are saying it is best
to play it safe. And Obama will go on listening carefully
to the handlers who know best, after all. They know all
about power and climbing the political ladder to the top.
I just hope Black Americans know a thing or two
now and carefully listen to each other. Unless we hear from
Obama and hear that he will stand with us for our human rights,
let’s not march behind him, for there is skin among us who
Dr. Jean Daniels writes a column for The City
Capital Hues in Madison Wisconsin and is a Lecturer at Madison
Area Technical College, MATC.. Click
here to contact Dr. Daniels.