They say a midget standing on the giant’s shoulders can see much further than the giant. So that means that the whole black world is standing on ‘Rack’s shoulders just to see further than he is. Naw, not that simple. But it is a start. This has been as good a year as any for a paradigm shift for the upward movement of black men. A new ceiling for black men has emerged that is current and tangible. This is not just a historic symbol and some sound clips from decades ago. This is here and now, currently in the flesh.
See, Malcolm has the movie. Martin has the holiday and the speech. W.E.B. DuBois has the essays. Garvey has the Pan-African movement. Back in the day. Jesse Owens defied the most powerful man on the planet at the time, Adolf Hitler, in spectacular fashion at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning four gold medals. His own president, FDR, didn’t even send him a note of congratulations. Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes. They have the written memoirs, the work frozen in our anthologies, ever so relevant and incapable of being thawed through time.
Then came a shift. Athletes and entertainers started to supercede the civil rights icons and the scholars as the people of emulation. These professions and their participants provided the necessary diversion from the travails and trials inundating everyday black life of that time.
Juxtaposing the heroes of yesteryear and the heroes of today, it is no secret as to why the biggest strides made among African-Americans occurred in the 1940s and 50s. Education and bureaucratic transcendence were trumpeted, while nonsense and passivity were shelved and booted like a field goal during crunch time. Then it all fell down like a ball carrier upon a Ray Lewis hit.
Assassinations. Vietnam War. Crack.
Crime quadrupled in the black sector in the 1980’s. Hip-hop rose as a direct result, with young emcees expressing their joys and venom against the world that they were brought up in. Heroes were now made out of the kingpins of the neighborhood. The Avon Barksdales and Rick Rosses (the real Rick Rosses) of the world became the model for the inner city black male, with more enmity shown towards teachers (who, like the policemen of the street, invariably represented the authority that children grew to hate) than towards the agents of destruction in the neighborhood.
This is why the symbol of Barack Obama is more important than the title that he holds.
Barack Obama. Not that Obama is the greatest man ever, but he represents the greatest symbol that aspiring black males has seen in a while. In fact, he represents the greatest symbol of any male right now. No slight to Michael Jordan, Jay-Z, Diddy, Lil’ Wayne, LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez and Tiger Woods, but none of those guys encourage children to ace their classes. None of those gentlemen lionize social awareness. None of those exquisitely talented brothers provide explicit examples of how to become economically empowered through anything other than entertainment. Diddy and Jay-Z have successful clothing lines, but their butter started with their ability to make people move their heads.
Only time will tell whether Barack Obama is an outlier of the black community or a member of a racial paradigm shift. But his work is done in that department. He has a country to run. He is charged with a mission of his own.
And black men, so are we.
The biggest ramification of Obama being the CEO of the U.S. is not that equality will abound. It’s not that more rights for black people will be in place. It’s that now, black men have no excuses.
No more being negligent in our work ethic.
No more slacking on our parental responsibilities.
No more disunity. No more using discrimination as a crutch. No more excuses. No more celebrating on who is in the White House.
We are living in the history of the times that will be studied for years. Now is as good a time as any to make our mark.