Yobachi is Right, but So What?
Because of the attention it got from CNN, and my duty to archive a notice of it at AfroSpear in the News, I am just now reading an article posted by D. Yobachi Boswell at the AfroSpear's BlackPerspective.Net blog on January 8, 2008 in which Yobachi challenges a central premise of the Obama candidacy as it respects the condition of Black people in America. (Yobachi and I are also coordinators of the Afrosphere Action Coalition, along with Purple Zoe.)
In his January article, cited by CNN on July 22, Yobachi had the courage to pose some questions that many other Blacks were surely thinking without saying, publicly pursuing an argument that I had in private with many Black bloggers over the question of the value of ending the 43-term white male monopoly of the presidency. Yobachi wrote back on January 8:
Simply having individual Black people get positions is no longer nearly good enough; that's not the ideal that I cherish. If we have a Black president, but Black people are still charged more for bank loans just for being Black, what difference does it make?
If we have a Black president, but are still herded into prison at extremely higher rate than whites who commit the same crime, then what difference does it make?
We need fundamental change, not just Negroes in high places. We need to stop being mystified by individual figureheads. BlackPerspective.Net
Here, I have to agree with Yobachi. There are plenty of Black presidents in Africa where parts of the Diaspora live in the deepest of misery. For me, electing a Black president is not a end in itself, but is a part of establishing that simply having brown skin must not and should not exclude Black people from any role in America, regardless of what it is. Simply having brown skin must not preclude us from serving as president; it shouldn't mean that we are automatically charged more for cars and car loans; and it shouldn't mean that we are herded into prison at rates six times that of white men.
However, the same question being asked by Yobachi of the presidency could be posed with respect to the local gabargemen's union: What is the point of hiring the first Black garbagemen if it can't be demonstrated that doing so will reduce the interest rate we pay on car loans and the rate at which we go to prison?
The truth is that there is no single job in America that a Black man or woman can get that will, in and of itself, end the American culture and politics of systemic denigration, subugation and exploitation of Black people based on the color of our skin. And yet, if we don't compel America to elect its first Black garbagemen, then each of those men will be out of a job.
If we don't compel American to elect its first Black city councilwomen and school committee women, then those women and their communities will be less able to shape the education that their children receive. Electing them does not fundamentally change the system, but it may help to fundamentally improve the education that a few children receive, or at least will give a few Black people jobs on the city council that otherwise would have been unavailable to them.
As Yobachi eloquently urges us, let us not be "Politically immature and in-astute; believing getting a position is equivalent to Kingdom come." But, would electing a white male president again "fundamentally change" the system? Of course not! So, why should Barack Obama's candidacy be held to a higher standard of expectation than the series of 43 consecutive white men who will have preceeded him? How many of them fundamentally changed Black people's position in society more than Barack Obama could be expected to do?
Let's work our asses off to elect Barack Obama because the alternative would be far worse, which is what we always do, regardless of the skin color of the candidate.
As I have often said to the AfroSpear's Exodus Mentality, eating today does not resolve once and for all the fact that our bodies require continuous nourishment for the rest of our lives in order to stave off death. But eating today, imperfect a solution as it obviously is to the problem of lifelong hunger, does have the benefit of staving off hunger and death today, if only for this short time.
It's part of the human condition that no solution or resolution to our challenges is perfect or everlasting, except death itself. And so the fact that electing Barack Obama president will not, in and of itself, bring fundamental change is no reason to refrain from doing so, and doing so with the same vigor and continuous attention with which we brush our teeth each day. Some things we must do simply in order not to stink and be offensive to our fellows.
We have to concede that some solutions that do not offer "fundamental change" are necessary nonetheless, because they are better than the alternative, which may be no change at all, or even retrogression. Filling a cavity in my mouth, for example, will not fundamentally change the system that causes cavities and it will not even prevent cavities in other teeth. It is just one minute defense in a process that will end when I die in any case, but which is worth engaging on a daily basis for so long as I am alive. Because, the result of inaction is worse than the result of imperfect action.
One fundamental aspect of American history has been the 43-term white male monopoly of the presidency. American has never, ever elected a president who was not a white man. This has been part of and also has fueled a sense of entitlement in white men that faces us ever time we seek a car loan or a good price on the house of our choice. White men have been led to believe that they are entitled to better treatment than women, Blacks, and everyone else. As an historical matter, ending that white male monopoly of the presidency IS a fundamental historical change, regardless of what other effects it has.
I hope that if Barack Obama becomes president, then judges, when assessing the potential for rehabilitation of young Black men when considering whether and for how long to imprison them, may consider the possibility that that young Black man could be the next Barack Obama, if allowed and permitted and encouraged and aided to achieve his human potential, regardless of the color of his skin.
It's true that the opposite might happen. White America may feel an even greater need to repress Blacks, to keep more Barack Obama's from emerging from within our ranks. But those are the kinds of chances we have to be willing to take if we want to achieve fundamental change.