The New York Times yesterday ran a piece that addressed the mix of emotions for many African Americans that the Sen. Barack Obama’s nomination for president evokes. Of course, many African Americans, and African immigrants to the U.S., are filled with joy. As Marcus Mabry writes in the lede to the story:
Kwabena Sam-Brew, a 38-year-old immigrant from Ghana, doubted that Nana, his 5-year-old American-born daughter, would remember the rally that effectively crowned Senator Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee Tuesday night. But Mr. Sam-Brew said he would describe it to her: “I will tell her, ‘Tonight is the night that all Americans became one.’ ” Mr. Sam-Brew, a bus driver living in Cottage Grove, Minn., said Mr. Obama’s achievement would change the nation’s image around the world, and change the mind-set of Americans, too. “We as black people now have hope that we have never, ever had,” Mr. Sam-Brew said. “I have new goals for my little girl. She can’t give me any excuses because she’s black.”
And, many people who identify as biracial (or the parents of biracial children) feel a special sense of joy and pride as Obama’s achievement as this woman describes:
Alison Kane, a white 34-year-old transportation analyst from Edina, Minn., said Mr. Obama’s success as a biracial politician would have a similar effect on her 21-month-old biracial daughter, Hawa. “When she’s out in, God knows where, some small town in rural America, they’ll think, ‘Oh, I know someone like you. Our president is like you,’ ” Ms. Kane said. “That just opens minds for people, to have someone to relate to. And that makes me feel better, as a mom.”
Yet, that joy is mixed with other emotions that acknowledge the reality of systemic racism in the U.S. For instance, the article quotes Michella Minter, a black 21-year-old student in Huntington, W.Va.,
“People hate black people. I’m not trying to be racist or over the top but it is seriously apparent that black people aren’t valued in this country. In the last 12 months, six kids were being tried for attempted murder for a school fight, an unarmed man got 51 bullets in his body by a New York police officer, died, and no one was charged, and endless other racist unknown acts have occurred this year.”
For many African Americans, the reality of persistent racism in the U.S. means that every achievement, every soaring accomplishment, is tinged with the knowledge of how fragile that victory is, how easily reversed, how tentative the progress. And, make no mistake, Obama’s victory is inspiring and remarkable, but it does not mark “the end of racism.” For that, we have miles and miles to go.