Is Obama proof that affirmative action is dead?
To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t hear more rumblings about this earlier. Maybe I just didn’t have my ear close enough to the ground.
As it turns out, Barack Obama may be both the best and the worst thing to happen to African Americans at the same time, depending on your point of view. Check out this rather interesting Associated Press article entitled “Does Obama Threaten Affirmative Action?” which appeared on June 30. The gist of the article, in case you haven’t guessed by the title, is that if a black man named Obama can make it this far in America, what the hell’s wrong with the rest of you negroes? Better learn how to swim or get your ass out the deep end, boy.
Well, OK, the article doesn’t quite say that, but I’m at an age where I’m pretty good at reading between the lines.
Those of us who have always supported affirmative action, but who are also honest and awake, have seen the end coming for quite awhile. The marches, the shouting, and the amped up protests against injustice led by the NAACP and other groups were all fine, but in the end it was simply dramatic theater at a wake. It’s too bad, but it is what it is. For the record, I do believe there is still a definite need for affirmative action since it is painfully obvious to all but the willfully blind that the playing field is far from even. And to point to the admittedly remarkable candidacy of Obama and say “All’s well!” is like pointing at an episode of the Cosby Show and insisting that it represents the full spectrum of the African American condition. Which, by the way, some folks actually did…
Barack Obama is a phenomenon, and the Cosby Show was a phenomenal, quietly revolutionary sitcom peopled by amusing, uplifting, yet nevertheless fictional characters. To adequately judge the average temperature of a city, you don’t wait until the hottest day, then trot out to a parking lot blacktop in the city’s hottest section with no shade, take a quick reading, and then claim to have done your job. At least, that’s not the intelligent way to do things…
So here we are. An African American man is likely to become the next President of the United States, which is an inescapable and overwhelmingly powerful signal of progress. Even if he loses, the power of his candidacy has shoved race relations forward and forced even the most cynical among us – myself, for example – to recognize that attitudes have changed more than we would have ever believed possible.
And yet, right here in my beloved city of Detroit -including the surrounding suburbs – is all the proof anyone will ever need that black folks as a whole are not even in the same time zone as the Promised Land, let alone the same zip code. The blackest city in America is also the most economically at risk, and that pretty much says it all. In the age of Obama, and all the possibilities that his candidacy represents, Detroit is still trying to dogpaddle across the river toward the possibility of dry land with the full weight of yesteryear’s failing economy strapped to our ankles in the shape of twin Cadillac cars.
So then…Does Obama threaten affirmative action? Hell no. Obama is the realization of a dream held by many whose time has actually come. And when we wake up from this dream, we will realize that the death of affirmative action was the price we paid for sleeping.
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