Dr. King Reflecting on the Journey

Dr. King Reflecting on the Journey
"Infamous, this day in Memphis, city of my demise."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Post-Election Reflections

© gjc, 11/10/08


Last week, two days after the election, I met with students who are taking my behavior support class as a correspondence course to give them their last assignment at Toledo’s Main Library. It took about an hour to go through the fifty or so pages of reading assignments, questions, and quizzes that they have to have completed by December. When we were done, I decided to check my email on one of the library’s computers while waiting for my ride. A young African-American male sat on either side of me using computers. The one on the right leaned over and said, “I have a secret to tell you.” I took the bait and said, “What is it?” He grinned and said, “We have a black President!”

I laughed and said, “Yes, we do don’t we? Only in America! No European country has ever elected a minority for the top job. That’s what I love about this country!” He and the young man to my left both smiled. Like many of the African-American men I saw that day and the day before, they seemed to walk a little taller and hold their heads up a little higher. I was happy for them and thankful to President-Elect Obama and the nation that elected him its first black President for making African-American men, who may have never felt their value, understand it, possibly for the first time.

The night of the election, my three younger siblings did a wonderful thing. They spent the evening with a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement: our mother. Realizing early on that Obama was winning the election, they retired early to get up and go to work the next day, leaving Mom alone. So, I was the first person to talk to her when the results of the election became official after the polls closed in California at eleven o’clock. I called her and she was exuberant. I congratulated her on all the work she and my now deceased father did to help make the election of a black President possible. We talked about how Daddy would have rejoiced had he lived to see Obama elected and I hung and called my brother, John, in California to congratulate his state for putting Obama over the top, but didn’t get an answer.

Then, just before one o’clock, when I was finally drifting off to sleep, my telephone rang and my talking caller ID said, “Chapman, John.” I immediately woke up and picked up the phone to find out that my brother, who along with me and James comprised the half of our family who supported Hilary Clinton in the primaries, had just returned from Nevada where he and his son, Shane, who lives there, had been canvassing for votes, knocking on doors and handing out flyers. John canvassed for Obama and Shane, a Mormon and Republican who supported Mitt Romney in the primaries, canvassed for McCain.

John said Shane was very upset when Obama won and said, “He’s going to take all our guns!” John, who loves a good argument (you should have heard the two of us growing up!) said he and Shane bantered back and forth about politics while he was there; and John, being a parent, was delighted to see his son so involved in the political process. I think it’s also possible that he has learned what I’ve learned: that people on the opposite side of your political opinion aren’t necessarily evil. He loves his son and knows Shane is a good man, who takes care of his family (he’s married with two kids), and who just happens to disagree with his dad about politics.

I really hope we all learn this lesson during a time when we as a nation really need to unite to solve our problems. Our President-Elect seems to be interested in uniting the country and reached out to those who didn’t support him or vote for him in his acceptance speech. His opponent also showed his willingness to work with the man he described as “my opponent who is now my President” in his concession speech. The rest of the nation should follow the lead of these two men as our new President prepares to assume the mantle of leadership of this nation.

I know most of us are just thinking about the Inaugural Ball and all the after parties right now, but we need to get out of party mode for a minute and think of the daunting tasks that our new President faces. Somehow, because they believe in him, most people think everything is just going to fall into place and the formidable problems with the economy, the job market, and the housing market, not to mention health care and national security, will be solved easily and with little effort by a man far more intelligent and focused than anyone who’s been in the White House in eight years. I think some people are looking at the Obama Presidency like an episode of “The Cosby Show” when no matter what problem faced the Huxtables, it was all resolved at the end of the half hour sitcom. Instead of half hour, we’re giving President Obama four years, but the economic crisis which began even before President Bush became President cannot be completely solved in one term. Neither can health care, the housing crisis, and our national security issues.

Most of us just assume that President Obama will be in office eight years anyway, so we think he’ll have plenty of time to solve all the nation’s problems. I only ask that you remember Toledo’s first strong black mayor, Jack Ford. He had a huge mess to clean up after two terms of Carty Finkbeiner and when he couldn’t get it all cleaned up in one term, Toledoans threw him out and re-elected Carty! Now, the nation can’t and wouldn’t re-elect George Bush, but it will put a Republican back in office if they don’t think President Obama solved all the nation’s problems during his first term. Of course that’s not fair, but Americans are used to quick fixes and instant oatmeal. We want everything right now and when we don’t get it, we move on to the next quick fix promise.

There’s also the issue of race, which may not have been a big issue in Obama’s first Presidential campaign, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an issue in the second one. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said on “Morning Joe” that the election of Barack Obama as President puts racism “behind us.” I think not. While I think Obama is not viewed primarily as a black man by most Americans, the rest of us are still black and if you don’t think so, look at our justice system that has given harsher treatment to blacks and Hispanics historically. There are some signs that this is changing, but the changes are slow to come. My recent experience on the job tells me that racism is still very much ahead of many of us.

At my previous job, a director, who was a white female who happened to have been a Civil Rights activist, was committed to hiring qualified African-Americans for management positions and she did so. The building where I worked lost all five of its managers to retirement and African-Americans were hired by the director for four of the five management positions, including the top position which was given to an African-American male. Unfortunately, the director retired and I became the first casualty of her efforts to bring equality to an agency that has as one of its core values “cultural competence” when I did not get enrolled in a class I needed for certification until the week my certification expired. Having taught people in my behavior support classes after they’d been terminated when they did not get their certification in time and needed to take a class to get certified and re-hired, I really didn’t think there would be a problem since I was actually taking the class I needed to get my certification. However, it was a big problem for the HR department and I would have had to take legal action in order to keep my job, so I resigned.

Since I left, the African-American male who ran my facility has been moved to a smaller facility by HR and an African-American staff who I asked to teach a health education class and who turned that class into a health education program, winning the agency’s highest award last spring, has been targeted by HR and is shutting down her program. Now, none of this may have anything to do with racism, but since all three incidents involve African-Americans being targeted by the same department after the director who supported all three of us wholeheartedly retired, one has to wonder. This is just one example of the kind of subtle, but real dilemmas African-Americans face every day in America and I don’t think this will stop because we have a black President. Perversely, some of these insidious tactics may increase as a kind of backlash to President Obama’s election and may even become more blatantly racist.

My point is that there remains an undercurrent of racism in our culture and although it seems to not have touched our newly elected President before now, if he does not perform up to the expectations of the majority of Americans, racism could rear its ugly head the next time he runs and, like Jack Ford, everybody will be blaming “the black guy” in the White House for everything that’s wrong with the country. There’s little we can do about that. What we can do is get our heads out of the clouds and between celebrations, parties, and throw downs, take a sobering look at the state of affairs in this country and do everything – not a couple of things – everything we can to help bring about the changes the President has promised.

This means we can’t sit back and wait for him to “save us.” Instead, we have to be active participants in our rescue and the country’s rescue from the economic crisis, the health care crisis, the housing crisis, and the war in Iraq. It means if you voted for Barack Obama and you want his Presidency to succeed, you have to do some things to help and that means changing your lifestyle and making some sacrifices while we work our way out of this economic crisis. First, we all need to get out of debt, if we can. Next, everyone needs to have a savings account in case of job loss or other unforeseen economic problems. Then, we need to cut back on our spending. Stop buying everything you think you want! Keep that old klunker you’ve been driving and put off buying clothes one more year. Don’t spend thousands of dollars buying your kids Christmas present this year – buy them one nice gift and some socks and underwear like parents did when I was a child.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, folks! We’re not going to get out of the economic crisis buying the latest Jordans and Baby Phat leather jackets. Treat your money as if it is the last you’ll ever have and hold on to it. Believe me, this is hard for me to do, too. Money has never meant anything to me, so I’ve spent every cent I’ve ever had until now. Now, I have a savings account and although I’ve spent a lot of money giving to others and helping family and friends, I am paying off my credit cards and not buying expensive clothes now that I can finally afford to buy new ones. I’m also not buying the new furniture I need – yet! I’m waiting until my business starts to make a profit. I’ve also invested in real estate with my brother, Joseph, and continue to get real estate tips from my brother John, a realtor in California who is always calling me up telling me about houses he sees for sale in Toledo online.

Supporting the new President will take a lot more than celebrating January 20th and just being happy that a black man is in the White House. Although I didn’t support him in the primaries and did not vote for him November 4th (despite a robo-call from Michelle Obama that almost convinced me, when I got to the voting booth, I had to vote for Cynthia McKinney – the only woman running for President this year!), like John McCain, I accept Barack Obama as my President and I will support him. (I accepted George Bush as my President for eight years despite my intense dislike of him due to the mess he made of my home state and his invasion of Iraq, so, believe me, accepting Barack Obama as my President is a piece of cake compared to swallowing that pill!) Supporting the President means I will make the sacrifices he asks me to make. It also means I will question his policies when I have questions about them. No, he won’t get a pass because he’s black.

Neither will we. Those of you who wanted reparations for slavery can forget about that now. All those folks tired of us talking about slavery and what we’re owed because the slaves were freed and never given anything for their two centuries of labor that helped to build this county (not even the 40 acres and a single mule that was proposed as just payment to each slave family, but was never approved by the U.S. government) feel they paid up when they elected a black President. James said a speaker at his UCC church in Columbus brought the house down yesterday when she said, “We may not have gotten our 40 acres and our mule, but we did get 50 states and a White House!” In other words, you wanted a black President and you got him. So, that settles it – no more talk about reparations, racism, or affirmative action, black folks. You have seen the Promised Land! If only all our problems could be solved just by putting a black man in the White House – that’s a lovely dream, but I don’t think it’s the one Dr. King had.

Part of Dr. King’s dream did come true this year when a man was judged by his character and not the color of his skin as Americans went to the polls and elected the person they thought could best lead the nation. That alone is reason to celebrate! So, let’s party January 20th like it’s 1999! Then, a week later, when your hangover and/or euphoria of seeing a black man sworn in as President of the United States wears off and you can think straight again, let’s get down to the business of helping our new President by stepping up to the plate and doing our part as he prepares to govern this nation. Can you spell s-a-c-r-i-f-i-c-e? Even more importantly, can you do it? Can you sacrifice your needs and put the needs of the nation first for just a little while? Our forefathers did it when they sacrificed to put children through college, build businesses, and saved to buy a house. They didn’t have sub-prime loans that allowed them to buy houses they couldn’t afford with no down payment. No, they had to have money to put down on their little modest homes and they saved that money and bought those homes. That’s the mindset we’re going to have to have for at least the next few years.

Can you we do it? As President Obama told us over and over during his campaign -

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