As the national lens focuses on the governor of Illinois, I continue to return to a conversation I had with my brother from another mother a few weeks ago. We talked about whether or not the election of Barack Obama, a black, Harvard-educated, faithfully-married, articulate, good-looking, athletic father of two would change the way that we are perceived, whether this new climate of change would affect us, as we are attempting to affect it, as we walk the streets and halls as black men in America. In much the same way that our image has continually been defined in the media by the most violent and vile, are we now to be painted with the Obama brush? Are we “Obama Certified”?
I know that my white counterparts are not having the same conversation about whether Blagojevich and Bush affect their perception in the world. The white privilege that they posses allows them to be individuals in American society, even while the current President continues to run his party into the ground by enacting his own type of “pay-to-play” style politics. Barack Obama’s steady pace of putting his team together, building on years of hard work and keeping his nose clean, makes him the standard bearer in national politics and American life even before he takes office. President Bush and his administration continue to highlight these differences, in their duplicitous “cooperation” with the Obama-Biden transition team, even as they deny the President-elect and his family housing in the New Year.
But I digress. I was talking about being Obama Certified.
If you, like my brother and I, are working hard at what you do, making a difference for others by making yourself a better person, you are Obama Certified. If you, like the men of Loyola High School of Los Angeles, are a person for others, putting their interests so close to yours that they are indistinguishable, then you are Obama certified. If, like the President-elect, you listen to what people say, both those who agree with you and those who don’t, before you make a decision, then you are Obama Certified. If you can look at the hard choices that need to be made, and make them despite what is popular to do what is right, you are Obama Certified. And I take a short break here to say that many of us have been doing this for years, with recognition from family, friends and immediate community, but still getting pulled over for driving while black. My purpose in defining the qualities that Barack Obama brings to the national stage is to elucidate that while he is doing a wonderful job of representing, like Gwen Ifill’s new book points out, he is not alone.
To continue, if you can admit that you don’t know everything, that you make mistakes, and that you try your hardest not to repeat them, you are Obama Certified. The saying goes that your are judged by the company you keep. If you keep company, then, with those who share your goals and aspirations, who understand that long journeys are taken with individual steps, who are willing to give their best efforts daily because they understand that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” you are Obama Certified.
My brother and I have been working with these ideals, these goals, this work ethic for many years. They come from fathers who walked this walk, mothers who walked this walk, ancestors who carried chains, sang songs, sat in buses, drank at water fountains, and asked questions. They came from Kunta Kinte, not Toby. And as long as I’ve been on the planet, I’ve been aspiring to the positive and fighting the negative perceptions and images, stereotypes and prejudices leveled at black men, black people, Latinos and minorities in this country since it’s inception. We were Obama Certified before he was elected. We’ll be Obama Certified when his second term ends. But his election gives us (and everyone else) a term to use when describing who we are and what we do.
Barack Hussein Obama’s election to the presidency of the United States will not overnight change the systemic racism, the prejudices that exist in homes of all ethnicities and cultures across the United States. But it will take us one step closer to forming a more perfect union. And he’s got a whole host of Obama Certified supporters working with and for him to make that happen.
Illinois attorney general asks court to act on governor
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
Bush on auto bailout, war in Iraq, shoe-throwing reporter
Bush sneaks through host of laws to undermine Obama
Sorry Obamas, Early Check-in Isn’t Available
Obama wants temporary aid for automakers
Bush visits Iraq to mark passing of security pact