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by Tonyaa Weathersbee
I figured it was only a matter of time before some news organization would weigh in on how Black men were living up to their man duties a year after voters put one of them in the White House.
So CNN recently visited a Dallas barbershop and some social service organizations to gauge the Obama phenomena; to see whether the nation’s first Black president had inspired more of them to become better fathers and mentors, and to see themselves as pillars, and not pebbles, of their communities.
It seemed as if he had—somewhat.
The Dallas barbershop guys said that after Obama was elected, seven of them joined Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America. Nationally, 800 more Black men have become big brothers since last November, a spokeswoman told CNN.
Me, I think CNN should have talked to the brothers hanging out on the corners and in the parks.
If they had, perhaps they would have learned a truth that transcends sound bites: that while Obama’s victory represents the potential and the hopes of many Black men who have been pushed to society’s margins, the obstacles he’s grappled with since taking office are a reminder as to why so many of them have, either consciously or subconsciously, chosen to remain there.
That’s why I believe that one of the best things that Obama’s ascendancy can do for Black men is to influence many of them to move away from the fringes. Too many racists have grown comfortable with them being there.
We know this by looking at Obama’s first year. It has been filled with promise. But it has also been filled with the kind of grief that tends to be reserved for ambitious Black men who forget their place.
One of the most frequent criticisms about his health care overhaul plans, for example, tend to come from people who believe he’s moving too fast— a criticism that is rarely directed toward White men.
By daring to overhaul our dysfunctional health care system, Obama’s GOP detractors in Congress and their teabagging cohorts don’t see him as courageous. They see him as a Black man in over his head.
They’re also relying on the rest of the public to see Obama that way; to let him be president as long as he doesn’t dare use the power that comes along with it. In other words, some people would rather reduce him to a token than actually let him achieve something. Then there’s the intense scrutiny; the tendency to cast every action, no matter how benign, as proof that Obama isn’t up to task of leading the free world. His handshake and deep bow to Emperor Akihito in Tokyo is seen as a sign of naivete and a willingness to portray the United States as a subservient nation instead of a superpower.
No matter that former President Nixon bowed to Emperor Hirohito in 1971, and that former president George W. Bush kissed and held hands with the Saudi king—something that smacks more of subservience than a bow.
Besides, we bowed to Japan a long time when we started replacing our Fords and Magnavoxes with their Toyotas and Sonys.
So Black men who’ve acquiesced spend their days on corners instead of looking for work see how Obama is treated. And for many, his struggles remind them of the struggles that await them and threaten to emasculate them if they dare step out of the reality that they’ve defined for themselves.
In their reality, they get to prove themselves as men through the number of children they have without bothering to get a square job—a job that might require them to stomach demeaning treatment from Whites—in order to financially care for them.
In their reality, they don’t have to worry about their ambitions being shot down by people who have the numbers and the power to make their prejudices stick, or risk being dissected and ridiculed by people who are determined to devalue them.
But what these corner-dwelling Black men don’t realize is that they actually give comfort to racists by isolating themselves. Obama, on the other hand, is forcing his detractors to deal with the specter of an ambitious, Black man who isn’t backing off on what he wants to do. If Obama can influence disillusioned Black men to find the courage to move from society’s fringes into the mainstream, that, to me, would have a more lasting impact than them signing up to volunteer.
And the racists would just have to get used to it.
(Tonyaa Weathersbee is a columnist with the news website, BlackAmericaWeb.com, where this article was originally published. Reprinted from the Afro American.)
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