History Buzz February 9, 2012: Dr. Boyce Watkins: What is President Obama’s Role in Black History?

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

What is President Obama’s Role in Black History?

As I’ve run around the country giving Black History Month speeches, I’ve been thinking a great deal about where we are and where we are going as a community; I’ve also been asked about President Barack Obama’s role in Black history. Since the 44th president’s existence has been entirely complex and phenomenal — all at the same time — that becomes an extremely tough question to answer.

The first Black POTUS has always been considered the holy grail of African American achievements.  Most of us didn’t think we’d have a Black president for another 100 years.  We also didn’t consider the fact that the first Black president could have easily been a Republican (Former Secretary of State Colin Powell). Yet here we are, with some of us having more access to power than we’ve ever had before, and it’s turning into a mess.

One of the great challenges of being Black in America is that we sometimes become heavily dependent on our historical oppressors to validate our success.  We forget that the most successful African American on the plantation was not the one who made it into the big house; it was actually the one who escaped.

African Americans contributed heavily to the success of the Obama presidential campaign, but millions of white Americans had to give their stamp of approval before he was allowed into office.  So, to consider the first Black president to be the most accomplished African American in history moves us dangerously close to saying that getting approval from white America somehow makes you into a better human being.

Another thing we must be careful about is comparing Barack Obama to Martin Luther King, Jr. Not that one (a Civil Rights Activist) is better than the other (President of the United States), but in many cases, they are diametrically opposed.  No one can say what the relationship between Dr. King and President Obama would be if King were alive, but given that one of them (Dr. King) spoke endlessly about the ills of poverty, militarism and racial inequality, it’s not hard to imagine that the two might be at odds with one another…READ MORE

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