Monday, January 19, 2009

The Obama Presidency's Impact on Black America

A few days ago, I was conversing with some white Americans about Bill Cosby and how he recently stated that he really doesn't care what some racists in white America think of what he has to say. This led to a discussion about what sort of impact Obama's presidency will have on black America. At this point, I think that the possibilities are wide open. I really don't know what having Obama as President will mean to people of color in the long run. There are so many layers to this (the effect on people of color) that I think many white people haven't picked up on.

For instance, there's the Obama's social status. While lots of people are impressed about where the Obamas went to university, there is the segment of black society that feels differently. I'm in the third generation of my family who went to university. I know some people of color who are among the fourth generation of their family to go. For the upper-middle to upper class set, the Obamas are nouveau riche. Barack and Michelle may have done well, but they are the first in their family to attain real wealth. Some people of color see that as the first step towards entering black high society but it certainly isn't enough. There's also a significant amount of folks in this group who are Republicans and see the election of Obama as the reinforcing of the stereotype where all blacks are assumed to be Democrats.

There are those people of color who have mixed-ethnicity identities. For some of them, the fact that Obama is bi-racial is a big deal because it means he is someone who can relate to different groups without feeling as if he has to maintain some sort of loyalty to the very unscientific social construct of race. We were pretty dern excited by this at my house because it brought mixed-ethnicity and interracial relationships into the forefront where they could be discussed in ways that rarely occurred before. Will Sasha and Malia see themselves as "just black" or will they identify as "mixed-ethnicity" or as "people of color" or "just Americans"? We can't wait to see how having children of color with white and Asian and black family members may affect Barack Obama's weltanschauung.

Then there are those who do not see Obama as really representative of blacks at all. There is the legacy of shadism/colorism that seems to be relevant here. The truth is that, throughout American history, lighter-skinned blacks have been viewed as less threatening than darker-skinned blacks and have generally received better treatment from white society. The fact that Obama could appeal to white, rural people isn't much of a surprise to those who point out how accepting lighter-skinned people of color allows some white Americans to feel tolerant without actually addressing the problem with racial stereotypes.

I think most people of color think that it's great we've finally opened up the Presidency and added a bit of diversity to it. At the same time, there are so many ways that this affects different segments of people of color that I don't think any of us know the full impact that Obama's election will have.

1 comment:

lwayswright said...

I agree with you that no one knows what the impact will be on all americans. It will be interesting to see!