Wednesday, October 17, 2012
President Obama and the Million Man March
It’s fitting that I watched the debate after leading a panel discussion on the Million Man March. Yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the march. We met at the Hayti Heritage Center to discuss the significance of the event. It helped that we were surrounded by the amazing photo exhibit of Katina Parker, who captured the essence of all the million march movements. Be sure to check it out.
Participating with me on the panel was Mark Anthony Neal, professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke University, Minister Amon Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Omnisade Burney-Scott, who is an activist and consultant, and Parker. The size of the crowd was impacted by the event of the night. All of us wanted to rush home to witness the Presidential Debate.
Members of the Nation of Islam, the organizers of the march, concentrate more on the need for a separate nation for black people than the American political process. The Million Man March was about atonement and bringing attention to the ways black people can be empowered to change their own condition. Although we were not in D.C. to impact changes in legislation, the fact that we were in DC was a political statement.
The failure of the march, in the minds of many, was a lack of understanding related to the meaning of our collective statement. We left empowered for a day, and went home to continue the lives we brought to the capitol lawn. The radicalism of that day was swallowed up by a series of events that forced us to remember our place.
“The voice of black youth was Tupac,” Mark Anthony Neal stated. “He was killed after the march.” Neal noted the relationship between Tupac and Mike Tyson and pondered the difference Tupac could have made in the boxers life. He shared the frustration carried when black men are killed in the middle of making a difference. It’s what happened to Sam Cooke. It happened with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. It happens so often that time isn’t given to grieve before another is taken away.
“You could feel something change after the Million Youth March,” Parker added. “The marches that followed felt more like a family reunion.” Had radicalism died?
“You have to consider how much we have endured,” Burney-Scott shared while discussing the pain of black youth. “We have been through so much over the years.”
We talked about disappointment rather than the victory of having a black President. Something is dreadfully wrong with failing to celebrate this moment in history. Why can’t we celebrate?
It came to me at the end of the debate. Yes, Barack Obama is our President, but something is wrong with the presidency. It’s deep and painful. It hurts to witness what most black people recognize whenever it shows up in conversations about Obama. He’s the President of the United States, yet fails to be respected for what that means. He has won the right to serve our nation; however, he is treated in a way that dishonors his place in leadership.
Black people are suffering because of how that feels whenever we show up with loads of credentials only to leave feeling disrespected. How many of us have to fight to be heard only to be reminded that our message lacks credibility? That’s why we marched that day. We were fed up with being told we’re not good enough. We were then, and we are today, sick and tired of having to do twice as much to be validated among those screaming to destroy the integrity of our place in the room.
There was sadness in the room last night. Most of us felt we failed Obama. We failed him by not protecting him from the attacks that came. We failed to protect him from those consumed with defeating him by any means necessary. We watched as an angry Congressman called him a liar, and Paul Ryan and his cronies did all they could to defeat every effort Obama proposed. We watched the hate, and we felt it deep.
The sadness in the room was due to being tired. We’re tired and depressed. It’s why black people fight whenever a person speaks negatively about Obama. It’s more than politics. It’s deeper than policy decisions. This is personal. This is history, and the way Obama is treated reminds us of how we have been treated.
We can’t blame those who can’t understand. We can’t blame them for being unable to understand the fear of having things taken away whenever your blackness is too much for others to contend. They can’t understand how it feels when you have a man representing you with integrity and strength only to be told he doesn’t deserve to stay. Yes, that hurts! Yes, that’s painful! Why? Because this is our moment in history!
That’s why I marched on October 16, 1995. I wanted change for me and my son. I wanted change for other black men who couldn’t be seen due to the color of their skin. I marched because I was tired of screaming on my own and being accused of carrying a victim’s mentality. I marched because I was tired of the treatment.
Now, I’m angry. I’m angry because my dream for better has been swallowed up by all this hate. I detest the way people talk about Obama. I’m sick of the way people hide behind policy agenda’s when it’s much deeper than what they can admit. I respect a person’s right to vote against Obama. What I loathe is the covert racism that shapes so much of how people feel.
It’s why we marched. It’s been 17 years, and we’re still talking about the need for people to affirm and respect black men.