Transformative Presidency?

Did the election of this President, with a mixed record, no matter your political viewpoint, matter merely because he was black?

I’m watching this television program called JEOPARDY! On the episode airing way back on February 25, 2009, which I almost certainly watched at least a week later, there was a category called THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, with all of the clues given by black historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The $200 clue: “In a recent essay, I cited the election of Barack Obama as one of the 4 ‘transformative moments’ in African-American history; this 1863 event was the first.” The question, of course, was “What is The Emancipation Proclamation?” (The other two moments, which Gates revealed in a video clip leading to a commercial break, were Joe Louis’ victory over Max Schmeling in 1938 and the 1963 march on Washington that featured Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.)

Around the same time, I had come across a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center: Fueled by non-white immigration, the economy and the rise to power of a black president, the number of hate groups rose to 926, a record, in 2008.

Let me admit my resistance to Obama’s election as “transformative.”

Did the election of this President, with a mixed record, no matter your political viewpoint, matter merely because he was black? Surely a historical moment, but “transformative”?

Think of Jackie Robinson – whose entry into Major League Baseball, BTW, I would have put as one of Gates’ “transformative” moments, rather than Joe Louis. If he had failed as a player, would it have mattered as much that he was the first black player in a long while? I think he’d be a footnote in history. I still wonder if the added racial responsibility weighs on Obama, as surely it did on Robinson?

I’m reminded, oddly I suppose, of Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America, back when Miss America still mattered in the United States. Know that there was some controversy in some black circles because she was so light-skinned, not dissimilar to conversations about Obama’s mixed-race heritage. Then Ms. Williams was booted as Miss America; her great strength is that she did not allow that incident to define her, but at the time, I thought it was a blow to some black people who said: “We make the breakthrough, then THAT has to happen?”

Also, with the increased number of nut jobs out there, I can’t help but continue to worry for Obama’s well-being. Not the least of which is the White Nationalist CPAC panel warning that America’s greatest threat is its diversity.

So I’m still mulling over how “transformative” the 2008 election turned out to be, in terms of justice, social/economic/racial/environmental, but it is not apparent in many aspects.

I’ve long stated that “the first” is important, but it’s not until it’s no longer an issue at all that real progress is made. And if you read some of the right-wing stuff I do, you know we are not there yet.
My friend Dan lays out, not in a racial context but just as in a political one, how Barack Obama has NOT had a transformative presidency in far too many ways. While he tends towards harsher language than I, I’d be hard-pressed to negate his overriding premise.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “Transformative Presidency?”

  1. Yes. Yes because it was about time someone other than an elite white male was elected. Yes because he changed the discussion for millions of young Black men. Yes because living generations of older Black Americans saw their decades of hard work come to a fruition of sorts. When he first took office he undid a slew of bad legislation that could be done with his signature. Yes AND No because those who cannot abide a black man as president are showing their real values in their not so hidden racism – blocking every move This President tries to make on the economy, healthcare,and a dozen other crucial issues. That’s all just for starters. I don’t agree with him on everything and wish he fought back more, calling out the bull for what it is. But that’s easy for me to say and exhausting to do.

  2. Much as I am disappointed by the Obama Presidency – he really IS too typical of Presidents in the execution of his office – I would say that there is SOMETHING particular about his election, although “transformative” is not the correct term “Lightning Rod” is more to the point, because he brought all of the dyed-in-the-wool RACISTS out of the woodwork. I really thought we had made a little more national progress than it is evident that we have; sadly, I was wrong.

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