What can you do being Black in America? By the sight of things, it doesn’t look all that great – but, when was it ever on the up-and-up? Still, despite the continued post-racial bubble gum pop the zeitgeist loves to snap-on like Lego analysis, some folks can’t help but feel a little marginalized these days.
We know all about the fairly funky situation we’ve always faced. Yet, the last 50 years have shown an uptick in political activity and maturity bordering on straight miraculous … and that’s considering the few hundred before that. Now we’re in an age of a Black president, another Black Senator (although he’s an appointment and the cloud of his Republicanism gets few nods from the community), a Black Governor of a major state, 43 Black Members of Congress and nearly 700 Black state lawmakers across the fifty states. That’s not counting the thousands elected on the local and county level. So what’s the problem?
A question still lingers: Where’s the respect? There are a string of stinging assaults, from perceived pop culture slights in the cinematic space to some of your more standard rifts over institutionalized racism in politics. Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), appearing fully recovered from his own ethics cloud, channeled some of that frustration when he recently dinged the second-term Obama White House for its lack of diverse optics. “It’s embarrassing as hell,” was Rangel growling on MSNBC, wondering how President Obama wasn’t tapping into the universe of Black talent at his fingertips and instead settling for much Whiter, much more Alpha-male cabinet picks. The national security team nomination bench, for sure, looks about as 20th century as an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, say scratching heads. Others, mostly progressives, wonder what the deal is: they held back on criticizing BO-POTUS so he could get reelected; but, like Rangel, there is a collective “WTF?” on the left. People of color braving eight hour lines in battleground states got him over the top, they say. Didn’t we have a contract, albeit unwritten? He can at least hire a few of us, right?
Republicans, mind you, aren’t saying much. They quietly snort at the irony, occasionally picking away at the Black unemployment numbers if anyone is willing to listen. As always, it’s really not that simple.
Of course, the President goes with what he knows, pulls on – as he put it in reference to his nomination of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary – people he can “trust.” Skin color has yet to break through the trust barrier, Barack may have said, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett egging him along. Is what it is. We’ve matured, this is what it takes to deal, get over it. Think Newark Mayor Corey Booker worried about it when he hired a White police chief to protect one of the Blackest cities on the East Coast?
Still, nothing-to-lose keeps-it-hundred Rangel, once again channeling the quiet convention of Black politicos on and off the Hill, takes a hit on it: “If it’s the first term, you could see people got to know who is around that’s qualified in order to get this job, No. 1. I had thought, and maybe it’s so, that it could be the Harvard problem where people just know each other, trust each other and women and minorities don’t get a chance to rub elbows and their reputations and experience is not known.”
It is kind of the “Harvard problem,” though, the unspoken off-the-record knowledge that the Obama inner-circle just digs Ivy League elites … or, just values that particular perspective a bit more than, say, the HBCU grad sporting letters at homecoming. At least that’s the feeling when talking to cringing Black sources close to the White House who sometimes feel left out. And how many went to “those schools” anyway? Don’t expect a Supreme Court nomination if you went to Howard Law, they say. Sorry, no Cheney University pedigree allowed. You might cut a little lucky if you’ve got a Morehouse or Spelman connect, but nowhere near the mysterious Jedi-like “inner circle.”
But, who’s to say. Maybe it’s not really that bad. There’s got to be something sanguine in the scene of the Black man calling the shots in a room full of White guys. Perhaps we’ve arrived, something to celebrate that’s real and beyond fiction. And this is what it takes: acceptance of newfound responsibilities and new lands to chart. Should we really be all that upset? Isn’t this what some of us wanted? The deep satisfaction and reversed fortune of “them” at the service of one of “us.” Like the chuckle from watching Bubba’s family hiring White servants after Forrest Gump made sure to split his shrimp boat fortune with his dead friend’s next of kin.
To the laymen, the innocent bystander of electoral hopes and dreams, it’s still a bit surreal and hard to process. Some are now feeling safe enough – with Mitt Romney now gone packing and the election certified – to say they feel … well … a bit kicked to the curb.
It’s not so much the President’s fault. It’s just bad timing. Not just the near all-White male cabinet (although, let’s not forget that Eric Holder is still staying on at Justice, and the Attorney General can occasionally exercise as much clout as the President), but, some are still smarting from the unceremonious ditching of Susan Rice. Many still talk about the indignity of Voter ID laws during the 2012 election; others, after stretching off the near-nightmare of voter suppression, are now in disbelief that they are about to go through the terror once again as a conservative Supreme Court prepares to rule on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action. There is a feeling that this year could be the Last Year of Civil Rights – at least, civil rights as Generation X (a.k.a “the Hip Hop Generation”) and our parents have known it. Mix in the weird psycho-racial debate over one of our favorite White directors daring to construct a brutally bloody film about slave revenge, the Roots for the Millennial generation. But, the added twist of accompanying action figures pours a little salt on it, with film fans not all that happy because it’s not like the country really ever reconciled the hurt from it.
It’s no secret. Black folks, despite their large population and central role in American life, feel like they are on the fringe. The nation loves their music, their sports, their stage acts and reality show tomfoolery – but do they get the respect they need? As if electing the first Black president was a parody, a charade to keep some blindly happy and oblivious. Maybe that’s a bit depressing, so here’s the upside: maybe we’ve officially matured past the civil rights paradigm and must collectively “man up” and move on. Dysfunction in Washington and uncertainty around the globe don’t hold up much hope for that. But, we’ve been there done that, right?
OH, YEAH … IF YOU JUST SO HAPPEN TO BRAVE A TRIP TO D.C. FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA’S 2nd INAUGURATION, I’ll be at the pre-inaugural cocktail party being hosted by Young Professionals United for Change (YP4C) on Saturday, Jan. 19th, 10pm-3am in DC at Mahogany and Liv Nightclub www.mahoganydc.com and www.livdc.com at 11th and U Streets, NW, one of the most reputable Black-owned restaurant/lounge combinations in the nation’s capitol. Interested? Contact Tara Dowdell at tara [at] taradowdellgroup.com.
Over 500 young urban professionals are expected, many hailing from New York City, Philadelphia, D.C., Maryland and Virginia (the so-called “DMV”) There were nearly 800 people in 2008 – but, not as many folks showing up for inauguration this round (the novelty wears off by re-election). YP4C just added DJ D-Nice to the entertainment (the same D-Nice of KRS-1’s Boogie Down Productions? Not bad …) and there will be a live jazz band in the lounge. Expect VIP open bar, complimentary hors d’oeuvres and celebrities on site. See you this Saturday!
CHARLES D. ELLISON is a political strategist, author, Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and Politics Contributor to UPTOWN Magazine. He is also host of “POTUS Re-set” on SiriusXM 124, Thursdays 7-9pm ET. Ellison can be reached via Twitter @charlesdellison