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Thursday, November 6th, 2008 at 4:25 pm  |  69 responses

‘Til Victory Is Won

Thoughts on President Obama, Where We Are and What’s Next.

by Khalid Salaam

I didn’t cry. I still haven’t in fact, not sure why though. When the news broke that Barack Obama was officially the President I was surprisingly quiet. It was only later in the night that it really hit me. The Mrs had an election party and once 11 hit it became obvious that we just couldn’t stay indoors the whole night. As you can imagine, Harlem (where I live) was especially festive upon hearing the news and in the streets there was a sea of people screaming and clapping and just enjoying what can only be described as a monumental moment. On Tuesday night I became just an American. Not an African American anymore, not even Black. Just American. I mean, of course I will still use that term to describe myself and those terms still have relevance in describing anyone who looks like me or has a similar background. But I no longer 100 percent subscribe to that term. I don’t have to steadfastly hang on to those words. I’m just an American now. And I have a candidate in office that I believe in. I believe in his polices and his vision on health-care (especially), foreign relations, the economy and education. I’m not saying he’ll be the next FDR or Lyndon Johnson but the potential for greatness is there.

*************

I understand that American freedom is the best there is, but only recently and in segmented context has that included people like me. The paradigm shift his win signals cannot be overstated or easily digested. As I told my co-workers, I could not conceive of a reality in which this could happen. Not yet as least. Another 10, 15, 20 years maybe but not yet. The mistrust and ignorance that permeates through all races in this country, I thought, would not allow a coalition to manifest itself in a way that could lead to a Black man being elected President. The rules of tribalism are real but for a large group of people, seeing past those things for the greater good of the country took priority. It is a joyous revelation to know these things are possible.

I don’t expect any difference in my life to just happen all of a sudden. An Obama presidency doesn’t excuse me from having to pay back student loans bills or pay income taxes and it doesn’t make a loaf of wheat bread from Whole Foods any less expensive. I may still suffer from police profiling. But it allows me to think more positively about the country as a whole. And even though I shrug my shoulders at happy/cheery sounding terms like “post-racial” I at least know one huge thing now. Mainstream American will at least come to the table now. We might not be able to resolve anything right away but now at least we can all sit down and discuss real issues without hatred and prejudice poisoning the dialogue.

There will be many member of the mainstream who will bring up Obama (like they do with the Oprah Winfrey’s and Will Smiths of the world) as proof that things are supremely better and its time to put away such things as college quotas. And I will vigorously argue them as I’ve always done. Get rid of legacy based admissions and we have a deal. Until then I will not be satisfied until the collective experience of people like me is elevated. Yes we are no longer exiled to the fringes of society but we aren’t at the center yet either. Now at least, a pathway has been discovered. Please undersatnd were not just doing this for the hell of it. We want to be part of the muthafu*kin’ establishment.

*********************

The racial component of Obama’s campaign was a concern obviously but there was another part of it that gave me high levels of trepidation. There are lots of dumb people, more than we ever imagine. They do cling to guns and religion and they do have narrow minds and they do believe what they are told. Concerns about Obama’s weight, name, eloquence, intelligence, patriotism and popularity were brought into question. And the wave of anti-intellectualism that gained traction and acceptance during the Bush years washed ashore, creating the context in which someone would have to feel shame for being smart and well-read. The insidious, unpatriotic savagery of the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world flamed these fires and during the summer I feared that the wave might overtake the movement that Barack’s campaign had become. The selection of Joe Biden gave me confidence but it wasn’t until John McCain picked Sarah Palin that I thought it might happen for the Democratic Party. Former Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Ridge was the person I thought McCain would pick. He’s a heavy weight in the political world (even with the Bush baggage that came with him, I thought he would be a formidable foe with his Homeland Security background and the fact that he could help win a state that was of great importance). Palin turned out to be the dealbreaker, as we all know now. She was in fact too anti-intellectual, and as the reports coming out now show, she would have doomed us all. Her brand of thinking (what I like to call political scientology) along with McCain’s archaic worldview would have sunk this country into depths of despair never seen.

**************

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
—Lift Every Voice and Sing (James Weldon Johnson)

Above is the first verse of the Black National Anthem, I’ve sung it a hundred times but now I fully understand it. The song is about the future, written in a time when there seemingly was no future for so many people. There are two photos right above my desk that I’ve been staring at all day. One is a picture of a basketball team from Louisville dated 1926. It says “hope” on the front of their jerseys. The other is a pic of the sanitation workers strike of 1968 in Memphis. In the picture everyone is holding a sign that says “ I Am A Man”. Its powerful for it determination and simplicity. Tired of unfair conditions and rampant disrespect several hundred sanitation workers (mostly Black but not all) went on strike until their demands were met. For the next 2 months it grew into a full-scale civil rights event (Dr. King was in Memphis at the time of his assassination lending support to the workers). Obama’s election is for all of us regardless of color, religion or age. But it’s especially for those men in Memphis. And for my Grandmother who I spoke to last night (she kept saying how happy she was to be alive at the age of 76 to witness this moment in time), and for my mother and all my family members. It’s for Rosa Parks, Medger Evers, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, W.E.B DuBois, Emmitt Till, Benjamin Banneker, Harriett Tubman, for the four girls killed in Birmingham’s 16th St Church bombing (Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins and Carole Robertson), its for Malcolm X, for Marcus Garvey, Dr. & Coretta Scott King, Josephine Baker, Bessie Coleman (1st Black woman pilot), Marvin Gaye, Charlie Parker, WD Mohammed, Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson, Mary McLeod Bethune, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Drew, Louis Latimer, Frederick Douglass , Sojourner Truth and many many more. I salute them all. It is on their shoulders on which I stand. Hello future, after all these years, it’s good to meet you.

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  • http://www.ngunioamosotho.com Nguni

    life every voice indeed. and let it be heard.

  • http://slamonline.com a. sam

    Still hasn’t fully sunk in yet. Didn’t know if I’d see this in my lifetime, let alone in 20 years.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Khalid sent me a text message just after 11, and all it said was, “Wow.” BTW, I’m watching Will Smith on Oprah right now.

  • http://www.viceland.com Fishwagon

    I made a good-natured joke about Oprah being a puppet-master at work today and a woman blocked my path and wouldn’t let me leave the room until I apologized.

  • http://www.where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    Very well said, Khalid.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    While not as festive (I do live in Virginia), I partied just as hard and i’m quite sure I woke up a few neighbors.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    I see you, man. Great stuff. I still have your text saved from the other night, too…
    *
    From: Khalid
    holy sh*t
    *
    I will not soon grow tired of hearing young black Americans tell stories of their parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, whoever, crying over this night. Even thinking about Jesse Jackson’s face is choking me up 48 hours later.

  • http://breadcity.wordpress.com Jake

    RE: not crying. Obama’s campaign reminded me that politics is about a lot more than just “winning,” it’s about making this country a better place for all its citizens, together. It feels good to celebrate, but the real challenge now lies ahead. The season has just begun!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    no doubt ryan

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    true leaders have the ability to inspire. For the longest time I didn’t even understand what that means. Now I do, and his name is Obama.
    *bumps Nas’ “Black President”*

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Word. The funny/sad thing was having three or four conservative-leaning people call or email yesterday to “congratulate” me, as if my team had just beaten their team in a sporting event. I was like, “Well, I hope it’s congratulations for all of us.” I pity people (including some of my friends and family) who are incapable of appreciating the magnitude of the moment. I just hope they don’t get in the way.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Wait, you shop at Whole Foods?

  • http://www.where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    @Fishwagon:I good naturedly wore an Obama shirt to work on Mon. and when I went across the street to get starbucks and someone yelled N!GGERLOVER! and threw a spit cup at me. Life’s just not fair I guess.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    yeah russ, for now. But pathmark is starting to look real good.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    the bodega near my apt too, lol

  • http://AllAbout-Penis-Enlargement.com Jukai

    B Long: did you block his path until he apologized?

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Khalid
    Like I said over at my spot, you are right that this whole thing gives black people a new reason to hope. It’s hard to understand to folks who aren’t black or don’t understand the black experience, but hope is a powerful thing. Believing in possibilities gives people the power to achieve miracles. Even if Obama is just a mediocre president, black people will view this country differently because he was given a chance. That’s what so many black people think they don’t have, a real chance.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    *hard to explain

  • http://www.where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    @Jukai: He was driving a truck so I doubt that would’ve helped, Jukai. Lol.

  • http://AllAbout-Penis-Enlargement.com Jukai

    B Long: it woulda helped the Slam commentator sections! Zing!

  • http://slamonline.com RV

    Will Smith (on Oprah) sounds like he’s ready for 2012. I’d vote for him.

  • KulchaKris

    I voted for Barack despite my concerns about some of his policies. Why? Because the presence of a President of color, and a black family occupying the (pointedly named)White House gives me HOPE….hope for a better tomorrow for my 9-year old son. Echoing AllenP’s sentiment, even if Barack is viewed as a failure 4 or 8 years from now, the fact that my 80-year old grandmother lived to see this day makes it all worthwhile….God bless America.

  • http://slamonline.com RV

    good read khalid…i still don’t get why it was such a, i guess surprise, to many black folks, probably because i don’t completely understand the black experience to the fullest (being mexican-american I do share some of it though). I never saw McCain as president from the beginning. Never thought he had a chance. I thinkt the views (and votes) of the younger generations was/is underestimated. There’s a new way of thinking all around, not just about race, but religion, education, etc….its unfortunate minorities don’t feel they have a chance and it takes something this big to make them see it, but at least they’ll see eventually. The one thing i hope never happens is that they start thinking these are opportunities to be seen as better humans, when its really just about being equal humans.

  • Drew

    Great article, Khalid. As a white man, I can’t imagine how you feel, but as an American, I can share in your pride.
    B. Long: I have worn an Obama Bulls jersey here in Denver for months, and nobody has made nasty comments.

  • adams

    “Having an elected black President will do more to energize this country than any economic or social policy ever could. In a single day of voting, our amazing country once again reinvigorated the dream that any child in this country, no matter what circumstances they are born into, can grow up to be anything they want, including President of the United States.” – Mark Cuban, on why he voted for Obama

  • http://www.where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    Denver, Co. and Shreveport, La. are worlds away, homie. Look at the way the polls went.

  • http://www.theonion.com Fishwagon

    I ain’t a huge fan of Obama and as a few others here know I am VERY wary of unjustified fervor about the guy but this was a well-written and heartfelt article and I respect what you wrote Khalid.

  • Diogo

    Hell, I’m not American, and even though I do know much about history, I can’t figure this out: how was LBJ a great president?

  • Drew

    LBJ did great things on the domestic side. He accomplished more in civil rights and in fighting poverty than any president since FDR.

    But there was that Vietnam thing.

  • Sari

    now if we could get us an arab pres then i could truly believe that i (or anyone else) can have the chance to b watever i want to, haha but seriously it still didnt set in my mind that hes pres, i mean to think that 30, 40 years ago the thougt of a black president wouldve made people laugh yet its a reality today…. thats jus crayz

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    LBJ gets unfairly faulted for vietnam but it was he who signed the civil rights act (giving blacks the right to vote), he nominated marshall for the supreme court, created medicaid and medicare, started public broadcasting, the national endowment for th arts, etc. lbj was a good prez.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Cheryl

    Nice piece, Khalid. And you’re right about Lift Every Voice and Sing having new resonance.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Obama gives EVERYONE a reason to hope. Black, white, green, pink, chartreuse.

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    thanks cheryl

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Cheryl

    And LBJ started the “War on Poverty”, however hard it was at the time to implement the program. Hopefully Pres. Obama will re-frame that one and have better success.

  • Jer Boi

    damn..i wish i could write like that

    goood stufff

  • The Black Clark Kent

    Profound read my man. MLK’s dream definitely is alive. I know I shed some tears the other night just thinking about all that sacrificed their lives for something like this to be possible.

  • http://chodrawings.blogspot.com/2008/01/pen-and-ink-portraits-nba-basketball.html M Cho

    The best, most insightful article on Slam. Ever.

  • Young Chris MP3

    Word

  • http://fjsdklf.com Jukai

    Also, I don’t normally comment about stuff like this, but well, this is deffinitely the most heartfelt article I’ve ever read on this website. Truly moving.

  • riggs

    kha gets mad points for living right by me.

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Kha. Basketballwise we are at odds. I’ve put (playfull) curses on your favourite team. You’ve nitpicked on one of my truely favourite players, a guy i met last year and felt inspired by. So, in that arena, i’m maximus, and you are joaquin’s emperor figure. But what u wrote above was VERY moving. Thank you for letting us in. Hope he gets the chance to truly change a lot. Now about them secret service guys… You got some widebodied brothas on his detail right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=627550406 KA

    great reading (i tried to post this at allenp’s site bur didnt get thru) as a non american i just wanted to say, big win for you as a young black man, but bigger win as an american. im happy for yall.

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Myles Brown

    44th!

  • Anton

    he dunked OVER McCain’s head!

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    The column I was waiting to read since Tuesday night. Thanks.

  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    In the 1968 sanitation workers picture, is anyone else holding a sign that says “I’m 40″?

  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    In all seriousness though, excellent column.

  • Boing Dynasty

    America has the best freedom? Is that fact?

  • Klemperer

    You could add Marian Anderson to that list. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7IG3CgW914

  • http://heavyasheaven.blogspot.com Kid Presto

    I love this article, man. It gives me hope. I just hope I can control my anger living in the South…you get my point. people are getting worse by the day.

  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    Brandon Roy WTF

  • http://www.theonion.com Fishwagon

    I changed my mind.

    CNN Headline: “Ahmadinejad welcomes Obama change”

    I think that sucks.

  • adams

    The “best freedom” line threw me off a little, too. Having the world’s highest incarceration rate sure doesn’t sound like it. This is kinda like that ignorant claim I hear so often from Americans that the US is the “greatest country” in the world. I could name at least 25 countries where citizens live a better life.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ Tariq al Haydar

    Khalid:
    I think you’ve touched on something I’m just starting to realize, that the biggest change Obama’s presidency will elicit is a cultural, not a political one. Seems obvious, right? I just don’t see any president as capable of real change in terms of (foreign) policy. I’m still glad Barack won, though. Just not euphoric.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ Tariq al Haydar

    Oh, and Khalid, these verses reminded me of you:

    Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
    “Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
    Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
    May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.´

  • maio

    Barack is not black, he’s an American. Relax – it’s not like you won the Tim Duncan lottery.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    The Tim Duncan lottery doesn’t have anything on this. Life>>>>>Game. If you don’t see the cultural significance, then I just feel bad for you.

  • http://coco-vents.blogspot.com Co Co

    :)

  • maio

    Can’t poor Tim Duncan get some respect already? See, some things just don’t change regardless of Pres.

  • Drew

    An article in the New York Times yesterday showed how far we have come. It had a map showing counties where Obama outperformed Kerry in 2004. There was only one strip of the country where he didn’t–essentially down the Appalachain Trail and over accross Kansas. Lilly-white areas in the Great Plains, the Northeast, the Midwest and the West voted for Obama at a higher rate than Kerry. In other words, whites accross the country had no problem choosing a black (or mixed-race) man to guide them.

  • Colin

    I too love to hear stories about older citizens who did not expect to live to see this day. Grwat writing as always Khalid!

  • Colin

    *great

  • http://slamonline.com Konate Primus

    if you didn’t cry when it happened, you definitely should’ve teared when writing this Kha!

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    no doubt

  • joe

    They say times will change now but for many of us we know it want even in the sports world,they still over look native americans athletes,why dont know hopefully times will change for everyone not just white and black

  • http://www.youtube.com/dunkadelictv Dunkadelic TV

    “White House Dunkadelic” President-elect Barack Obama will be replacing the bowling alley in the basement with a basketball court. Basketball might be the new #1 sport in DC for at least 4-8 years.

  • Tee

    Barack Obama being elected doesn’t show how far “we’ve” come by any means. It means that with the face of Barack, just like the NBA, capitalism can continue to reinvent itself globally. The only thing that has changed is the face of the country, not its policies and we can clearly see that with how his cabinet is being assembled. Barack is in office because they wanted him in office. Just as basketball will bring more capital to owners under the guise of globalization, those are the hopes for this new face

  • http://www.jacksson.net/?p=1953 Jerica Goynes

    Hm, I’m comfortable with this but nonetheless not wholly positive, so i’m gonna research a bit more.

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