Urbana, Ill. — I suppose it is appropriate that I complete the last Message to the People before Election 2008 from a hotel room in Illinois. Recent speaking engagements have led me through Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama — all places with too much blood in the soil. Now, here I am in the home state of Lincoln and Obama. Yes, it is proper that my pre-election journey ends here.
I wonder if Americans really knew what they were creating in 1776, 1865, 1876 or 1896. Did the country understand that the high court’s decision of 1954 and the events that followed on the ground in Alabama in 1955 would fundamentally change Americans’ relationships with one another? Did King know how important he really was? Did Kennedy or Johnson? When living the experience, do we ever know when we reach a precipice of great change? Do we ever fully appreciate it?
The word “change” has been thrown around during this election like a starry-eyed teenager dispatches the word “love.” It has infected the dialogue and, for many of us, carries less and less weight, like anything that is overused. One problem has been that many citizens have invested their hopes for change in individual candidates and never look at the greater American picture.
It is no secret that I have been critical of many American racial, social, economic and political dynamics. I have been even more critical of our reluctance to deal with these things, because we gain nothing when people stick their heads in the sand. I also have not been as invested in Barack Obama as many Americans. My hesitance has nothing to do with the silly claims coming from the right about his patriotism, religion or political ideology. For the record, I think he loves America just as much as anyone else. I don’t think he’s a Muslim (though I wouldn’t have a problem with him if he was). I also don’t believe he’s a socialist (though I would be cool with that, too).
I just don’t think Barack Obama is a messiah in the way many of his supporters have painted him. That approach is unfair to him and it is unfair to us. Obama will not save us — he can’t. I don’t even know if he aspires to that. To be sure, he is a hard-working, savvy politician. But I fear that expectations of him are horribly overblown. He is not a savior. He may not even be the greatest American of our generation.
But at the end of the day (that day being Nov. 4), it really isn’t about Barack Obama. It’s about us! It’s about America. For all my trepidation — this country may be on another precipice of change. The most powerful nation in the world might be on the brink of electing to the highest office in the land a man who phenotypically looks like her former slaves. Whether Obama wins or loses, this is a momentous moment. In many ways, it is simply mind-boggling.
Yet, trouble still looms. At Republican rallies, people scream “Off with his (Obama’s) head” and “Kill him!” A good Christian white patron told him to “get out” of a North Carolina diner and refused to shake his hand. Some of his opponents call him a “socialist.” Others peg him and his supporters as “anti-American.” In Louisville, a supporter had a handwritten note left on her vehicle calling Obama a “nigger” — among other things.
Does this moment mean racism is dead? No. Does it mean Barack Obama is everything we need and will be committed to all the issues we want? No. Does it mean we have finally come to the end of America’s long and winding road of struggle and growth? Of course not. But it does mean that something is happening here. It means something is changing. This was not even a possibility 100, 50 or maybe even 10 years ago. We are living in a great moment and maybe none of us can fully understand its long-term consequences. I am still apprehensive, but for a time, dare I say — hopeful.
Remember, until next time — make a choice and VOTE!
Ricky L. Jones is associate professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies at U of L and author of “What’s Wrong With Obamamania?” His column is published in the last issue of each month. Visit him at www.rickyljones.com, and read his past columns and other “Countdown to E-Day” dispatches at www.leoweekly.com