During a recent segment on an ESPN sports show, Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers was being interviewed by one of the show’s reporters. As the hour wound down, the in-studio host asked Mr. Iguodala, “Why did you do the interview outside? It’s so cold, and you’re not even wearing a hat.” Iguodala replied, “Hey that’s how President Obama did it — in the cold with no hat. I have to step it up.”
Iguodala then went on to mention how excited he was about President Obama, and that in his hometown (ironically, Springfield, Illinois), the test scores for Black males have gone up since President Obama was appointed to office.
The ad hoc interview responses of a Black athlete are far from a testament of Barack Obama’s impact on the Black Community. They do, however, point to a state of mind — at least in some sections. For instance, I’ve gotten a significant number of emails from people recapping their Inauguration Day experiences. All were upbeat and ranged from how proud they were to be Americans, to this occasion being the first time they’d ever seen their father cry. In the same vain, barbershops are reporting a resurgence of the “caesar” cut that Obama wears, although now it’s being called an ‘Obama’. There is even a humorous comic strip making the rounds that speculates 5 years from now, the first day of school in the Black Community will have scores of children with names like ‘Obamalita Jackson’ and ‘Obama Taylor’, to name a few.
I’m clearly stating the obvious by saying the emergence on President Obama has had a positive impact on the mood in the Black Community. A cynic could legitimately say that good feelings can only get you so far, but I think the cynic would be missing the point.
One of the major issues in the Black Community is the negative and stereotypical reporting of the news. I’m not a big news watcher, but whenever I sample it there is a preponderance of my people being reported as criminals or crime victims. Every now and then there are “feel good”stories, but those stories are far outweighed by the ruinous and painful stories I mentioned. Without fear of contradiction, I can say that Barack Obama’s Presidency has changed the texture of the nightly news for the next four (hopefully eight) years. Night after night, the news will report on a Black man who also happens to be the most influential and powerful person in the world. In tracking the impact this will have, the closest thing I can think of is the impact Muhammad Ali had on young Black boys like myself in the 1970’s. Ali stood tall, and spoke without any equivocation. He was Black, he was proud; but more importantly he was a man of his time.
Now Barack Obama is not the outspoken, pull no punches man that Ali was, but he doesn’t need to be; he is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. When he speaks, no matter the amplitude or intensity, people have no choice but to listen. Just as Ali impacted people like me to be proud of who I am and to pull no punches, President Obama casts an image of dignity and grace under pressure. He too is a man of his time, for in these boisterous days, seeing a Black man exude a quiet strength, day after day, and night after night will over time bring civility and decorum into sharper focus in our communities. Seeing a Black man express his anger with dignity and without “cursing people out” in the most pressurized of situations is a positive that I look forward to seeing.
Again, the cynics will see little to no value in any of this. But the parent raising a child in the inner-city or the burbs knows this value implicitly. The school official that sees young Black children being heckled at assemblies after being given awards for excellent academic achievement knows the intrinsic value of President and First Lady Obama.
Now this is not to say that the cynics don’t have a point to make. There is a good deal of blind hero-worship of President Obama; and the fact that he is the President of all America by definition means that some of his decisions may not be pleasing to us. When the going gets particularly tough and he needs to raise approval points, he may even decide to take the “Bill Cosby” stance of blaming low-income Black people for some of the problems that confront them. When Obama is wrong or we disagree with him, we have to voice it. There’s no denying that fact.
Being President of the United States is the toughest job in the world. But like most jobs, the proof is in the pudding. If President Barack Obama is able to turn the American Economy around and loosen the grip of partisan politics, he will be viewed as an excellent president. A Black man demonstrating excellence on a daily basis, in the highest office in the land, will bolster our ambitions; and equally important, it will soften the stereotypes of black people that still infect much of American society. If a cynic can’t see that bolstered ambitions and the erosion of stereotypes are a major impact on the Black Community, then I only have one question: What impact would a McCain Presidency have had on our community?
Copyright © 2009 Roland Laird co-author of Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans
Noted African-American entrepreneur Roland Laird, co-author of Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans, is co-founder of Posro Media, a Trenton, New Jersey-based company that produced the comic book series MC Squared: A Man With a Serious Game Plan and the syndicated comic strip The Griots. The company has worked and continues to develop a number of animated and documentary projects for film and television.