The reality is beginning to set in following the historic election on November 4th.
I too have joined in the two most common reactions to Barack Obama's success. The first, "I didn't think I would see this in my lifetime." The second reaction is, "What do we do now?" Both of these are questions rooted in our "Victim Mentality." We need to emerge from this mindset and move to a new mindset based on what I describe as a "coalition of success" based upon overlapping self-interests.
Both of these reactions are lingering effects of our 300+ years of slavery in this country. First, the institution of slavery robbed us of any knowledge of our cultural history, self-esteem, and aspirations. As people who were not fully citizens, we came to accept a "less than" level of expectations for ourselves. We were just victims who majored in survival. Over time we moved from victim to protest with the motivation of "We shall overcome!"
However, did we really believe that we would overcome? The overwhelming majority of the Black politcal leadership in this country cast their lots with the Clinton machine at the beginning of this contest. Very much like Harriett Tubman -- "We could have freed many more if they only knew they were slaves." -- most of those who observed the Obama movement in its infancy didn't believe his "audacity of hope."
Now that he is in the White House, we are about to once again become victims of our "slave mentality." Perhaps you may have not noticed, but only the craziest of white folks go around talking about "we white folks." The rest are too busy achieving personal, then family, then business, then community, then national political success. Their success is the outcome of building coalitions of "free thinkers" -- people who have options to decide if they want to be Democrats, Republicans, or Libertarians, or whatever. What they all know is that they have to manage coalition building to achieve their goals. We are still stuck in a mindset that looks at our plight alone, and conclude that "we cannot achieve the highest level of success." That is why we doubted Obama. What he did was to build a coalition of new supporters -- youth voters, post-civil rights dreamers who were not limited by their history, vsionary workers who redefined change and believed that they had a stake in shaping the future.
Most Blacks were suspect of this approach. At first we asked, "Where are his black advisors? Why has he surrounded himself with so many white folks?" We doubted "his leadership". We were so accustomed to being taken for granted by the old politics -- Democratic or Republican -- that we had no confidence in a new Black leader to organize a new coalition for change. So, this brings me to the second reaction to his success, "What are we going to do now?"
We must follow his lead and formulate "success coalitions" of our own -- in our personal lives, in our families, on our jobs, in our communities. We have a tendency to act against our self-interests. Occasionally, we acknowledge that Black people aren't monolithic. But we more often than not, speak of solutions in monolithic terms -- utilizing the collective "we" when referring to the callenges we face. Many of us haven't realized that "divide and conquer" works both ways. What Obama achieved was not the formation of a movement from a previously "unified" group. He summoned a diverse set of people whose self-interests overlapped, and "unified their actions" around a vision for change.
What do you want to change in your family? in your community? in your schools? You will not fnd widespread agreement about all of these anywhere in our community. However, you will fnd intersections of individuals, organizations, other ethnic groups, and political organizations who may agree with one or more points of self-interest that is at the top of your list. So, you can form a coalition of interested parties to address high school dropouts. It may involve another group of interests to address single-parent families. And yet another to address employment and community evelopment. What "we" must do is to make this success very personal. Then raise our heads from our own self-pity and identify points of intersection wih others to solve one problem at a time.
There are those who think the Black community must now draw up a list of demands and present them to Obama in exchange for the 95% of Black votes that helped to get him elected. This is the same ( although expanded) 95% that voted for Clinton, Gore, and Kerry. What is different?
If we are to benefit in greater numbers, more of us need to take personal stock and responsibility for commiting to forging "success coalitions" with others outside our immediate comfort zones. What Obama has taught us is that we can navigate those waters based on our "self-interests" -- starting with "me." As a young student, that means studying and learning. As a young adult, that means developing a work ethic that helps others depend on the value we contribute. As parents, it means commitment to our spouses and children that forges a bond of support from which we can face the challenges ahead with faith and confidence.
There will be no more "Great Society" programs. Welfare has ended as we knew it. A new era of opportunity has replaced the hopelessness of our past. We can believe that anything is possible, because the evidence is before our eyes. If we who are parents believe it, our children will believe it. If we as parents and community and business leaders walk the walk, then we can affect change in our local communities. Obama's success will serve as the inspiration, but our sweat and toil will have to produce the result we desire. We will have to act in our "self-interests" with a view toward collaboration and accountability to achieve greater things than our limited view has taught us. More than a slogan, we have to live like we catually believe YES WE CAN!