By Deric Muhammad
Special to the NNPA News Wire from the Houston Forward Times
“It’s been a looooooong; a long time coming, but I know, a change gon’ come.”
-Sam Cooke (A Change Gonna Come; 1964)
It was 1964, in the throes of the Civil Rights movement, when Sam Cooke released his classic anthem “A Change Gonna Come.” Many don’t know that it was inspired by Cooke’s experience being turned away from a “Whites Only” hotel in Louisiana. He’d been humiliated in front of his wife despite his status as a popular entertainer. The song became pivotal to the soundtrack for the movement towards social change, racial tolerance and the dream that Dr. King so eloquently summoned from the soul of Black America. The hope was that, just as slow drops of water have the power to wither a rock over time, that the stone of White supremacy would ultimately wither away one march at a time, one sit-in at a time, one song at a time.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted the same year. The Voting Rights Act came on its heels a year later. Over the next four-plus decades a cascade of legislation, social programs, set-asides and mass movements took Black America on socio-economic roller coaster ride in this country. For every step we took forward, it seemed like we were pushed two paces backwards. Every win was followed by two or three losses. Sam was still sangin’ while Black America was still left hangin.’ Then, it happened. Forty-four years up from the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the 44th president of the United States of America, a Black man named Barack Hussein Obama, was sworn-in as Commander in Chief of the nation that our forefathers built with Black hands. Change had finally come.
I was happy to see it. I was even happier for my 86 year-old grandmother who was an activist during the Civil Rights era. “I never thought I’d see it; at least not in my lifetime”, was what my Granny said of seeing a Black man take the oath of office. But as time passed, I watched that big smile on her face become grim. Not only did she think she’d never see a Black man become president, she probably never thought she’d live to see the pure, unadulterated hatred of White America rise to levels that rivaled that of the Civil Rights era when police departments would sic trained dogs on elderly Black women during demonstrations. America had essentially relapsed.
I have family members who have struggled with the demon of drug addiction. My mother included. The addiction itself is hell. When the person hits what is called “rock bottom,” he or she may get help. If the addict gets too cocky, careless or cavalier about their environment they may “relapse.” Sometimes, the relapse is worse than the initial addiction. America’s addiction to racial discrimination based on the philosophy of White Supremacy is back with a vengeance; like never before. Just as the addict relapses, essentially, because the disease never left, America’s relapse on race is indicative of a sickness that never left. And “44” was the catalyst.
Obama has been called the greatest gun salesman in America. Gun production has doubled under his administration and some say his presence in the White House gave the industry a $9 billion dollar boost. The hate groups that peppered the landscape of America in the 60’s resurfaced in full force. The number of “hate groups” in America increased by 500 during the Obama era. The racially charged rhetoric of hate that we heard in the 60’s is more acceptable in America now more than ever. Mass shootings “went platinum.” And let’s not even talk about racial profiling, excessive force and state sanctioned murder by police departments nationwide. When angry White officers couldn’t get their hands on Obama, any young Black male would do. White America took their hatred for him and his current residency in the White House out on us. Black America suffered under the Obama administration, because redneck America couldn’t stand to see a seed of Africa governing this nation’s affairs.
Right Wingers ballyhooed, “we have to take our country back.” They shared memes of the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama portrayed as a chimpanzee. Hate crimes increased, Black churches were burned (just like in the 60’s) and Dylann Roof took us way back into America’s dirty past when he murdered nine innocent Black people in a church in South Carolina. The nationwide street protests against injustice that we saw in the 60’s are back in full effect. The Black Lives Matter movement was created due to this atmosphere. Even Beyoncé put her two cents in with her new single “Formation,” a tribute to decades of protests against injustice in America. We thought that after electing the first Black president that we were a hop, skip and a jump from Heaven. Instead, ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE.
During the president’s first term, we heard commentators, pundits and other optimists use the term “Post-Racial America.” Now you hardly hear these words uttered. It is because having a Black president with a Black First family exposed America for what she really is: not a post-racial nation but a most racial nation. It exposed that America’s addiction to White Supremacist values existed under the surface all along. She was “geeking” to show her truest colors and President Obama provided her fix. As his final term comes to a close, much is being debated concerning whether or not the Obama presidency advanced the cause of Black America. I say, if Obama’s presidency did nothing else for Black America, it showed us where we still stand in this matrix called American society. If his presidency did nothing for us, it solidified that this nation still sees us as second-class citizens and that the hatred of the past still pulsates in the present. I still jam that Sam Cooke song every now and then, but even Ray Charles can see that change for the masses of our people has not come.
So as we close out this chapter of our 461st year sojourn in this nation, the question becomes “what do we do?” Now that we are clear on where we stand, how do we respond? Do we put our hope in Hillary and waste more precious years trying to get apple juice from an orange? Or do we go back to what was working for us before we were sold these legislative lies and political pipe dreams? Black Wall Street was built without a Black president. Let us unite like never before, pool our resources, practice cooperative economics, purchase land, open and support Black-owned businesses, empower Black media and function as a nation within a nation. Eight years of Obama showed us that even after 50 years under Civil Rights legislation, we still have not overcome. I appreciate the wake-up call. Now let’s get up and do something for ourselves. Together, we can do what a Black president couldn’t.