As an African American, I know that the enormity of the first black President taking office can not be understated. In less than an hour, A Black President will be sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capital and live in the White House - both structures that were built using slave labor.
At the same time, I say to you all, the racial background of the 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama, is probably the smallest element of the profound change that today represents to America - but it is an element and we shouldn't ignore that.
So Ok, first let me get the "Black Thang" off my chest.
To African Americans, this is HUGE!
Let me rephrase that, this is Fracking Huge.
Like Crispus Attucks, George Washington-Carver, Jesse Owens, Vivien Thomas (First Open Heart Surgery), Guy Bluford (First African American Astronaut), Jackie Robinson, Mohammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix, Dr Martin Luther King, Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) and so many thousands of others who'e paved the road - sometimes with their own flesh and blood - to this day, this is momentous.
But we have to be careful. We have to realize that the Hope that America is now beginning to truly feel, doesn't really come from Obama - it's coming from the rest of us. We have to recognize that his strength comes from his trust in the American people, not from any super-human abilities of his own.
We must resist the temptation to FETISHIZE him.
A virtual cottage industry of a million different Barack chotke's just might jump start the economy on their own (ok, ok, I doubt that too) - but we also have to not let Barack's enormous accomplishment become a high-water mark that all other prospective black men are expected to match or exceed before they are seen and taken seriously.
The FIRST in any field, often sets the standard and all others who follow are frequently compared favorably and unfavorably against that standard. It may seem strange to many people, I realize - but very often America has a tendency to make our first - our last. This is how it went with Dr. King. This is how it went with Hendrix. This is what happened with my friends in the band Living Colour.
Barack Hussein Obama will be the first African-American President today - we can not afford to let him become the only one. As we bask in today, we also have to look past today, to tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that...
That's what the election of Barack Obama means to me as a Black man, it is both a blessing and a challenge. A tremendous gift and a permanent curse.
"Look at what you can accomplish despite all the disadvantages and obstacles you have, and why aren't you halfway there already!?"
Fine, that's the way it is - many of us have been living through the burden of being judged against the statistics of our demographic group all our lives - so ok, bring it on.
But again as I said, that is in many ways the least important aspect of today.
JUST LOOK AT WHAT AMERICA DID!
We didn't elect a "Black Guy" - we elected The Right Guy, and frankly I think we did it for all the right reasons. We rejected fear. We rejected cynicism. We rejected all of the cheap political parlors tricks that have so many times dazzled and distracted us from doing the right thing at the right time. Just think about what stood against him, the odd arrogant incuriousness of Joe the Unlicensed Tax-Dodging Plumber/Pundit/Journalist: all the Hockey Mom's staring over at Russia waiting for Putin's head to appear.
Barack Hussein Obama has become President despite his funky name, despite being "too white" for Jesse Jackson and "too black" for Steve King, despite being "an Arab" who spent 20 years in the crazy Christian Church.
All of that stood against him, plus two wars and a Wall Street Meltdown, and how he won anyway - he won because America began to believe in itself again. We realized we could be our own better angels. We can fight terror without becoming terrible. We can end wars, and monger peace. We can prosper not by cracking the whips over the backs of the middle and working-class, but by lifting them up and protecting them - for they are us.
We have turned away from the Robber-Baron culture of corporate greed, making decisions based not on how they would help people, but based on how they help stockholders. We can rebuild ourselves, we can rebuild our infrastructure, we can rebuild our economy with Green Tech - possibly even remake the world - but we can't do any of that unless we try.
We Defeated Hate and we did it with courage, hope, optimism and love. We turned away from the past and have - permanently I pray - reached optimistically toward the future. We face enormous moral, physical and financial challenges - but like I said before - BRING 'Em ON!
THIS affects all of us. This new vision, renewing the American Dream and making it into a fresh new American Reality. We have become who we have been waiting for.
That's what today means...
Happy America Everyone!