The night Barack Obama was elected I recalled an evening many years ago when my oldest son, now a junior in college, was six or seven years old. We had friends over for dinner and somehow the discussion got around to asking my son and his friend what they wanted to be when they grew up. We adults suggested that maybe one of them would grow up to be president. My son’s immediate response was sobering and unsettling: “The president of the United States is white,” he said.
I can still remember how all of us, a newspaper editor, TV reporter, lawyer and communications specialist, looked at each other in shock and not a little horror, before leaping in to assure both boys that truly they could grow up to be president. It was chilling as a parent to realize that at such a tender age, my son was already aware of and inclined to accept the limited horizon forced on him by society. I resolved then and there to do all I could as a parent to ensure that he and his brother develop the confidence and resolve not to bow to or accept the limitations that America’s racial past typically foists on young black men.
In all honesty, I have to say that I had mixed success. Both attend college and hope to pursue careers in biology and business and I’m very proud of them. Still, despite my best efforts, society managed to smack each of them in the face at a far too young age with the vicious backhand of racism with the intent of keeping them in their limited-horizons place. I’ll always be grateful that, each time, I had the support of a family of friends, black and white, who immediately stepped in to offer moral support, in effect saying, “Stand tall, don’t bend. This isn’t what America is about.”
Then came the night of November 4, 2008 and the triumphant walk of Barack and Michelle Obama with their children onto the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park to greet millions of supporters as America’s new first family.
The moment it was clear Obama would win, I sent a text message to both my sons who had voted in their first election. “Look what you’ve done! You helped elect the first black president of the United States!”
“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyy … FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT!” was my youngest son’s jubilant response.
In the president-elect’s opening remarks, was the rebuttal I and millions of black parents have fought over the years to give their children in response to the ravages of racism. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy — tonight is your answer.”