A captivating moment in U.S. history could be upon us in November. Barack Obama, could be the first president of African descent — ever! It would be an accomplishment of enormous proportions in the black community to say the least.
Now, some might concur that blacks would come out in droves to make sure he’s a shoo-in, right? Wrong. This definitely isn’t the case for Antoine Frieson.
Frieson, 23, from Brooklyn, N.Y., said he doesn’t feel a strong need to vote, even with a black candidate.
“I’m not voting,” Frieson said. “I don’t feel like my vote makes a difference. I still feel like they’ll find some way to take it from him, even if he should win.”
Like many others his age, Frieson still remembers the fraudulent 2000 election in which George W. Bush first won the presidency.
But, regardless of what happened in previous elections, the 2008 election may be the most important for black people. For survivors of the Civil Rights movement, it means the world to them, to see a black man on the brink of assuming the presidency.
According to Joe Thomas, supervisor of the Walker-Ford Community Center, having Obama elected would be like reaching the mountaintop for those who were involved in Civil Rights activism.
“[This means] our work was not in vain,” Thomas said. “It shows that blacks are capable at any capacity.”
Thomas, who has been supervising the community center for over 20 years, said Obama in the White House could have a great impact in the lives of young black people.
“[Having] a black president, will change the attitudes of many young black people about not being able to do anything,” Thomas said. “Young men will see that can we achieve and they will set high goals for themselves.”
His position could also be a symbol of victory said Thomas.
“It could raise a sense of pride among America and change how young black America view themselves,” Thomas said.
Yet and still, Obama is a politician, and politicians are renowned for their shadiness. How will Obama differ?
According to Frieson, campaigns are usually filled with empty promises and over-confident candidates, who want citizens to crown them with power and money.
“What is he really going to do?” Frieson said.
“Is he going to save us from this recession? Will he get more jobs for us? Will he stop black people from getting locked up as much? Will he really change the system?” Frieson continued.
“I don’t think he can do all that,” he said. “The only reason a lot of people are voting for him is because he’s black, and since I know he can’t favor black people in the White House, why give him a vote just because he’s black?”
Frieson does make a valid observation.
If elected, Obama definitely couldn’t cater just to blacks.
In a country where blacks are still a minority, Obama has had to be tactful when the views of his people overshadowed what he has to represent as president of the United States, not president of black people.
The Reverend Greg James said the problems that we now face in America affect everyone, not just black people.
“The problem is way beyond a black problem, it’s an American problem,” James said. “There is great need for Obama to provide solutions for the problems America faces. Although we have problems, he should put America first.”
But if Obama can’t cater to black America, why should blacks vote for him?
“He grew up in a non-wealthy middle-class household, like a lot of black people,” said Kenneth Mason, 24, a senior criminology student from Miami. “He shared the middle-class experience and understands what black people go through. I think the fact that his goal is to help everyone, not specifically blacks, is a good thing.”
Mason said it shows that he can be a black president that supports everyone, and it does not matter what their race is.
Obama supporting only blacks would be like Bush only supporting rich whites, Mason said.
The Miami native said he thinks the journey Obama has taken to get where he is will add to the reasons why black people will vote for him.
“He’s black and he had to go through the same thing other black people went through and look how successful he’s become,” Mason said.
“He’s done great things so far and given powerful speeches,” he said. “Most previous presidents were something like made men. A lot of them had previous family ties to government and Obama is doing this from scratch.”
If every voter shared Mason’s point of view, Obama would have no problem winning in November. But, there will be critics. And some will be black.
Blacks will hold him to a standard uncharted by any other president. With pressure mounting, how will blacks handle a poor presidential term from Obama?
“If Obama does bad, it’ll be a wrap for us,” Frieson said. “Our morale would drop and black people will lose hope.”
Mason added, “First of all, besides [blacks], no one wants to see a black man leading America, so all odds will be against him and every little problem will blown up,” Frieson said.
Thomas happens to subscribe to another philosophy.
“Black people will keep a positive attitude and even try to do better,” Thomas said. “People will continue to do their best and support change.”
Thomas also thinks Obama’s candidacy has reinvigorated black activism in America. He says blacks will want to do better for themselves.
“I feel now that a black individual is visible as such a high level of government, people will take more of an interest in trying to do better,” Thomas said.
We can’t foresee the future. And, Obama hasn’t even won. But what Obama has done is empower the black voters. More black people care about politics this election year than ever before, and voter registration is at an all time high. Obama has given black people a reason to pay attention.
Although Frieson won’t make it to the polls, James said the true loss is in Frieson not utilizing his power to make change.
“Through voting, we have the power to make an impact and move toward change,” James said.