In the wake of Barack Obama's election as president, there are a number of debates about what it means and where we go -- what does this victory say about race and racism in the US, what kind of mandate does it amount to, what kind of change will we see, what happens to the Obama voters and volunteers. In an extraordinary essay, Tim Wise speaks to a number of them. You should just read the whole thing. But for a taste, here's Wise on one of the ways Obama's win, despite not in any form or fashion signaling an end to racism, holds promise for forward movement on racism:
Tonight was also a victory for the possibility of greater cross-racial alliance building. Although Obama failed to win most white votes, and although it is no doubt true that many of the whites who did vote for him nonetheless hold to any number of negative and racist stereotypes about the larger black and brown communities of this nation, it it still the case that black, brown and white worked together in this effort as they have rarely done before. And many whites who worked for Obama, precisely because they got to see, and hear, and feel the racist vitriol still animating far too many of our nation's people, will now be wiser for the experience when it comes to understanding how much more work remains to be done on the racial justice front. Let us build on that newfound knowledge, and that newfound energy, and create real white allyship with community-based leaders of color as we move forward in the years to come.
Most of all, though, read the piece for its view of the way forward, of what we must do and must build:
First and foremost, please know that none of these victories will amount to much unless we do that which needs to be done so as to turn a singular event about one man, into a true social movement (which, despite what some claim, it is not yet and has never been).
And so it is back to work. Oh yes, we can savor the moment for a while, for a few days, perhaps a week. But well before inauguration day we will need to be back on the job, in the community, in the streets, where democracy is made, demanding equity and justice in places where it hasn't been seen in decades, if ever. Because for all the talk of hope and change, there is nothing--absolutely, positively nothing--about real change that is inevitable. And hope, absent real pressure and forward motion to actualize one's dreams, is sterile and even dangerous. Hope, absent commitment is the enemy of change, capable of translating to a giving away of one's agency, to a relinquishing of the need to do more than just show up every few years and push a button or pull a lever.
This means hooking up now with the grass roots organizations in the communities where we live, prioritizing their struggles, joining and serving with their constituents, following leaders grounded in the community who are accountable not to Barack Obama, but the people who helped elect him. Let Obama follow, while the people lead, in other words.