By Patricia Wilson-Smith
As of this writing, the current national Gallup poll has Senator Obama leading by a respectable percentage; several previously red states are either leaning or solidly in the Obama column, and Senator McCain is fighting tooth and nail to hold on to other Republican strong holds, including his own home state of Arizona. Though most of us are afraid to say so, it appears that we are in fact about to see our collective dreams come true – one that many of us thought could not happen, and definitely not in our lifetimes. We are mere days away from what could be one of the most historic and defining moments in this nation’s history, and as a black woman, it’s been hard for me to know where to begin when it comes to expressing my thoughts about what’s coming. The fact is, the photo that accompanies this article says it better than I ever could, but here goes.
There are so many black women out there who, like me, are raising young black men. Due to a recent marriage, I’m now raising three. And it is as much a sign of how much this nation has changed that in some ways, my three sons are oblivious to the importance of the coming event, as it is an indictment on our society that as women raising black men, we’ve longed for someone, anyone to ease our fears about our sons’ futures and to be the role models that our young boys have so desperately needed for so long. Not that we haven’t had strong models for them at all, but we’ve been hard pressed to find them outside the fields of sports, music, or other areas of the entertainment industry.
I was left alone to raise the only child I’ve ever given birth to when I was just four months pregnant. The pain and fear I felt at the time soon gave way to resentment, and then to a hatred so pronounced that it threatened to swallow me whole. I had tried my best to play by the rules, only becoming pregnant after six years of marriage during which I had begun to think that I was incapable of having a child.
The news of my pregnancy was at once joyous and terrifying, as it became increasingly apparent that I would be forced to raise my son alone. Back then, I could not comprehend how it was that the father of my only child could not understand how much his son needed him, how much I needed him, and the pain of the rejection of me an my son was unbearable at times. It was everything I could do after the birth of my sweet David to will myself on a daily basis to be grateful for the part-time status of his father, and the modest child support he paid faithfully each month. But it was what I had to do, for my son’s sake, and also because a guiding hand, a role-model, a mentor, my son’s father could and would never be.
What was even harder is that it wasn’t long before I realized that I had to find some way to learn to forgive my ex-husband; I eventually realized that he himself was and is a product of a shattered home, and ill-equipped to play the role of father and husband. Raised without his birth father, and ultimately without his birth mother, he had no real guiding hand, no role model of his own to speak of. His was an existence of sustenance only; as a result, he had no foundation given to him in what it meant to be a father and a husband, to raise a black boy in this society, to set and achieve goals, or anything like that. The condition of his life has been one of playing what he’s been dealt, and the result is that though he loves our son as much as he knows how to, he has nothing meaningful in the way of a winning hand to deal my son.
My story is not unique. From the young woman who may have gotten caught after a cataclysmic lapse in judgment, to those who like me, watched their husbands walk out on them after years of marriage, literally leaving them holding a blue diaper bag, many black women have had to come to terms with the idea that we have been left alone to raise little men. As a population, we have allowed ourselves to fall into a cycle of family disintegration that has become all too common place. These days, it’s the African-American kids who live in in-tact two parent homes who are the weird ones. In our communities, having a father who is in the home, productive and engaged has become a novelty. A tragic, gut-wrenching novelty.
But for the most part as black women, we’ve persevered. Doing all that we can to expose our sons to the right influences, to talk tough to them when we need to in their fathers’ absence, and to do and say whatever we can to try to mold them into the men they need to be. Sometimes without the benefit of having had a male role model to emulate ourselves, and all the while praying that OUR sons will prove the ugly statistics that we can’t escape or get out of our heads wrong.
The reality is, the problem is generational, and has its roots in slavery and the systemic destruction of the African family unit as it was when slaves were brought to this country. Many stories of the time tell of how upon arriving on these shores, men were immediately separated from their children and wives, in order to begin the process of degradation and humiliation that would ensure that their spirits would be broken, and that they would willingly comply with their masters’ wishes. It began way back then, and persists to this day because of our inability to re-discover our strong family ties, through the lingering effects of Jim Crow, the confusion of first segragation and then forced desegregation, and the plain old racism and failed attempts at evening the playing field (like welfare, and in some respects affirmative action).
So it was, that we the black mothers of America found ourselves; over the years, frightened beyond all measure that our young men would be sacrificed to the ravages of an unfair justice system, or worse to the violence of the mean streets; or engulfed in the culture of fake opulence and self-degradation that is some rap music, and some aspects of the Hip-Hop culture; or lost and forgotten in an educational system that is tilted towards their white counteparts, and none too anxious to fix itself in order to help to turn the tide of drop-outs and illiterate graduates it produces in startling higher proportions in the minority community. And most of all we were certainly convinced that though blacks in this country have made many strides, there were still some very obvious limits, when on the national stage walked Barack Obama.
Now please don’t zone out on me. I know that Senator Obama is not the second coming, or even the answer to all our problems, but what he is is a shining beacon of hope, and proof of what we’ve all known all along – that black men can be real fathers, good husbands, and strong and thoughful leaders, hard stop. That we are a nation of little budding Obama’s waiting to happen. That with the proper care and feeding, our boys are capable of achieving the unthinkable. The beauty of Senator Obama is that he not only displays these qualities as a legislator and candidate, he displays them even more as a father to his gorgeous daughters and husband to his wife.
And so just like in the photo, Senator Obama, along with every other weight he carries on his shoulders, literally is caring the hopes of the black boys who will soon be men in this country, who generation after generation, have been able to hide their brilliance and potential behind the mantle of hopelesness that said that they could only go so far, or achieve so much. And he and his family stand as the most shining example of a strong family, black, white, or purple that we’ve seen on the national forefront in a long time. It is an astounding feeling, as the final days of the campaign fade away, to look forward to the days after November 4th, when we can all breathe an endless sigh of relief and spend our days reminisicing about the fight. And it will not be lost on any of us what this historic event can and will mean to the young black boys of this country, who after that date, will be able to say with confidence and without hesitation, “one day, I will be President of the United States”.
Look at the picture again. I get great joy in the wide-eyed wonder on my sons’ faces when I tell them that once black kids and white kids couldn’t play together – not totally unlike the giggle I get out of watching them collapse into a fit of laughter when I tell them that when I was their age, we only had four channels to watch on television. One day, my sons, and the boy in this picture will be able to astound their grandchildren with wild tales of a time in our nation’s history when the idea of a black man running for President was laughable – unheard of. And hopefully, they will smile, and take great joy in their chuckles, and marvel at the innocence that comes from being the beneficiaries of the brave and remarkable accomplishments of those who came before us.