Hope rises in black America

January 17, 2010


One year later.

One year after that icy Washington day when Aretha Franklin sang and John Roberts muffed his lines and Barack Obama raised his hand and swore the oath that made him president of the United States, it turns out something fundamental has changed.

It is not the economy, which still struggles toward daylight.

It is not the partisan divide, which still gapes like canyons.

It is not the wars, which grind ceaselessly on.

No, what has changed is us — specifically, the African-American cohort of us. According to a new poll conducted late last year by the Pew Research Center, hope is on the rise in black communities. Thirty-nine percent of blacks say blacks are better off now than they were five years ago. That’s nearly double the 20 percent who felt that way just two years before. And a majority — 53 percent — believe their lives will be better still in the future, up nine percentage points since 2007.

For the last year, people have been asking me whether I thought the election of Barack Obama would materially change things in African America, whether it would inspire a renaissance of achievement and hope. I was always dubious. I always said it was a little simplistic to believe that. I always said he was only one man and that his election, as singular an event as it was, had limited power to re-shape cynicism as deep-rooted and intransigent as that which grips black people.

And apparently, I was wrong. The proof is in the numbers, especially when they are viewed in context.

After all, blacks are still much more likely than whites to see and decry discrimination against them, still much more likely than whites to say the country needs to do more to fulfill its founding promise of equality and justice for all, still much more likely than whites to view law enforcement with deep and abiding cynicism. And yet, on measure after measure — standard of living, satisfaction with their own communities, assessment of relations between blacks and whites — Pew finds the numbers spiking since the rise of Obama.

He has changed our assessment of the possible. For the first time in a long time, optimism grows among us.

For a people whose views have so often been (justifiably) dour and bleak, that is bracing news. And the timing of it is fitting, coming as we mark both Obama’s first year in office and the 24th commemoration of the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For all the difficulties of the journey, for all the challenges that lie yet ahead, we find that we have moved with a steadiness from the grotesque perversion of America in which King lived and died, toward the gleaming redemption of America for which he fought and of which he famously dreamed. From “Whites Only” signs, soldiers guarding public schools, and torchlight glinting off swinging truncheons, to a son of Kenya and Kansas raising his hand and vowing to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.

And you might wonder of what value optimism might have been in bridging that distance, what value it might have for bridging the distance yet to go. Optimism is, after all, just a feeling, ephemeral and insubstantial.

But I submit that it is more. Optimism is fuel for the engine, wind for the wings, the single indispensable element in getting from here to there. So it is good to see it flowering once again in African-American communities, flowering as it has not in too many years. Good to know more of our children are coming of age in homes where they will be taught the future is theirs to mold and the only limitations are the ones they choose to accept.

That portends great things. People who believe they can achieve usually do.


sfjayhawk 8 years, 4 months ago

so barry, can I assume by your post that you do not believe that there is racism in America? If you believe that, you must wish a lot in both of your hands.

Showme - an African American is an American of African descent. You must be the only person in America that didnt know that. If you want to call yourself german american, european american or idiot american, thats fine. A better moniker might be racist american.

sfjayhawk 8 years, 4 months ago

something - thats rich, saying that proud americans choose to forget where they came from - balance that with you pointing out that you are from German heritage. So let me ask, is it only african americans that should forget where they came from? How about latin americans and asian americans, should they just forget where they came from too? Is it only german americans that should remember their lineage? And can you elaborate a little more about the 'obvious truths about black attitudes"? Hummm, that statement is textbook racism.

Barry, racism is a pretty well defined term, look it up a dictionary.com if you are looking for what it means. And I can assure you that racism is alive and well in America. I have seen it first hand. Your story about your doctor friend is not racist. However bringing up his sexuality is rather off point. Are you dealing with some latent feelings? I can assure you that if you do decide to come out, you will feel bigotry first hand. Will probably make you more sypthateic to others that face bigotry, whether it is raced based or for other reasons.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 4 months ago

If any of you had a child or family that is of a dark hue you would feel a lot different about the race issue. It is intensely personal to me and mine. I am proud of my family and thank God every day for them. I thank God for President Barrack Hussein Obama because he did give me hope again. And, yes, he should be proud of every branch of his family. Am I all fired up? Yes! Ready to go? Yes!

jumpin_catfish 8 years, 4 months ago

There's more than one America? Do they have different laws and such?

monkeyhawk 8 years, 4 months ago

"I thank God for President Barrack Hussein Obama because he did give me hope again."

Hope that he will take our money and give it to you?

"Am I all fired up? Yes! Ready to go? Yes!"

So are the rest of us, as you will see Tuesday.

beatrice 8 years, 4 months ago

shome: "Just because Obama got elected doesn't make blacks superior to the rest of the world, like so many of you would like to believe…."

Please share with us your examples of the "many" who have stated that blacks are superior to the rest of the world, with or without the context of Obama's election. Seriously. I want to see the proof of this ridiculous comment. Heck, just show us the one time where sfjay has state this.

You might find some Farrakhan-type extremists who spout such things. However, they are extremists and do not represent the "many." If anything, after a string of 43 white Presidents in a row, it would seem pretty clear that whites are more likely to believe themselves as superior to other races. (And don't even get me started on men thinking themselves better than women, even across racial lines!)

Also, there is no such thing as "reverse racism." There is only racism, and people of all races are capable of being racist. "Reverse racism" is simply part of the white conservative movement's lexicon, most often used when someone wants to play the victim card. It is in the same vein as "white slavery," used to suggest that it is somehow different than just "slavery."

sfjayhawk 8 years, 4 months ago

showme says: "There are far more black racists in america than white racists..."

Really, wow, how clueless are you! How about some examples, or are you going to fall back on the 'obvious truths of black attitudes' racist answer again?

And if that statement is true, which one are you, a white racist or a black racist?

Oh, and btw, the 'n' word is very racist, I think the fact that you think otherwise pretty much proves that you are a racist. Run along to your clan meeting now! (lets all pray this idiot never breeds).

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 4 months ago

This was a wonderful piece by Leonard Pitts. I celebrate the election of our first African American president. I believe, it is one of the great moments in American history.

It remains to be seen whether Obama will be successful in his efforts to improve health care, energy policy or any number of the pressing issues that challenge his administration. I cannot imagine a more difficult task than leading a nation during these times, especially when the entire Republican Party is completely united in trying to destroy you and sabotage any of your efforts.

But he has already made me even more proud to be an American.

In spite of this, I may not vote for him next election. He has yet to prove himself in the job, but the more the Republicans dump on him unfairly, the more forgiving I will become.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 4 months ago

hitme Whoa! Sexist, much? I would suggest you do pay attention to Bea.
Bea your comments are always good and make a lot of sense. After living in a pretty much totally black neighborhood and a totally segregated one, I can say that men strutting around proud of just being men was one of the things they all had in common.

Mixolydian 8 years, 4 months ago

Obama is good as an idea and a symbol and proves the long held notion that anyone can rise to be president in a free and open society. That is the single thing that I really like about Obama.

Of course, whether he, specifically, should be president.......ehhhhh, not so much.

The first should have been Colin Powell in 2000.

Katara 8 years, 4 months ago

Marion (Marion Lynn) says… Blowing the greatest opportunity of his administration, Barack Hussein Obownow is stumping in Massachusetts instead of doing something that would cause America to be the hero………………………

…like visiting Haiti…………………….. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Odd that you should suggest that our President should assist another country in distress...especially since you accused a local couple who wanted to help others in another country as being "American haters".


Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 4 months ago

Katara Marion did not say help Haiti, he said visit Haiti. What good would that do? Luxury cruise ships are still putting in at Haiti and passengers are sunning, drinking, and eating just miles from where bodies are rotting in the streets. Disconnect much?

beatrice 8 years, 4 months ago

I'm not at all surprised Marion, someone who has expressed on this board his interest in preserving "White culture," is friends with Whites of South Africa, the country that brought us Apartheid. He is also a friend to the convicted Holocost denier David Irving.

Yep, you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps.

brujablanco 8 years, 4 months ago

Oh, look, Marion has an admirer! Her name is Irish and she writes blogs!!!!!! Irish, did you just ask Katara (a person of intellect, I might add)if she disconnected much? Bwhahahahahahahahaha, now that's hilarious stuff right there.

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 4 months ago

speaking from the "halfrican american" P.O.V., this is a good thing. i agree w/ grammammy. hope is all we as humans have sometimes but it has proven time and time again to be transendant, life affirming and integral for positive change. so keep hope alive!

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 4 months ago

sometimes i wonder if marion and barry EVER have positive thoughts.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 4 months ago

brujablanco I think someone needs a nap. Mel, I do have hope and I don't know if it is because of everything or in spite of everything.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 4 months ago

The disconnect remark was meant about those on the luxury cruise ships in a Haitian port and the bodies rotting in the streets just a few miles away.

Stuart Evans 8 years, 4 months ago

I don't buy it. what I see is that unemployment is extremely high, especially among the African American community. are they better off because these unemployment benefits have been lengthened, or because the government cheese giveaway is in full swing? I think what they perceive as being better off is still based wholly on having a black man as president.

Stuart Evans 8 years, 4 months ago

TomShewmon (Tom Shewmon) says… “…African America…” Never heard of it.

I believe they call it Liberia

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