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Obamas Victory: From Glass Half Empty to Half Full

New America Media, Commentary, David Muhammad Posted: Nov 11, 2008

Editor's note: For one black American government official, Obama's victory has been a watershed on many levels. NAM contributor David Muhammad is the chief of committed services for Washington, D.C.'s juvenile justice system.

"How can black people rise up and overcome?" This was the final question posed on a fake game show on the comedian Dave Chappelle's popular television program. Several contestants gave various answers, "reparations," "just stay alive," and even "it's complex" all of these were accepted as correct answers by the game show host. Then one contestant answered, "get out and vote." That response was harshly rejected as incorrect and the audience laughed hysterically.

Voting has long been considered by many in the black community as inconsequential to their overall condition, evidenced by historically low black voter turnout rates. But that all just changed. Black voter turnout was at an all time high this November and many blacks even consider the presidency of Barack Obama as the ultimate achievement in black America.

For me, this campaign and remarkable election has been a paradigm shift. I was a bit of a radical in college -- a student activist and community organizer. I have remained suspect of government ever since. But, for about as long as the presidential campaign has been going on, I have been a government official. I accepted a job in Washington, D.C. as a juvenile justice administrator. And now a black man has been elected President of the United States. I couldn't have imagined either of these happening just three years ago.

Michelle Obama was widely criticized for saying, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country" at an appearance on behalf of her husband in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in February. And while some conservatives criticized her for suggesting that she wasn't proud of her country, which was somewhat of a mischaracterization of her statement, but it is exactly my sentiment.

This is my country, I have always felt that way and I have always believed we have the potential to change. But I have also been ashamed of my country and my government for the horrors it has produced.

The reasons I have long been suspect of the United States government obviously still exist. This is a county and a government that systematically enslaved my ancestors, a government that sanctioned a horrible Jim Crow segregation era, a government that experimented with a group of black men in Tuskegee by deliberately injecting them with syphilis and withholding the known cure, a government that responded irresponsibly to millions of mostly black residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and a government of a county that continues to have large disproportionate rates of poverty incarceration and AIDS for African Americans.

While Obama's presidency will not fundamentally change the overall condition of black people in America, it is certainly one of the most profound and singularly important achievements for black people.

Obama's presidency will also not fundamentally change the way government operates. At the end of his reign, there will more than likely be a two-party system that represents the rich and the middle class, while the poor will remain disenfranchised.

But Obama has given hope and inspiration to the world. The American electorate has made history. So I now choose to see the glass as half full. Obama has given me that hope. It was not just a campaign slogan. We have a real sense in America and the world that we can actually change.

I too cried on election night. And I tear up nearly every time I see the replay of the Obama family walking on that stage in Grant Park for the President-elect to make his acceptance speech. And as he quoted Dr. King's "Mountain Top" address, I agree that we may not make it within his presidency, but his election does give me hope that "we as a people will make it to the Promised Land."

Related Stories:

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Will Obama Make the Mistake of Latin American Leaders?

What Obamas Victory Means to My Daughter from Ethiopia

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