Afraid to Hope: Many African Americans Are Excited about Barack Obama's Historic Run for the Presidency. but They Are Also Afraid to Become Too Emotionally Invested in Something That Still Seems Too Good to Be True

By Monroe, Sylvester | Ebony, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Afraid to Hope: Many African Americans Are Excited about Barack Obama's Historic Run for the Presidency. but They Are Also Afraid to Become Too Emotionally Invested in Something That Still Seems Too Good to Be True


Monroe, Sylvester, Ebony


It has been a long time since Kenneth Gary got excited about politics. In fact, the last time was when he helped provide security in Boston for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's campaign events in 1984.

Nearly three decades later, Gary, a 55-year-old computer systems engineer who now lives in Dallas, is thrilled that his vote in the Texas primary could help seal the nomination for Barack Obama. He is also afraid that all the excitement Obama's campaign is generating may not be enough to secure the Democratic Party nomination or the presidency.

"I know Obama is charismatic, but when did America change?" Gary asks. "I missed it. I am shocked. I am surprised. I am astounded. The excitement is perceptible through the television. You don't have to go to the rallies. It's clear. It's real. But I am just amazed at two things. I am amazed at the absence of the hate. I know it's not dead ... I know it's not gone. We just don't hear it."

Gary says that he and his wife, Dineo, who have been in Mexico City for the past six weeks as he completes a work assignment, have been following news of how Obama is doing.

"We have been huddled around the television watching every political show over and over every night waiting for news of Obama the way my mother and father huddled around the radio in the '30s and '40s listening to a Joe Louis fight," says Gary. "This is the same thing. History is being made."

History aside, for many African-Americans like Gary, there is indeed this faint disquiet that won't allow them to get but so excited about Obama's chances of becoming the nation's first Black president. Never mind that his campaign has prompted record voter turnouts across America. Never mind that Obama has won 28 out 44 contests so far, and leads Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates and the popular vote nationwide. Never mind that Obama's campaign slogan is "Change we can believe in."

Indeed, Black Americans of a certain age still find it difficult to believe that Obama can really become president because of America's past racial history. When John Edwards was still in the race, for example, some thought the Democratic party would turn to the fair-haired Kennedyesque senator as a "great White hope" rather than pick a Black man or a woman to lead the party and the nation. And now, as the race for delegates tightens, superdelegates get pressured and party bigwigs debate what to do with the Michigan and Florida delegations, many are afraid that unless Obama goes into the Democratic convention in August with a commanding lead in delegates, somehow the nameless, faceless "they" would use the so-called superdelegates or employ backroom dealing to steal the nomination and make Clinton the nominee.

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Still others are afraid that even if Obama gets the nomination, he will not become president because, in the general election, not enough White people, particularly White men, will vote for a Black man for president, turning to the Republican candidate or just not voting at all.

And finally, while few Black people discuss it openly, for African-Americans over the age of 50, who have experienced political assassinations in their lifetime (John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968), there is the chilling concern that the better Obama does at the polls and the closer he comes to the presidency the more likely it is that someone might try to kill him. …

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