A few weeks ago, I read an article in The Atlantic entitled, “Fear of a Black President.” In the article, Ta-Nehisi Coates examines the false promise of integration and having President Barack Obama in the White House.
There are two moments, in the article where I had, as Oprah says, an “Aha!” moment.
The article started by examining the backlash against the justice movement for Trayvon Martin after Obama said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Coates says, “When President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black.”
I began to examine my own record of opportunities and success. For them, I credit God above all. However, I must agree with the article, I have had to be twice as good and half as black. As one of my mentors told me, “It comes with the territory, and it is the cost one has to pay, kid.” One of my best friends told me, “White people [at AU] love you; black people respect you.”
I argued vigorously with my mentor and best friend suggesting that either emotion was because of my intelligence and my character. However, I began to think. There are many black people on my campus who are just smart and have a character that impresses. Why do they not see the same opportunities as I do?
To answer my questions, I examined how many black students, even in the age of Obama, realize that in many arenas, we still have to be twice as good and half as black.
Obama’s election and his ability to still show his knowledge of black culture, like singing Al Green at the Apollo, has led us to think like Coates. We can be “culturally black” and “presidential.” However, the larger American imagination has not yet been expanded to believe this wholeheartedly.
When someone hasn’t encompassed this concept, then the response is to not support someone seen as culturally black and intellectual. They will respond by fighting against that notion, as when I spoke out against the false diversity in Student Government and was called “the black candidate.”
The fact is that some talented young men and women, who happen to be black, will get many opportunities. It’s something to celebrate. However, we must work to make sure that equal opportunity is afforded to the same person who just happens to have a deeper pep in their step, who rocks the beauty of a natural afro or dreadlocks, or who has a smooth tone like Billy Dee Williams.
The Obama Administration has not made us post-racial, but it has allowed us to see that the roots of racism are so thick that even a black man in the White House cannot easily change the paradigm and allow the dream to live.
Deon Jones is a junior in SPA, an advisory neighborhood commissioner representing AU students and a national spokesman for the Campaign for Youth Justice.