02/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Race in the Obama Age: Still a Long Way to Go

On Saturday, I'm off to Washington DC -- along with millions of others -- to watch Barack Obama inaugurated as America's first African-American president. The gravity of such an occasion is not lost on any of us, regardless of race or nationality and we are all looking forward to seeing how the change that Obama talked about during his campaign will be manifested.

There is no doubt that Obama's election is a sign that America itself has already changed. I hope, however, that having an African-American president will be more than a superficial, aesthetic symbol of change but will bring actual change to America's policies, practices and systems. It would be a shame to have a black president who maintains the same frameworks - particularly the ones that lead to inequalities and injustices - that already exist.

During the campaign, myself and others wrote about the limitations of Obama campaigning on a platform which focused solely on African Americans. Many in the black community knew that doing so would hamper his chances at winning and were content for him to do whatever he had to do to get ahead, even if it meant not directly addressing issues facing the African-American community as much as some may have wanted.

At the same time, we all hoped and continue to hope that Barack's presidency will do something for improving race-related issues in the US... and not just as a by-product of him being in office. I hope that he will make it an active mission of his, although he has not expressly stated that this is the case.

After Obama's election, many in the media asked if black people can still claim that American society is a racist society if a black man can reach the highest and most powerful office in the land, and even the world. Many, like me, answered in the affirmative. After all, Obama is just one man. It's extremely naive to believe that all of America's racial problems ended on November 4, 2008.

Judging by the events we've seen since Obama's election, the fact is that when it comes to race there is still a long, long way to go. The killing of an unarmed black man -- filmed by bystanders on their mobile phones and viewed by millions on YouTube -- by a BART police officer who has still not been charged or even questioned have sparked riots in Oakland, California. Just before the new year, another young black man -- a star athlete -- died in mysterious circumstances. Still, nobody is sure whether or not the incident was a suicide or whether he was killed by the policemen. The wealth of racial disparities that existed in the US before November 4 still exist -- they certainly did not disappear overnight.

I hope that by the end of Obama's term, we would have seen some progression towards bridging the wide gaps that we see in the areas of the economics, healthcare, education, mortality rates and so on, but we won't do this by pretending that a black president cancels out some of the stark realities of everyday life for some people of colour.

I would also ask that if the election of a black president doesn't improve the lot of black people, has he really fulfilled the vision of all of the millions of black people who struggled and died to improve their communities and paved the way for him to be where he is today? Surely the point is not just to be there, but to do something to create a more level playing field for everyone else.

This progression will not come just from Obama, however. As I've already said, he is just one man and can only do so much. Furthermore, the issues didn't begin with him, and won't end with him. The idea of him being president empowered many people, and the actuality of his presidency should continue to empower people to take action, on a local and individual level, when it comes to racial justice as well as other important issues. It should empower communities to make some very necessary changes from within, as well as to continue to agitate for systematic change from the top.

There's a long way to go, but having a black president is a great place to be. Let's ensure that the power and success isn't reserved just for Obama and the few other black people who reside with him in the upper echelons of American life, but will be made open to others too.