What a difference a small Midwestern state can make. Days before the Iowa caucus, I sat at this keyboard and, with the fullest of convictions, wrote that I didn't believe America was ready to elect a Black president. At that point, 2007 had been a sharp reminder of how far apart we we can be at times. I had recently watched YouTube clips of the congressional rap hearings (yeah, read that again: "Congressional Rap Hearings"). This farce unfolded on C-SPAN just below the cultural radar and mocked everything I stand for at URB magazine, the magazine I founded over fifteen years ago to celebrate and champion hip-hop culture (even though David Banner and even Master P deflected the Senatorial hypocrisy wonderfully, maybe as a prelude of what is yet to come). At the same time, opinions were divided as to whether Imus got his license to ill from potty-mouth rappers or was just an ass of his own making (cue Jay-Z giving rap a robust defense and smoothing out the playing field on Charlie Rose). So many reminders of our division in everyday America — not to mention a lifetime of firsthand experience as a biracial, southern-raised black man — made it hard for me to accept that we'd turned a corner for real. I mean, come on, OJ was even back in the news, for crying out loud.
But then there was Iowa. Barack Obama's record-shattering turnout and victory in this 90% white state was stunning. Dream-like. Awe-inspiring. In one night, it seemed to signal a sea of change that was churning beneath the surface. Iowa demanded I take another look around and focus on Obama's now resounding declaration of "Yes, we can."
The results of the caucus shocked pundits and laymen — although probably not my boy Yosi at Obama press headquarters here in LA. Yosi is a pedal-pushing embodiment of the stubborn but conscious new "HOPE" Obama had tapped into, and has been doing volunteer work for the campaign for over a year. He represents some of the "dreamy-eyed optimism" I once wrote off. Like so many other Obama supporters I came across in the past two months — in person, on TV and in response to my aforementioned editorial — he didn't proselytize so much as inspire. This single-minded dedication and belief in the candidate and his vision for the world was powerful. It was a declaration of a new kind of national conversation, much more encompassing and civil than what we're used to. I was consumed almost overnight by a tidal wave of enthusiasm and passion for the Obama revolution. And eventually I knew I had to join the chorus.
My prior Clinton support had been born from the cynical fallout of a post-Nader, post-Gore, post-Kerry world. I was tired of wishful thinking and compromise about what kind of leadership we should have. I had gone from feeling good that I backed the right horse in 2000 (Gore) to just desperately wanting to defeat Bush in 2004 (ugh, Kerry). But I didn't believe a candidate could stand for change, a new direction and — break out the Kleenex — HOPE. Let alone would he or she have a real shot at actually winning. But I also never bought the illusion that a subtle departure from the past would bring about the dynamic changes I craved. I had shelved my dreams of a bold agent of change, settling instead for a seasoned warrior (Clinton). I wasn't ready to accept that the candidate I'd been waiting for was Barack Obama.
As for my much more personal plea for Obama to shun the bright lights of the presidency and focus specifically on Black advocacy, I won't easily dismiss this plight. This is the genesis of my rogue and futile attempt to draft him away from his Leader-of-the-Free-World aspirations. But I have to respect that a slightly different history is being made right now, one I didn't imagine taking place in this election. I still stand for the plight of Black America and I want only the best and brightest to address this crisis now. So it's bittersweet to know that the most dynamic leader we could hope for, if elected, would likely be distracted with the global and urgent needs of the U.S. presidency and not some "Black agenda." Some wrote in response to my position stating that a President Obama might actually be the best platform for him to effect positive change. Given the dismal history of Powell, Thomas and Rice, I'm sober to that challenge. But if Obama's taught me anything, it is to remain hopeful.
So I admit it: I bought into the grand idea of a candidate who could inspire the disenfranchised, challenge the established hierarchy of Washington and dismantle the status quo. As for my former muse, Ms. Clinton, I know she'll continue to be formidable and she's worthy of — if for different reasons altogether — the same world stage Obama aims for. I'm also repulsed by the unwarranted animus so many have against her. As the son of a single mother/school teacher/union-member/pre-Boomer, I'd love to see a qualified woman in the White House. Incredibly, I feel we have two amazing choices to take this country forward in a profoundly new way. And if, against the winds of what seems to be an unstoppable momentum in Obama's favor, Clinton were to take it all the way, I'd be fine. But for now, Barack Obama has my attention — and my vote.
This post was adapted from an editorial at urb.com.