Are You Inspired? Leadership and African American Politics III


You can fool some people sometimes,

   But you can’t fool all the people all the time.

   So now we see the light (what you gonna do?),

   We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah!)

   So you better:

   Get up, stand up! (in the morning! git it up!)

   Stand up for your rights! (stand up for our rights!)

   Get up, stand up!

   Don’t give up the fight! (don’t give it up, don’t give it up!)

   Get Up, Stand Up-Bob Marley and the Wailers

I have posted and commented, elsewhere, on issues, topics and “controversies” surrounding Barack Obama’s candidacy and I am a supporter. However, I will not waste time discussing policy positions, campaign strategies or real or imagined controversies and dust-ups. I will leave that for future discussions. My thoughts in this diary are personal and I will speak as ernestly and directly as a Muhammed Ali right jab.

As my user profile states I am an elected official in a small “red state” town. I have been serving for four years and in January will commence my third two year term. I like politics. I like policy. I get excited about the constructive role government can have in the lives of its citizens. I believe it can transform lives for the better. I believe it is a means by which we can serve our neighbors.

My participation in local government was the result of great opportunity and mild inclination. I had been thinking about ways I could contribute to the town in which I lived. So public service.

Most of my job is looking out for the interests of the citizens of a small town. Public utilities, annual insurance policies, budget sessions, winter salt purchases, laws prohibiting skate boarding and bike riding on the side walks. And every now and then big issues come before our council.

Discussions and memos on creative economic development and progressive environmental policies sit in binders on our desks. And suddenly our decisions matter. Decisions about the future now have to be made. How to create housing opportunities and economic growth without undermining established businesses or gentrifying longstanding communities? How shall our community meet its future energy needs by balancing concerns about affordable (sic) energy rates against the need for reneweable energy sources. Suddenly the decisons that I am party to making, could have historical resonances.

In this position I see myself as part of a trend. In other diaries I have loudly speculated about the past and the present of African American political leadership. Can it sincerely balance itself between the needs of African American communities and the expectations of mainstream populations? Can it meet its historic mission and avoid being limited by that same history. Algerian psychiatrist Frantz Fanon once wrote,


Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.

I am of the mind that what we see in the rise to prominence of African American public servants such as  Hon. Cory Booker (Newark, NJ), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and yes, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) are the beginnings of a generation of Black public servants that are leading the way toward discovering its mission. These are leaders that are displaying a fuller realization of African American identity, moving beyond the fractured personality that W.E.B. DuBois described in his classic Souls of Black Folk


One ever feels his two-ness,-an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

and the concentrated identification of Black nationalism.

These figures, and I suspect more like them, in their politics and policies are overcoming this traditional cultural/political fissure and are becoming what Albert Murray described as Omni-Americans, that is, exemplars of the most fundamental aspects of American society as found in African American culture.  These individuals, do not see their racial identities as handicaps with White Americans. Despite the reality of racial prejudice they do not deny, obscure, run away from, apologize for or avoid their racial identities. They embrace them, identify with and embrace their home communities and the issues that are most important to them. They push the discourse of US politics by forcing White communities/voters to reflect and confront themselves about their own racial biases. However they are also able to show that racial identities are not exclusive and in their concerns and visions for the nation show that their racial identities and the experiences resulting from them link them to a larger American identity and vision in ways heretofore unimagined, by most. For Barack Obama the son a Kenyan father and middle American mother, how can the true US be anything but a nation where immigrants and their children have almost limitless possibilities? For a Keith Ellison, Black and Muslim, in a post 9/11 society, who could recognize more clearly the need to maintain and protect our most fundamental rights? For a Cory Booker, son of working class peoples, who better respects the elements of US legal and social culture that dismiss caste as destiny and class as fate. Tragically these individuals are not the norm, they live in the rarified air of social and cultural elites. Do not be confused this nation still


must travel through woods dark and deep

   has promises to keep

   and has miles before it can sleep

   (my apologies to R. Frost)

However, and most importantly to this discussion, these figures speak to the possibilities of this society. Their arrival at this historic moment speak to the survival of elements in US society seemingly lost.

So I, as a young African American male, who believes in the nobility of public service, am inspired by the examples set by my peers. I am excited about what this nation, yes even this world, can become if leaders like these are given an equal opportunity. I am committed to supporting them in their endeavors as long as I believe them to be right and true. In fact I am inspired by them. My response to them is as visceral as it is contemplative. I support them because I believe in myself and in their achievements I see my own potential. In their achievements I see the possibilities of a world on fire. I am not naive about the valleys that must be overcome or the mountains that must be traversed, this world to be  realized will result only from long, bitter and hard fought battles. I believe the human family is worth the fight.


  1. I’m interested to know a little more about that “opportunity.”  How did the campaign process inform your views on public service, for example? Just wondering, too, if the idea of Cory Booker being a “son of working class peoples” is important to your vision of the future for your work, town, America.

    • Sansouci on November 30, 2007 at 22:18

    The opportunity resulted in my friendship with some local citizens that were frustrated with the ways in which local government functioned or rather did not functioned. I met with two others that were being vetted for their interest, we clicked and ran as an informal slate of candidates on the platform of open government and economic development. We won. I live in a small town so campaigning was an intimate experience. There were a lot of household/neighborhood meetings, and house to house introductions. Accountability was obvious which underlined for me the fact that I served the interest of the public. Being a member of the working class that has been provided with opportunities for social mobility I believe I am obligated to contribute to communities and to aid in creating opportunities for others. I hope that answers your question.  

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