This is a time that even folks of my generation have never seen before," says Timuel Black.
Black has seen many a lifetime from his lifelong perch on Chicago's South Side. The revered scholar, historian, political activist and grass-roots intellectual turns 90 on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day. He was born and raised in Bronzeville, the historic and iconic heart of black Chicago.
He is my most reliable barometer of what thoughtful African Americans are saying. I caught up with by phone last week. He had just returned home after voting early for You Know Who. So what will black folks be thinking as Sen. Barack Obama seals the deal — to become America's first black president?
Black — and every African American he knows — desperately wants Obama to win. "Barack is the best that America has to offer," he says. He notes that the senator's saga — born and bred in Hawaii and Indonesia, schooled in the Ivy League, a life of relative privilege — is not shared by the preponderance of American blacks. "He has a different experience."
Indeed. Blacks must tamp down their sky-high expectations. Obama is running to become president of the world. We must learn to share. By necessity, he has run a post-racial campaign. "To be a good president, you first have to be president," said Black, professor emeritus of social sciences at the City Colleges of Chicago. "I am not being derogatory, but explanatory."
The reality is that on Tuesday, we will elect a black president. Period. Obama's virtually flawless campaign reaped big love from millions around the world. It is fitting that, a few days ago, as the campaign thundered toward its grand crescendo, he finally got the love from America's mythical first black president, Bill Clinton. It is also ironic. While Clinton has trotted himself around as the black man's best friend, Obama will win tomorrow — and win big — by vigilantly avoiding talking about people of color and the maladies they face.
Obama will indeed be the real first black president. To be a successful American president, he will have to devise a way to pull us out of a historic quagmire.
African Americans — and a lot of other people — better hunker down for some disappointment. Their hero is already getting fitted for the economic and political straitjacket he'll wear for the next four years. The Middle East wars will rage on and that shiny piggy bank known as the U.S. Treasury will be busted. As black folks always say, when they let us take over, you know things are pretty dire.
One thing Obama has going for him: He will look stupendous compared with the current occupant of the White House. Incompetent predecessors present propitious opportunities. So how will he govern? Turn on the tube and watch the conservative pundits sniff: It goes something like "America is a center-right nation, but Obama will surely govern from the left." He will inevitably overreach and fail, they cackle. They are gleefully awaiting the fall. I'm betting they'll be waiting a long time. Obama is the consummate pragmatist. If he governs the way he campaigned, he will put lipstick on the pig. (You heard it here first — watch for an Obama/Palin matchup in 2012.)
I asked Tim Black what he will be thinking about on Election Day. "I will be hopin' and dreamin.' Not thinking too much."