African Americans all across the nation will be sitting on the edge of their seats Tuesday, waiting for the moment when Barack Obama may make history. Even if they did not cast their vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, they must admit that the boundaries that Obama has crossed as a black man in this country have been more than monumental.
While we may try to pretend that race is non-existent in this election, the impact that Obama has made on society because of his race is undeniable. He has become an inspiration and the ideal role model for black men of all ages. And his accomplishments have truly proven how far black people have come since the Civil Rights Movement.
But the horrors that occurred less than 15 minutes away from Obama’s Chicago home last week proved that there is still a long way to go.
Last Friday, the mother and brother of Oscar Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson were found brutally murdered in their home on the south side of Chicago. Three days later, Hudson’s seven-year-old nephew was found shot to death in the back of a truck on the city’s west side. Some speculate that a local gang was involved, speculation largely based on the fact that the primary suspect and Hudson’s brother had been arrested for drug charges in 2002.
Within one week’s time and one city’s limits, we can see bold evidence of a divided community. While we can surely praise the achievements of Obama, we can’t overlook the harsh truth that right down the street, “black on black” crime is still rampant, black families are still being torn apart by violence and innocent black children are still falling victim to senseless acts of violence.
These disparities are clear in crime statistics. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2005, blacks were six times as likely as whites to be homicide victims. Compared to homicides in other racial groups, black homicides are disproportionately drug related. Between 1976 and 2005, African Americans were responsible for the death of 94 percent of black homicide victims.
While Barack Obama represents the values of fatherhood and family obligation, fathers have become increasingly scarce inside many black households, with an estimated one in nine black men between 20 and 34 years of age in prison. With many mothers working extended hours to compensate for the absence of their children’s fathers, little, or no parental supervision can be one reason why drug abuse and crime is still prevalent in black communities even with the increase in educational opportunities.
However, many of these problems are caused by factors beyond the community’s control. Schools in black neighborhoods are underfunded, poorly kept up and understaffed, leading to higher dropout rates. Unemployment disproportionately affects minorities and often the image of fast and easy money being attained through illegal activities is more appealing than the thought of spending four long years in college with no income. Furthermore, this cycle continues generationally, as young blacks are fed into a criminal justice system that puts minorities behind bars at a rate far greater than whites.
In a few days, the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may be made real in the shape of the first black president of the United States. But, in the midst of those dreams, we, as Americans, must remember that violence, racism and drug abuse are still a prevalent nightmare in the black community.
The violent acts against the family of Jennifer Hudson should be an alarm to America, especially black America. It reminds us that even if one black man is elected president of this country, it does not negate the truth that hundreds of other black men and boys are victims of a system of oppression.
For every one Michelle Obama produced from our country’s poorest and most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, there are dozens of young, uneducated single mothers struggling to provide for their children. There are grandmothers like Darnell Donerson, Hudson’s mother, who lose their lives fighting to protect their children and grandchildren from the hands of an unmerciful street life.
Although we have made progressive strides politically and economically as a black community, the tragic events that occurred this past week showed that Barack Obama’s achievements do not represent the end of a struggle for an oppressed community. If anything, they serve as a distressing sign that there is still much more work to be done before Dr. King’s dream is truly achieved.
Shakira Smiler can be reached at email@example.com.