His election four years ago served as tangible proof to African-American children throughout the nation that they could do anything they chose if they did their due diligence.
Including becoming President of the United States.
So what would the message then be to these same impressionable youth should Barack Obama be defeated by Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday?
The latest polls say the president still ranks as the slight favorite going into Election Day, but the race is so tight that anything could happen.
An Obama loss would almost certainly disappoint African-Americans, sending them through the gamut of emotions from a deep sense of hopeless, gloom and just plain anger as they struggle in the recession more than any other group.
The racial polarization of this election cycle – combined with allegations of voter suppression against minorities and other groups – could also lead to resentment if blacks believe the election were unfairly administered, if not stolen. However, such circumstances could also embolden black voters and create a sense of urgency that it is time to rebuild.
It would be the start antithesis of 2008 when 200,000 supporters gathered to absorb the historic moment in Chicago’s Grant Park. Thousands of other jubilant African-Americans across the nation took the streets to celebrate the moment Obama was declared the victory, giddy with ecstasy that one of their own would sit in the Oval Office for the first time in our nation’s history.
For black voters, the stakes are high.
“This is the most significant political season we have seen in a long time,” Rev. David Bullock, head of the Detroit Chapter of Rainbow-PUSH, told theGrio.com. “Malcolm X said something very important in that there are only two ways to change America. You will only change America by saying ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ Or you will change America by entering the ballot box.”
Turnout by the base could prove decisive for an Obama victory.
“Hopefully, before he loses, black people will do everything they can to ensure that the best person–and I do think that out of the two that President Obama is the best–is the president of the United States,” said Phillip Jackson, the executive director of the Black Star Project, a Chicago-based educational program providing mentoring to thousands of students and parents through its Saturday University program. “I would hope that he would win and that the community would be energized.”
Jackson believes an Obama loss would be devastating.
“Black America is already in trouble, so that would be compiling those feelings of hopelessness, those feelings of weakness,” he said. “We’re already in trouble. We’re already the most challenged ethnic group in this country. And so now, you’re talking about losing an African-American president? It would be devastating. You would almost see African-Americans crying in the street.”
Despite the gains made since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s – including civil rights and voting rights legislation and the nation’s first black president – race remains the elephant in the room. Moreover, racism has worsened in the age of Obama, reflecting a white backlash rather than the more enlightened post-racial era many hoped his election would usher in.
Militia groups have mobilized in due to the economic recession and their hatred of the president, as the Tea Party and birther movements have painted Obama as a foreigner and therefore an illegitimate leader.
A recent AP survey found that 56 percent of white Americans harbor anti-black sentiments, up from 49 percent during the 2008 presidential election. Further, the poll found that racial prejudice alone could cost President Obama five points in the election, while pro-black sentiments could add three points, for a net loss of two points.
“We would be disappointed because Obama has done his best,” said Rev. Samuel Mosteller of an Obama defeat. Mosteller is assistant pastor of Atlanta’s Good Shepherd Community Church and president of the SCLC Georgia chapter. “People have forgotten where we were before Obama’s administration. He has made monumental decisions and changes that have benefited the American people.”
Another possible reason for an Obama loss is voter disenfranchisement, say some observers. Civil rights organizations are concerned that Republican-controlled state governments around the country have enacted voter ID requirements that they argue place a higher burden on voters of color, the poor and the elderly.
The representative black voices who spoke with theGrio reject the notion that an Obama loss would spark violence, despite the anger, desperation and hopelessness his defeat would create. They believe the battle is to be fought in the political arena, through activism and the ballot box rather than through physical confrontation.
“I don’t think there would be violence because black people are used to disappointment in America,” Rev. Mosteller said.
Phillip Jackson believes that if Obama is unsuccessful on Election Day, black America will have to redouble their efforts.
“So Obama will not win, but that doesn’t take away my power,” he said. “And that’s what we have to teach our children. So this is going to be a lesson for our children, for our teachers. If we will work to help Obama win, we will move heaven and earth for him to win, but if he doesn’t win, that doesn’t mean that we should just give up, become hopeless and roll over. We should get back to work and work even harder.”