What Does it Mean to Have No African American Senators?

By Leroy Barber 11-17-2010

On November 2, the mid-term elections were held and the conversation the next day for many people I talked with was that there were no African-American senators. President Obama's seat in Illinois was won by Republican Mark Kirk, which seemed devastating to many. This was accompanied by the disappointing news that voter turnout among African Americans was about 5 percent. This has brought many questions to mind.

First, is America tired of the poor black victim story? The proclamation of struggles around race and injustice that have been a part of the African-American story since slavery may be something that other races have become tired of hearing. Are we just one of many stories and therefore, the attention we have drawn in the past is now shared with others, similar to the immigration issue? Do people feel like African Americans have had ample opportunity to pull themselves up in American society?

Furthermore, is society OK with the staggering number of black men in prison because they feel they deserve it? And what about respect for the black church, whose once strong voice in civil rights and fighting injustice has dwindled? Have scandals and prosperity caused the black church to lose its focus on fighting for justice as an issue of faith? Or perhaps people feel that because there is a black president, African Americans can no longer speak of inequality?

African American people have so much to celebrate, and so much to mourn. We celebrate our accomplishments, that in many (and I would argue in most) cases were not given, but earned through hard work and struggle, and by doing double or triple what our white peers had to do. We've had to fight through slavery, Jim Crow, red lines, and profiling. On the other hand, we continue to fill prisons, spend beyond our means, and skip school way too much. We mistreat our women, leave our children, and consume more than we save.

We have a rich history that should be celebrated, but I feel that all we have begun to do is remember the good old days. I think history should inform your present and give good input for the future. Instead, we are stuck remembering Dr. King instead of using what he did to live presently in victory and plan well for the future. The generation right after Dr. King's death went to college, raised families, and bought homes. Their present was the reaping of a hard fought battle against racism. We celebrated, and celebrated, and celebrated. Planning, purpose, and future were all lost in the celebrations.

Let this year's election be a wake-up call that it is time to stop partying and to begin to regain respect in the marketplace. Lets let our headlines be about our commitment to justice and humanity.

Leroy BarberLeroy Barber is president of Mission Year, a national urban initiative introducing 18- to 29-year-olds to missional and communal living in city centers for one year of their lives. He is also the pastor of Community Fellowships Church in Atlanta, Georgia and author of New Neighbor.

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