Since Barack Obama emerged on the national political scene, his presence has invited a sense of acute nostalgia, unrelenting inspiration and, to many, a serious brand of racial surrealism.
His ascension has, in part, transformed, or has at least sharpened the lens through which the contemporary world may now view and consider racial politics. But in all of our celebration, for both the moment and the man, the semantic etiquette and socio-political hype of a few has erred on the side of clumsy in its use of hollow rhetoric. If you are of the variety of Americans, for example, for whom the notion of "post-race" elicits serious tension, or even a frustrated twitch, then you may have already recognized, or have been annoyed by the indiscriminate use of "In the Age of Obama" as a title tag-line to almost any and all things apropos of race and politics.
"In the Age of Obama", like "post-race", wants for something more a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts that is simply not yet there. They are both misnomers whose implications are unmistakably consequential and, to the legacy of the President, costly. One of the main differences between the two, however, is that the same critical consciousness and suspicion applied to the latter is seemingly abandoned in the warm embrace of this ubiquitous and mantric tag-line. Certainly, it's not about words themselves, nor the character of them; rather, the issue can be found in how they inflate expectations and the implications of the subsequent symbol(s) they impart. Even though political heavy hitters like CNN, the Congressional Black Caucus, several journalists and even a score of scholars have all come aboard the same ship in their use of this maxim, a degree of prudence may become necessary to set new sail of caution in its use. As it goes, when history writes of this moment in time, it may turn out that all America got "In the Age of Obama" was Barack Obama.
To be clear, President Obama is indeed a renaissance man, a visionary, and an empowering leader. This observation is is no way an indictment of his platform for CHANGE or his pronouncements of HOPE. Instead, it is to remind some of those in the mass body politic and the intellectual and political elite that Obama is fallible, a policy mortal that is politically limited, and that the burden of history's racial stain will not necessarily fade because of him. The mantra, then, should be best regarded as an illusive utterance that harbors and insincere and unsustainable urgency for important issues, particularly those disproportionately affecting African Americans.
Earlier this Fall, for example, CNN tried their hand at engaging the problems and opportunities for Black Men in the Age of President Obama, and, before that, a respectable though, to some, failed effort at capturing what it meant to be Black in America. On its face, one might read this and ask, "isn't this attention a good thing?" Absolutely. The issue, however, is that CNN, like so many others, seem to keep discovering that there is a race problem in America, ignoring, time and time again, a long and complicated past and present.
Four-to-eight years from now, neither the troubles of the world nor those of Black community will disappear during one man's tenure in one the most exclusive clubs in the United States. Change is a stubborn process, and President Obama is not our professional "race-man". Presidents are guided by a broad policy sword, seldom by a specific scalpel.
So, when the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) displays its misguided frustration toward the President in alleging that he is not taking serious the issues of their constituents, it is possible that they, too, in their kin-like anticipation, have been disappointed "In the Age of Obama". This should underscore the point that, although he bares the mighty seal of President of the United States, he is not superman, and confronts a foe greater than kryptonite politics! So, in the spirit of history and legacy, let's be inspired and hopeful for a great progress, but without the insatiable temptation to expect our leaders to part the world's waters.
Nyron N. Crawford is a doctoral fellow for the Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, and an American Political Science Association minority fellow in the Department of Political Science at The Ohio State University, where he focuses on identity, judicial and urban politics and policy in the United States. He earned his B.A. from Howard University in 2008.