The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, November 08, 2008

In Antigua

Sorry I've been quiet. It would be normal to wonder why I've commented so little this week. Well, I've been in Antigua, and the internet is a little spotty--as is computer power in general. But having a wonderful time. Fascinating to run into tourists from France, Italy, and Britain...and they are SO happy Obama won. And it's because they believe him extraordinary. Most Antiguans are black, and the sense of pride is beyond palpable.

Arguably, Obama's election is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind. Arguably. To the degree that that is true, it's incredible to be alive to see it. I mean, the invention of fire wasn't recorded. Emancipation? No "accomplishment"--it was done to us and for us, but not at our own volition. Of course, the dude stands on a lot of shoulders, but he's still pretty tall. And the risk of being disappointed is always huge. I mean, anyone expecting a Messiah is gonna be gravely pissed. He's not that. But he has a chance to be a fine President. And if he is? It's a game-changer. Permanenly. Around the world. IF he can have a successful Presidency, it says things about him, yes...but it says much much more about what America is, who Americans are, and who and what human beings are as a species. I think we're just seeing one of those "21st Century" moments we all knew would happen, up close and personal. Can't wait to get perspective.

But right now? For the first time in our nation's history, there is a route for non-white males that goes from the bottom all the way to the top. Yes, it's harder, but you know what? Winners don't ask if it's hard. They thank God for an opportunity to test themselves againt whatever obstacle. I would suspect that within a generation of Inauguration day, assuming a successful Presidency, we can consider that African genetics have just become another vital strand in the American tapestry, with a strained past, but a vibrant culture that is stronger for having endured it. But that's not up to Obama. That's up to me, and to everyone else who believes in this country, or believes in a future for our children. The door opened, going all the way to the peak of accomplishment in the Western World. In the hierarchy of power, about all that's left is Pope, and they can keep it.

Time to roll up my sleeves. The next eight years, hopefully, will be the hardest and most rewarding of my life.


Steve Perry said...

"Arguably, Obama's election is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind."

Hey, Barnes? If you make it up to Orycon, bring some of whatever it is you've been smoking down there in St. John's, okay?

Because, as happy as I was to see the man win, you can't possibly believe that unless you are stoned out of your mind.

Christian H. said...

I'm just waiting for it to really sink in in the ghetto. No more excuses can be given.

Skills pay the bills and his skills got him to the Hill.

It's time to pull up our pants and represent him. He doesn't have to represent us. He has to represent the interests of the entire world.

Go Barack. Great job. Now comes the hard part.

Anonymous said...

The single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind? No.

Maybe the single most important accomplishment in the history of black people would be more appropriate?

Marty S said...

I don't even think its the most important accomplishment in American black history. It's a common saying that "The first step is the hardest.".Obama stands on the shoulders of those who went before and won blacks their civil rights including the right to vote.

Mike R said...

>"Arguably, Obama's election is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind."<

From the rest of your text, did you mean to say "Black People" rather than mankind here?

If so, I would argue that the increase in literacy among black Americans in the post Civil War era was a bigger accomplishment than the election of one man.

Some literacy figures;

Year White Non-White
1870 88.5 20.1
1880 90.6 30.0
1890 92.3 43.2
1900 93.8 55.5
1910 95.0 69.5
1920 96.0 77.0
1930 97.0 83.6
1940 98.0 88.5

Almost a tripling of literacy in a generation is a pretty damn big accomplishment and almost all the advancements of African Americans over the last 100+ years wouldn't have been possible without that foundation of literacy gained by people who had been born slaves at a time when it was illegal to teach slaves to read. It's pretty impressive when you look at it.

Anonymous said...

I should start by saying that I am a big Obama supporter, and definitely think that his policies and general intelligence are generally what America needs right now. But I am a bit disturbed by the over-expectations that seem to be rampant this week. I don't think any living, breathing human being can possibly satisfy everyone's interests, and there are going to be many disappointed people two years from now.

If the Obama administration is average or successful, it will be a massive boon for race relation. However, if his administration is a failure, I think it will be a disaster for racial equality and will turn another generation away from caring about politics.

And failure is not too far-fetched:
- The economy could tank depression-style -- he probably won't have a second term if this happens.
- He changes foreign policy significantly, and there is another terrorist attack 2-3 years later -- he will probably get blamed by many people.
- America starts pulling out of Iraq, but has to go back in a year later to clean up the mess.
- America increases its present in Afghanistan, and Pakistan is taken over by extremists -- then we have extremists with nukes.
- America moves troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, and then both countries destabilize. Then we are still stuck in two wars.
- America's deficit continues to grow, and the other countries lose confidence in the dollar. This would cause a level of inflation that we can't even begin to comprehend.

Now as a said before I am glad Obama won and hope he succeeds in all of these. But if he fails it will be bad for race relations, an I think he will be judged by how his administration ends, not by how it started.

Anonymous said...

"Arguably, Obama's election is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind."

That is, arguably, the stupidest thing ever said in the history of mankind. And I think you're a smart guy.

Anonymous said...


I'd say you're overstating it a bit, unless you're riffing on the theme that we all think "mankind" means "folks who look like me." But it looks to me like his election is the biggest thing to happen politically since the collapse of the Soviet Union and fall of the Iron Curtain.

I remember that pride when I went to Anguilla, a few years ago. And the shock of seeing all these people who *look* just like American blacks, but who are otherwise *completely* different--differnent accent, culture, economy, lifestyle, everything.

Marty S said...

Anonymous: I think you are in some sense over estimating the importance of Obama's performance to race relationships. I don't agree with much of Obama's apparent philosophy, but if some of the catastrophes you mention occur and I believe they are due to his policies I will blame it on his liberal agenda not on his being Black. I believe the fact that we elected Obama as president shows that we have come too far as nation to make his performance a referendum on black competence.

Anonymous said...

"Arguably, Obama's election is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind."

I forced to throw in my lot with most of the other posters concerning this. I'm chalking your hyperbole up to victory euphoria, which has certainly made me and countless millions very light-headed since Tuesday's landslide. Having said that, Obama's win was certainly a major turning point in US history. YES WE DID SMASH THE HIGHEST GLASS CEILING IN THE LAND!!

Ethereal Highway said...

I think this is an extremely important accomplishment for everyone, not just for blacks. You can't get much whiter than me, and this is extremely important to me. It shows that we have finally come far enough to recognize intelligence and competency no matter what color it is wearing. This leaves me very impressed and hopeful because I have seen great skill and talent belittled and ignored because it was the 'wrong color'. Anyone who has been paying attention at all has seen the same. What a terrible waste for ALL of us. Maybe people will see now that there is no such thing as being the wrong color. Another thing that makes me happy is that children are witnessing this. When I was a child in school learning about segregation, I had a hard time imagining what that was like and it made me wonder if the generation before me was deranged. Maybe today's little children will grow up and be astounded that a person's color was once a roadblock in the path of success. This would be the most beneficial part of it all.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't even say it's the most important accomplishment in Black American history. His platform had NOTHING to do with issues specific to Black folk.
Let's remember that many of the issues confronting the Black community have not and probably will not be addressed by the new Government: the disproportionate Incarceration rates, drugs and violence,levels of poverty, gentrification, high school drop out rates of Black students, numbers of Black children in foster care and group homes...I could go on. The reality in the "hood" is still what it is, even while we're currently swept up with the talk of national security, terrorism, and Wall Street...
Dare I say Black folk: YOUR PASSES, CONCESSIONS, "EXCUSES", "SOB STORIES", and "WHINING" will NO LONGER BE ACCEPTED. So the responsibility to improve the "State of Black America" is COMPLETELY on us. This is Horatio ALgier- pull yourself up by the bootstraps to an ENTIRELY new level. DOn't anticipate a dramatic shift in dominant structures of oppression and racism. It would be FOOLISH. Collectively game must be taken up a couple of notches, as Christian implied. This is FAR bigger than Barack. Bush can and has acted a plum NUT; folk complain and talk about him, but his missteps have NEVER been used as an indictment on the entire "white" populous, SADLY, the consequences for ANY and EVERY thing Barack does or doesn't do will fall squarely on the backs of "blacks".

I wonder if part of this MASSIVE support from CERTAIN (not all) Whites is POSSIBLY because Voting for a Black man is "evidence" that race no longer matters. Perhaps a vote for Barack was a way to absolve some of the "white guilt" that so many liberal and progressives feel because of the legacy of slavery and oppression of Blacks in this country. Just a thought.

I voted for McKinney by the way.

Pagan Topologist said...

Salina, you could be right. I am white; I supported Edwards early on, but voted for Obama in the primary after Edwards dropped out. I also voted for McKinney on Tuesday, but I would not have if I had been less than certain that Obama would carry Delaware. Certainly, McKinney's positions on the issues were ones I agreed with. I am sad that Cynthia McKinney received only 385 votes here in DE.

I am hopeful about an Obama Presidency, though, in spite of the fact that he is a centrist and not somewhat left of center, as I would have preferred. I hope your viewpoints stated here turn out to have been overly pessimistic.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to defend, with reservations, Steve's statement, "Arguably, Obama's election is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind." I'm not saying I agree with it but that it is not an unreasonable statement. Certainly it was largely victory euphoria but what is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind? Personally, I doubt that there can be a single most important accomplishment. The importance of Obama's election, and his presidency, can only be measured after at least a generation has passed. This is only the beginning.

Anonymous said...

PT - I HOPE you are RIGHT. Based on some of what Obama has said thus far, I'm not convinced. I wonder how long the "he's just doing and saying what he has to do to "play" the game" theory will hold. Although I'm not as politically minded or astute as many folk on here, i'm THOROUGHLY disheartened by his choice of Rahm for one, his willingness to maintain the "war on terror", his support of AFRICOM, his "redeployment" effort, and what SEEMS to be a "God Bless America right or wrong" stance... Waiting and Seeing is my current m.o. .

Anonymous said...

Salina, the reasons you are disheartened are some of the reasons I am heartened. I think Obama will be a great president if congress and circumstances will allow him to be. But waiting and seeing is my M.O. also.

Anonymous said...


I frequently disagree with you on some things but on this one you are spot on. No one has any excuse based on their heritage to claim thay cannot succeed. There may be other reasons but that is not one of them anymore.

Time for all of us to shoulder the responsibility for our success or failure and own it all. Every last drop of it.

Thanks for always being present and speaking your mind.

Dan Gambiera said...

Not even arguably.

I could name at least a hundred inventions that were more significant. The atl-atl, the boat, the sod-busting plow, maize, the domestication of animals, codified laws, steam power, metallurgy, flight, radio, the atomic bomb, the double helix, the theories of relativity and evolution, zero, fire, the clock, celestial navigation, mass production. You're a science fiction writer. You should be able to fill in the blanks.

There were many events that had much more importance long-term and short-term from the Shehuangdi's Great Idea (China) to what Gavrilo Princip did with a Browning pistol or an Arabian woman convincing her young husband to preach what an Angel had told him to write down.

Even in African-American history you can find events that are at least as important. Consider the Great Compromise, the invention of the cotton gin and the Civil Rights Act.

The election of Barrack Obama as the 44th President of the United States is history-making. I was overwhelmed. It will take a few more days to come down from it. But it isn't even close to "the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind".

Anonymous said...

i should be clearer, i was coming from the perspective of those who constantly complain that Blacks "whine" and "make excuses", that is NOT my perspective. There are a DISTURBING number of people ignorant enough to believe 400+ years of racist policy has been erased by Obama's election victory. Black folk don't need "EXCUSES"; Jim crow, lynching (as recent as two weeks ago), perpetuation of negative stereotypes in the media are but a few "excuses" .

Jennihart's , you're TERRIBLY misinformed if you think your shining Black Prince is much more than another case of "An exceptional Black person" in the minds of MANY. It's naive to look at his success as representative of racial equality. Jenni- i do believe you missed the point. Few Black people claim that being Black is the impediment to their success...

Christian H. said...

Salina, where do you live? I have the distinct DISpleasure of living in the middle of BedStuy and it's easy to see the disparity.

The average male in BK from 13-45 is dressing like a clown and standing around waiting I guess for someone to give them a handout.

Cops see this and they have to do their job. True sometimes they are overdoing it but these "THUGS" have not a leg to stand on.

I have a VERY GOOD rap album and I DON'T WEAR JEANS much less ones that are too big.

I am the most radical person that posts here but I'm well-respected in my OFFICE because I know where things belong.

I leave my personal issues at home and that's why Obama won. He left that Jim Crow, we shall overcome baggage home.

Steve Perry said...

"'m going to defend, with reservations, Steve's statement, "Arguably, Obama's election is the single most important accomplishment in the history of mankind." I'm not saying I agree with it but that it is not an unreasonable statement."

Lynn --

In no particular order, off the top of my head, the first fifty or so things I think that are more important than the peaceful election of an American President -- in a country that is less than two hundred and fifty years old -- regardless of race or gender:

The hammer and nail, soap and hot water, the cultivation of crops, domestication of animals, tin, bronze, iron, steel, money, the Magna Carta, organized religion, the American Revolution, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the printing press, the American Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq, alternating current, the Industrial Revolution, contraception, smallpox vaccine, polio vaccine, measles, mumps, rubella vaccines, the germ theory of disease, sterile medical and surgical procedure, penicillin and other antibiotics, Gandhi, the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, automobiles, aircraft, women's suffrage, and yes, the Emancipation of the slaves, the atomic bomb, the American Civil Rights Movement, treatment for AIDS, movies, radio, television, the internet, gunpowder, the public school system, the clothes washing machine -- I could make a list that would clog this blog to next Saturday, and so could anybody else ...

I think Barnes was checking to see if we were awake. If he had pulled that chain any harder, the roof of the world would have fallen down ...

Anonymous said...

Radical? relative to what and whom? Your references to "thugs" and "jim crow baggage" mean you and I are PROBABLY not on the same team...

Anonymous said...

along with you others
I was thinking of some of the greater moments:
taming of fire
first deliberate planting of crops
domestication of animals
consistent use of a particular sound to mean a particular thing

Steven Barnes said...

Wow! A misprint on my part! I take total responsibility for that--I meant to say "most important even in the history of BLACK people"--I meant nothing other than that, and apologize. Yeah, I must have been typing too damned fast, and too eager to get back into the sun and sand! Sorry.

Steven Barnes said...

I completely understand that there are aggregate accomplishments that are precursive, and more overall important: BUT NONE OF THEM ARE EVENTS. None of them are single photographable actions, like, say, the first step on the moon, or the Founding of America, or the flight of the first plane. A threshold EVENT, photographable, is understood by our minds, and especially the very young part of our minds, far more easily than something like "literacy" (HUGELY more important--otherwise he'd be an aberration only), emancipation (incredilby important, but we didn't do it. It was done to/for us). As an accomplishment that marks the way, as well as evidence that an entire culture has changed--wow. I just don't know what I'd point to.

Steven Barnes said...

I think Obama will be a better-than average president. If he is just that, it's a game-changer. Of course there is the potential for disaster. There always is. But I would say there is a better chance for him to be extraordinary than for him to fall flat on his face. All he has to be is honest about the problems facing us, and only idiots will hold him responsible for everything that happens--as it would be idiotic to give him credit for every GOOD thing that happens. In this case, a "C+" would be good enough, and this guy strikes me as an "A".

Steve Perry said...

Well, you listed three threshold events, and all of them more impressive to me than a peaceful election, which isn't a threshold event, either.

When would that moment be? When MSNBC or CNN called it? When the last poll closed? On the 20th of January next year?

Obama's election was as much a process as an event that has an Aha! moment -- Bell calling Watson on the phone? The signing of the Declaration of Independence?

Rosa Parks on the bus?

Obama is a big deal and an amazed grin, sure enough. But since taming fire and the wheel were almost certainly done by some long-lost person of color, he's got a way to go ...