Giant Steps: Preparing for "Election Affection" in The Age of Barack Obama


by Sean H. Palmer

Only four short years ago Black undergraduate students crowded into the the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture on November 4th.   Off-campus, our Black grauduate students gathered at a local apartment complex community area. Both groups prepared to witness what would be a historic election as Barack Obama became the first American President with African ancestry. 

At first, he captured our hopes and dreams as people who understood the realities of glass ceilings. Obama stood as a signifier of acheivement and access. However, his first term as president has been marred with a variety of issues that invite the question of how race intersects public interest and politics. From questions about his origin of birth to his signature health care initiative, Obama has “colored” American politics, and has been met with a variety of resistance that have most African-Americans quietly reflecting on the lingering racial antagonism of American politics. 

At the same time, there are a few vocal Black folk who are challenged by Obama’s political agenda even as Black people have remained committed to supporting him. His committment around Gay Rights, The Jewish State and Immigrants have conjured the question by some who say, “Obama, what are your committments to Black People?”  It is with these questions, musings, and experiences in Black Life in mind that we present on Election Day 2012, our “Election Affection.”

Throughout the days before in the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, students will be asked to examine their own political convictions as they contemplate what their vote means (has meant) in this historical moment. Unlike four years ago, we have asked our graduate and professional students to lead conversations on a variey of topics that help us consider important intersections. At the same time we have created two exhibits that ask us to consider that Obama's "race" to the White House has been premised on many other African American hopefuls. With the help of our Graduate Fellow, it is our hope that our conversations (over a two day period) have provided some new facet to consider until the polls close, at which point the center will become an Election Party filled with students, staff, and hopefully a few faculty who continue to stand on the “Eve” of history.  It is our goal to create space that engender discussion, community, engagement and activism.