What a difference a year makes–this week marks the first anniversary of not only The Root, but President Barack Obama’s sweeping victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary, a drama-filled event that brought our nation’s racial fears, assumptions, long-held grievances–and an abundance of hope–into the winter sunlight. But do the words chanted by thousands on that election night–“Race doesn’t matter”–still hold?
Perhaps. This week also marks, it turns out, the 19th anniversary of an expansive Toronto Star profile of then-law student Obama, fresh from making history as the first black to lead the Harvard Law Review. The piece is a really great snapshot of a time in America and in Obama’s own life, introducing the basics of his now-familiar biography (Kenya, Kansas, Hawaii) with an almost giddy freshness–which makes sense: Then, no one had ever heard of Barack Hussein Obama. One theme that the Star reporter teases out seems to riff on Marjorie Valbrun’s fine piece on black manhood today. From the article:
“Yet tensions were building. White students grumbled about the attention paid to Obama’s race. Black students criticized him for not choosing more blacks for other top positions at the review.
Caught in the crossfire, Obama, who has a tendency toward understatement, downplayed his own achievements.
“For every one of me, there are thousands of young black kids with the same energies, enthusiasm and talent that I have who have not gotten the opportunity because of crime, drugs and poverty,” he said. “I think my election does symbolize progress, but I don’t want people to forget that there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Obama’s wise words could easily have been spoken today. The more things change…