After a decade of work Oxford University Press and the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute published the African American National Biography(AANB). The AANB is the largest repository of black life stories ever assembled with more than 4,000 biographies. To celebrate this monumental achievement we have invited the contributors to this 8 volume set to share some of their knowledge with the OUPBlog.
Today we have AANB contributor Dr. Pamela Felder who is a Lecturer at Teachers College. In the article below Felder looks at change.
There is no doubt that the election of President Barack Obama is indelibly etched on the consciousness of America. The theme of change has pervaded popular culture from the music on the radio to the establishment of a new consumer consciousness where those who were taking breaks at Starbucks may now consider the McDonald’s value menu. In the last six months I’ve seen more and more BMW, Mercedes Benz and Hummer vehicles in the McDonald’s drive through. Might this noticeable sign of class acculturation signify change? And, yes I’ve seen them because I go there; I’ve never stopped. I’ll never shun one of America’s trident representations of contemporary American culture. Besides, it’s one of the few companies that has managed to thrive during this bleak economic recession. While I enjoy french fries every now and then, I must give Mickey D’s its props on this profitable feat in such dire times.
Change must be invasive. One of the most important changes I see needing to take place is what I call a change in “generational perceptions.” It speaks to the perception of many African American baby boomers who thought Barack Obama would never be president. You know those who fought and struggled for the GenXer’s to have the privileges their predecessors never had. Take someone like Jesse Jackson who protested with Martin Luther King, Jr., was the first Black man to run for president and has served as one of our nation’s civil rights leaders for the last several decades. Some who have heard Jesse Jackson’s comments about President Obama get angry about his reactions towards his political victory. Who could forget Jesse Jackson’s tears of joy on November 4th, 2008? He demonstrated a joy so profound he couldn’t hold back the tears. However, the larger question is: How does someone like Jesse Jackson reconcile this type of blatant change? I’m sure he is happy that a qualified man is president. But I don’t know what to with his comment: “I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime!” Well, isn’t that why you protested with King? Wasn’t this part of the dream? In the struggle for victory was that dream lost somehow?
I’ve witnessed similar perceptions in my own life. For instance, I was supposed to go to college. In many ways this expectation was set for me by others. Those who set this expectation never imagined I’d go on to get a Ph.D. You see I exceeded their expectations. How do they reconcile that change? I mean isn’t that what change is … exceeding an expectation? Perhaps reconciliation becomes challenging when those who have set expectations for you haven’t exceeded expectations they set for themselves. This could be due to lack of effort or failure.
I’m reminded of comments T.D. Jakes made in one of his sermons, “This is not that … the hardest thing you will ever do in your life is change.” One generation must learn to embrace the success of another. This is a lesson indelibly etched on my consciousness for there is a millennial generation coming behind me.