It is my hope that Obama will do what Nelson Mandela did when he was forced to stand trial before an Afrikaner court for the crime of fighting for freedom. He wore his tribal kaross as his coat of arms and his blackness as his badge of honor. And when he was liberated from prison, “Madiba” spoke out — not for revenge or retribution, but for justice, for the need to seek truth and reconciliation. Mandela will forever stand tall in the world’s hall of heroes because he remained unbent and unbroken before his adversaries. But he will be especially revered for his courage in asking his nation to face the truth of its past.
A leader does not have to be black to speak out on behalf of those who are suffering disproportionately in our society. President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy spoke passionately about the need to rectify the patent inequalities experienced by blacks. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, invoking the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” called on the American people “to eliminate from this nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based on race or color” and pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But just as one does not have to be black to speak to the issues of race, black people should not have to wait for white leaders to be elected before they feel free to vigorously petition their government to redress their legitimate grievances.