My stepfather, James Kelly Jr., who would be 94 were he here today, was a man that most African-Americans could be proud of.
He grew up one of five boys in a single-parent household; his mother died when he was 12. Despite that hardship but encouraged by their father, he and his four brothers all got educations.
My stepfather ended up with eight degrees, including, if my facts are correct, two earned Ph.Ds. Previously a pastor, he finished his active career as dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, my college alma mater, and while in that position he helped a lot of people get through school — including myself, never using his authority for mere aggrandizement.
At one point he even faced down the university’s Black Action Society, which at the time was militantly making demands for more black presence. (He later told me that the BAS suffered constantly from “poor leadership.”)
Even though I never lived with him — I was 24 when he married my mother — it was through him that, looking back, I learned true masculinity.
Two things, however: He was a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And when he was pastoring a church in the 1960s, in West Virginia, he marched for civil rights.
You’ll thus have to excuse me if I’m not jumping on the Ben Carson bandwagon.
Dr. Carson, the retired neurosurgeon whom most people heard of for the first time when he blasted the Affordable Care Act during last year’s National Prayer Breakfast, has since been touted as presidential material — by, of course, conservatives, who have since touted him as a black professional that everyone should emulate. A lot of people are even suggesting that he run for president.
How arrogant of such folks. Really.
I’ve come to recognize over the past few years that we as an electorate are transfixed by narratives — that is, "stories" — that have nothing to do with qualifications for public office. Although we don’t have an actual monarchy or nobility in this country, we often look toward our president as such. Perhaps Dr. Carson is seen as someone who will “transcend race” and not even bring up the issue as if it wouldn’t matter anymore.
However, most African-Americans, myself included, simply aren’t that naïve, especially considering last year’s George Zimmerman trial — which, contrary to popular opinion, didn’t simply stir up long-dormant racial strife (folks just hadn’t bothered to notice it).
In addition, it appears to be another attempt for conservatives to tout their own choice of black “leaders” who don’t challenge that worldview, especially since the vast majority apparently does. In doing so, however, and in also refusing to listen to anyone who takes issue with their attempt to whitewash the race issue, they in fact deepen the racial divide in this country. That’s why no conservative regardless of race, “story,” social standing or qualifications can and will ever have any standing in the black community.
It would be clearly slanderous for me to say that all, or even most, conservatives are racist; however, the movement does have a stain of racism in its history that they have never, ever addressed.
I’m sure that my stepfather, who died in 1999, would have beamed with pride had he seen Barack Obama become president. I doubt he would have had the same feeling about Dr. Carson, who represents an ideology he fought in West Virginia.