Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Obama, Black Nationalism and Dreaming Blackness

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle...Image via Wikipedia


“Black power? A note about Black Nationalism, Barack Obama, and the future of black politics”

Notes by Alfred Snider

2008 presidential election is a watershed for America; a descendant of Africa has been elected president of the nation. Whether this progress is symbolic or substantive remains to be seen.

1.     It is hard for black nationalism to thrive in an era of such racial mainstream success.
2.     Conflict between group politics and deracialized campaigns.
3.     The employment of black blame
4.     Political constraints coming from the protest/protection impulse.

96% of African Americans voted for Obama.

Makes it difficult for black nationalism

Black nationalism thrives when there is continued marginalization by white power structure. Of course, one man in one office does not end marginalization, and black activists will need to work harder to keep the nationalist agenda alive.

Many say Obama’s race for the White House was race transcendent. He:
§  Avoided the use of civil right tropes
§  Got whites to vote for him because he focused on issues important to them, not just issues important to African Americans. Many successful black politicians now do this, like Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.
§  Never denies his African heritage and accepts that he is an African American, but tries to convince the public that this does not matter.
§  Race as an important issue was not featured in the campaign except for his speech about Jeremiah Wright.
§  Wright was a hangover from the previous era, not the new reality of race in America, where we can move beyond that (supposedly).  This same anger hangover exists in many whites.
§  Merged class and race issues, which of course undermines the importance of why blacks were discriminated against vs. why underclass whites are discriminated against.

In her survey of African Americans, they gave two sources of blame for racial injustices:
1.     Black blame: mistakes by the members of the community itself
2.     System blame: the system is rigged against African Americans.

Black blame can be a problem when used by Black politicians:
§  Characterization of black poor as “pathological” something is wrong with them. This, when done by Obama, carries this harmful message of irresponsibility and lends credibility to the charge.
§  Example of getting children to eat: p. 177
§  Black audience loved it.
§  Part of a long tradition of black criticism and uplift efforts.
§  Survey participants did not use black blame for distancing from other blacks.
Black blame outside the black community is different:
§  It shows that these black politicians are not “in the pocket” of the black community, which whites find comforting.
§  American tradition: when you get into office, your group will benefit.
§  Because white voters fear that, black politicians who use black blame show their ability to evaluate members of their own group using prevailing social norms, but special affiliations.
§  Any black politician who explains racial inequality using any other narrative than the need for hard work is seen as making excuses for black failure.

The protest/protection impulse.

There is an impulse to protect those members of the black community who have reached considerable academic, financial or athletic success.
Yet, this need to protect someone like Obama can undermine the need to deal with problems that still face the black community.
They may refrain from making protest demands that would call for the upheaval of a status quo that has made him the president.
Rev Wright incident was an example of this. They were angry at an attack on their most cherished institution, the black church, but did not want the incident to hurt Obama’s candidacy.
This was seen in very negative feedback given to those black voices that criticize Obama.
Perhaps in the White House he will be even more difficult for blacks to criticize.

Perhaps a black president is less able to engineer reform of a racist system than a white president?
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