Monday, November 17, 2008

Musings of a Proud Black Man

By Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Assistant professor in the Department History with a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute

The day after Barack Obama won the race for the presidency, the New York Times published an article entitled “Near-Flawless Run is Credited in Victory.” In it, the authors attribute Obama’s win to a brilliantly designed and almost perfectly executed campaign strategy. A key tenet of this strategy was to “avoid discussions focused on race.”

Before embarking on his improbable journey, Obama and his closest advisors, including David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief political strategist, and David Plouffe, the campaign manager, determined that Obama’s success depended on White voters not seeing him as being too closely connected to the African American community. “It would be difficult for an African American to be elected president in this country,” said Cornell Belcher, a pollster for the campaign. “However, it is not difficult for an extraordinary individual who happens to be African American to be elected.”

The problem, of course, was white racial prejudice. It was highly unlikely that Whites would vote for a Black candidate who they believed shared the cultural values and political views of the Black community because many Whites see these as antithetical to American cultural and political norms. In truth, however, they are not. There is nothing un-American about Black politics and Black culture. In fact, Black politics has historically pushed America to live up to its democratic claims and Black culture has always been foundational to American culture.

It is impossible not to be excited about the potential for progress in American race relations in the wake of Obama’s victory. My enthusiasm is tempered, however, by the fact that his victory was predicated on white voters not associating him too closely with the African American community. And therein lies my dilemma – I just don’t happen to be Black – I am proud to be Black. I am proud of Black history, Black people, Black political traditions, and Black culture.

Although I look forward to the day that Obama takes office, I also look forward to the day when White voters are not afraid to elect an African American who is unashamedly and unapologetically Black.

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