Monday, November 10, 2008

What Obama's victory means for black politics

Juan Williams strikes an optimistic note about how Obama's victory puts the coda on black grievance politics.
The idea of black politics now tilts away from leadership based on voicing grievance, and identity politics based on victimization and anger. In its place is an era in which it is assumed that talented, tough people of any background will find a way to their rightful seat of power in mainstream political life.

The Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons and Rev. Jeremiah Wrights remain. But their influence and power fade to a form of nostalgia in a world of larger political agendas, such as a common American vision of setting the nation on a steady economic course and dealing with terrorists. The market has irrevocably shrunk for Sharpton-style tirades against "the man" and "the system." The emphasis on racial threats and extortion-like demands -- all aimed at maximizing white guilt as leverage for getting government and corporate money -- has lost its moment. How does anyone waste time on racial fantasies like reparations for slavery when there is a black man who earned his way into the White House?
If Obama truly wants to turn the page on such old grievance politics and do something for the millions of blacks who voted for him, he can turn now to stressing the importance of responsibility. He can stress how his whole life is an example that doing well in school doesn't mean that a black kid is "acting white." And that the model for black families should be following the example of his and Michelle's marriage and waiting until a couple is married and earning a living before having children.
Make no mistake, there is still discrimination against people of color in America. And inside black America, there is still disproportionate poverty, school dropouts, criminal activity, incarceration and single motherhood. But with the example of Mr. Obama's achievements, from Harvard Law to the state legislature, U.S. Senate and the White House, the focus of discussion now is how the child of even the most oppressed of racial minorities can maximize his or her strengths and overcome negative stereotypes through achievement.

The onus now falls on individuals to take advantage of opportunities. That begins with keeping families together and taking responsibility for the twisted "gangsta" culture that celebrates jail time instead of schooling. With Mr. Obama as the head of government, discussion of racial problems now comes in the form of pragmatic discourse for how to best give all Americans opportunty, for example, how to improve schools.
If Obama takes on this task, he will have done more for American blacks than all the giveaway programs have ever done. If he just supports the typical Democratic approach to problems in the inner city of throwing money at the problems, he will have missed the opportunity that his victory provides the country.