It is undeniable that the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 forever changed the political landscape for blacks in America and American politics as a whole. The historical election also revealed a very wide divide in the political and economic needs of the black demographic in contrast to white Americans. There is a new wave of political awareness in black communities. From this new awareness rose the question: Is racism diminishing, the same, or on the rise in America?
Michael C. Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and the founding and current Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the university. His previous books include Black Visions and Behind the Mule: Race, Class, and African American Politics. In his most recent book, Not in Our Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics, Dawson brings to light the post-Hurricane Katrina and post-2008 presidential election racial climate. Dawson said in an interview, “The period between the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the election of President Obama represents one of the most volatile periods in African-American political history which were marked by extremely rapid changes in public opinion.” The public opinion of whites in America, according to Dawson, is quite different than that of blacks. In the book (p. 86), Dawson, provides the following statistics: “Ninety-three percent [of blacks] believe that racism remains a problem in the United States…Ninety-eight percent still believe that racism plagues the nation.”
The mention of the term “black politics” invokes images of the 1960’s marches and the “militancy” of the early-1970’s. Instead, “black politics today falls short of having the ability to deliver on the promise of ‘no justice, no peace’”, Dawson asserts, “and far short of being able to build a genuine movement for democracy and justice.” Another question is then raised: Is black politics today less effective, ineffective, or should there be a different measure of effectiveness? It seems this new wave of awareness is battling against the tides of complacency and inactivity. While there is a loud noise of complaint rising from the community, the black community must become more actively aware.
President Obama’s election was expected to bring an overwhelmingly positive impact on race relations. The election of the first African-American president did birth a new hope into the community, especially the children. However, according to Dawson, with the election came a false sense of security in the two party system. In 2009 and 2010 “African-Americans began to get much more discouraged…[upon] realizing President Obama’s hands were ties” in many ways.
When asked about the possible racial implications of having another “viable” black presidential candidate in Herman Cain, Dawson clearly expressed the increased comfort of white Americans in their thinking. Those previously labeled as racist, or at minimal racially biased, who happen to support Herman Cain use the fact of their support to “prove” race is not an issue. However, Dawson says, “[There is] a coarsening of racial rhetoric…People are much more empowered to say things which were [previously] out of bound.” “Herman Cain has filled a gap on the socially conservative right that no one has been able to keep a grip on,” Dawson continues to discuss the view of Herman Cain within the republican party, “He’s there, he’s black, we’ll make use of it.” Strategically, Herman Cain was not expected to rise as far as he has to this point. Sexual harassment accusations aside, Cain’s race is an issue. The republican party is choosing the lesser of what they view as two evils. Either they have a black democrat as president or support a black conservative republican. The racial tension in actuality cancels itself out. Herman Cain’s race forces all parties to return to the issue of economy, homeland security, and healthcare.
African-Americans must continue to push past the labels of “radicalism” and “militancy” and continue to demand justice and equality. Dawson says, “We [must] not let other people define us.” The key to riding this racial wave is to remember that we are all Americans. We are all in the same economic boat. We are all facing unemployment, increased homelessness, and increased poverty levels. We all, regardless of the color or our skin, need to support our troops abroad who only care about the three colors which make up the American flag. At this point, racism must be addressed. Having been brushed under the rug long enough, racial tension will seethe as an unattended infected wound. There is an economic and racial divide in America. At times they are one in the same. Black politics has always been vocal and active not one of complacency or complaint. Dawson’s book is a call to action. The truth hurt, but the truth heals.
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