This weekend’s edition of The New York Times Magazine features an excellent report titled “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?” It’s an incredibly well-written, well-reported piece that I would love to have written myself. Alas, credit Matt Bai for his epic survey of black politics today. Using Barack Obama’s historic candidacy as a barometer, the piece measures the African American community’s increasingly evident generational divide on issues of race, class, civil rights, and leadership. The article features a wide array of traditional and emerging black leaders, and masterfully encapsulates the larger meaning of all that’s gone down thus far in Obama’s long march to November.
The piece shines a helpful and challenging light on what the Obama phenomenon tells us about ourselves as both racial communities and a nation as a whole. There are too many great quotes in this article to try and pull a single one out, but one of the key questions that the report raised for me is this: Do we (meaning those of us who are excited about Obama’s candidacy) value the prospect of an Obama presidency more as a means of access to greater political power—that is, do we see him as a black leader who will make black people’s concerns a priority like they’ve never been before?
Or, do we see the prospect of an Obama presidency as a needed message to the black community and the nation as a whole that you can rise up out of humble circumstances to achieve and become anything you want to be, regardless of the color of your skin, and that an African American can represent and lead the entire nation and should not simply be boxed into the role of “black leader”?
Lots to ponder and savor in this wonderful article. It’s a bit long, but worth the time spent. Please let me hear your thoughts on it.
Also, my good friend Douglas LeBlanc called to my attention a great New Yorker profile of radio and TV host Tavis Smiley. Tavis, as many of you may know, is an outspoken champion of African American issues and concerns. Though a Democrat, and technically of the same generation as Barack Obama, Smiley earned a reputation earlier this year as one of Obama’s most strident critics from within the liberal African American community. This profile covers a lot of the same ground as the Times piece but uses Smiley’s story as the main vehicle. It’s also worth a read.