Through The Static

August 21, 2008

For America’s Scholars Of Race, An Obama Dilemma

Filed under: Elections,Politics,Race — disciplepete @ 9:34 pm

This article from Black Agenda Report talks about the effect on race relations an Obama victory in November would have. The article reports the viewpoints of American race scholars on the issue. I really dug it cuz I’m a big fan of Derrick Bell, whom they quote, also they got input from Joe Feagin and David Roediger whom I also like. I was pretty surprised though by what some of em had to say. Anyways, I’ll quote the article and then I’ll throw my 2 cents in…

For scholars of race, Barack Obama presents a new American dilemma. On the one hand, his election as president would be a breathtaking symbol of racial progress. On the other, an Obama victory could prove illusory, doing little to dismantle racism while crippling their ability to call attention to it…

…”At this point, any conflict I might have is more than eased by the knowledge that Barack Obama, if elected, could be the salvation of a country in free flight failure,” Derrick Bell, a professor of law at New York University, who taught Obama when he was a student at Harvard Law School, replied via e-mail.

Pete’s note: Derrick Bell, in an awesome book he wrote called Faces at the Bottom of the Well (you must read it…extremely creative) argued that racism is a permanent feature of American life. So yeah, I guess I’m a bit surprised that he seems optimistic about Barack. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean he’s not saying that racism will be over or anything.

Anyways, back to quoting..oh wait, the article mentions what I just said about Bell’s view of racism..ahh well, I’m keeping what I wrote! Ok:

In books like Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, Bell, who is black, offers a bleak view of the possibility of racial progress in America, a view much at odds with the hopeful promise of Obama.

“If he sounded as I might wish him to sound, he could not be elected,” Bell wrote in his e-mail. “And he may not be elected even as his intellect and savvy puts him worlds ahead of his Republican counterpart. And that is all I wish to say on the matter.”

Another renowned pessimist — University of Pennsylvania political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. — did not respond to an interview request.

But in a blistering recent post on blackagendareport.com, Reed, who is black, argued that while Obama might be better than John McCain in the short run, in the long run he might be worse. This, Reed reasoned, is because, having co-opted so much of the left, Obama may move the boundary of acceptable discourse on race and class well to the right.

“I’m not arguing that it’s wrong to vote for Obama, though I do say it’s wrong-headed to vote for him with any lofty expectations,” wrote Reed, indicating his intention “to abstain from this charade.”

David Roediger, a race historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, evinced a particle more enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy. “I feel this sometimes has something to do with something I care about and, as things go in U.S. politics, it’s not the worst thing to happen,” said Roediger, who is white.

But, as he notes in the conclusion of his book – How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon, due out this fall – “Obama does not represent the triumph of an advancing anti-racist movement but rather the necessity, at the highly refracted level of electoral politics, of abandoning old agendas, largely by not mentioning them.”

Hey, they quote a scholar from UCSB!!….

And [Howard] Winant, a leading race scholar of the left and director of the Center for New Racial Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, called this “a very promising moment.”

“It’s hard,” he said, “to give up that thrilled sense of possibility, that thrilled sense that something really big might be changing in this area, which is so long overdue.”

There’s more stuff in the article, check out the link if you wanna read it.

I’ve thought about this question a bit, and right now I think an Obama presidency would be a positive thing for race relations. Certainly not a revolution, but when you know the history of this country, I can’t help but see a Black president as a significant thing. But like I read someone else saying in the blogosphere, Barack Obama in the White House isn’t gonna stop a single dude in the ghetto from selling crack. I think that’s a good way to put it: it’s just business as usual with a Black face. And to me, that’s some type of progress, although far less than I think is possible.

Anyone out there reading, I’d love to hear what you think…

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