Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Judging a Man By the Color of His Politics

    In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Fredrick Harris, professor of political science and the director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, wrote that we in America are "still waiting for our first black president."  This may come as a surprise to anyone who was an inhabitant of earth in November 2008 or has arrived since.  But according to Mr. Harris, Barack Obama has not properly fulfilled the role that his black father apparently bequeathed to the future president merely by virtue of his race.  Mr. Harris fills his essay with phrases such as "issues of specific interest to African Americans," "issues of particular interest to us [blacks]," and "it appears that the nation is instead becoming non-racial," but the following passage just boggles the mind:
Politicians such as former governor Doug Wilder of Virginia, former Seattle mayor Norman Rice and former New York mayor David Dinkins ran campaigns that largely deemphasized race, stressing the need for racial unity and advocating policies that they said would benefit everyone, rather than any particular groups. It was probably necessary to shatter the glass ceiling and win office in majority-white jurisdictions, but these victories came at an unintended cost: They undermined the ability of black voters and activists to place race-specific policy issues on the electoral agenda.
After winning office, such race-neutral politicians don’t normally embrace issues and positions that black voters might prefer. Instead, the imperatives of reelection take over. To maintain their winning coalitions, these politicians usually need to govern in a racially neutral manner as well. (Black Americans understand this: In the 2008 ABC News-USA Today-Columbia University Black Politics Survey, nearly half of all black respondents believed that African Americans must play down their racial identity to get ahead in the United States.) [emphasis added]
    Mr. Harris is making the case that US politics is in danger of losing race as an issue, and these "race-neutral politicians" (one gets the sense Mr. Harris is using this label as a pejorative) are responsible.  The advances made by millions of individual blacks and their families are interfering with the ability of Mr. Harris and his allies to segregate the black race into a homogenous voice to advance Harris's political and social goals.

    President Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod expressed similar sentiments in reaction to talk of the conservative Marco Rubio being on the short-list of possible Romney running mates.  The Washington Times reports:
"I think it would be an insult to the Hispanic community to choose Senator Rubio ... if Governor Romney thinks that's sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card for all of the things and the positions that he's taken," Mr. Axelrod said.
    Why an insult?  Because Rubio does not fit the stereotype that Axelrod believes Hispanics/Latinos should box themselves into.  Rubio is a hypocrite for allowing his ideology to trump his racial makeup.
    The Democratic Party has comfortably settled into its strategy of division and group politics, even reflecting it in their campaign websites and outreach.  In an ostensible attempt to achieve equality of outcomes, the decision was made to abandon color-blindness for (as Harris puts it) "communities of color." What we are left with now is the spectacle of Fredrick Harris lamenting that Obama's "early discussions of injustice gave way to calls for policies to benefit all Americans and tough-love speeches for African Americans."   [emphasis added]  When "policies to benefit all Americans" is seen as a step down, the towel has been throw in.

    In the midst of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Martin Luther King famously said:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Traditional racists say they can tell you what kind of person someone is by the color of his skin.  Frederick Harris and David Axelrod look at the color of someone's skin and tell you what kind of person he should be.  Not much of a dream, is it?

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