Obama, race and politics

I’ve recently finished reading Barack Obama’s ‘The Audacity of Hope’.  The book offers a much more complex analysis of politics and policy than the Liberal media image projects.

In the Chapter ‘Race’, Obama explains that since the civil rights movement there has been a significant lift in upward mobility of minority groups.  He attributes this primarily to the concept of hard work, determination and resolve, and that progress ‘occured primarily because the same ladders of opportunity that built the white middle class were for the first time available to minorities as well’. 

A summary of this Chapter is over the fold.

Obama’s emphasis is on programs that assist people across the board, such as parenting and early intervention programs.  He observes that ‘many of the social or cultural factors that negatively affect black people, for example, simply mirror in exaggerated form problems that afflict America as a whole: too much television (the average black household has the television on more than eleven hours per day), too much consumption of poisons (blacks smoke more and eat more fast food), and a lack of emphasis on educational achievement’.

He acknowledges that a strong economy outweighs the results of policies such as affirmative action, and supports welfare provisions that mandate work (observing that many Liberals fail to admit the success of Bill Clinton’s welfare reform). 

He advises Democrats ‘to consider spending a lot more of our political capital convincing America to make the investments needed to ensure that all children perform at grade level and graduate from high school’.   

Given the density of the American population, its economic structure and relationship of the State to its citizens, the idea of promoting targeted policies across the board is an ideal Obama appreciates, particularly in times of economic strength (in another chapter he notes how his opposition to the Iraq war at the outset was in a climate of high political risk, and how $300 billion dollars had been spent on the war so far).

Another excerpt:

The truth is that such rising frustration with conditions in the inner city was hardly restricted to whites.  In most black neighbourhoods, law-abiding, hardworking residents have been demanding more aggresive police protection for years, since they are more likely to be victims of crime.  In private – around kitchen tables, in barbershops, and after church – black folks can often be heard bemoaning the eroding work ethic, inadequate parenting, and declining sexual mores with a fervor that would make the Heritage Foundation proud.

In that sense, black attitudes regarding the sources of chronic poverty are far more conservative than black politics would care to admit.  What you won’t hear, though, are blacks using such terms as ‘predator’ in describing a young gang member, or ‘underclass’ in describing mothers on welfare – language that divides the world between those who are worthy of our concern and those who are not.  For black Americans, such seperation from the poor is never an option, and not just because the colour of our skin – and the conclusions the larger society draws from our colour – makes all of us only as free, ony as respects, as the least of us. 

It’s because blacks know the back story to the inner city’s dysfunction.  Most blacks who grew up in Chicago remember the collective story of the great migration from the South, how after arriving in the North blacks were forced into ghettos because of racial steering and restrictive covenants and stacked up in public housing, where the schools were substandard and the parks were underfunded and police protection was nonexistent and the drug trade was tolerated.  They remember how the plum patronage jobs were reserved for other immigrant groups and the blue-collar jobs that black folks relied on evaporated, so that families that had been intact began to crack under the pressure and ordinary children slipped through those cracks, until a tipping point was reached and what had once been the sad exception somehow became the rule.  They know what drove that homeless man to drink because he is their uncle.  That hardened criminal – they remember when he was a little boy, so full of life and capable of love, for he is their cousin. 

In other words, African Americans understand that culture matters but that culture is shaped by circumstance.  We know that many in the inner city are trapped by their own self-destructive behaviours but that those behaviours are not innate. 

[note – I’ve relayed these opinions and excerpts for no other reason that they offer a view of American politics].


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