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From Black Power to the First Black President

Professor Countryman’s speech began with a mention of Obama’s Spring 2008 speech denouncing black nationalism. Still, Countryman argues that Obama and his success cannot be separated from black politics and process. He cites Obama’s own recounting of a visit to a Chicago barber shop in 1983 that really opened Obama’s eyes to plantation politics, where blacks are rewarded for their loyalty, but never allowed decision making. This is a leadership process highly critiqued by W.E.B. DeBois in “The Philadelphia Negro” (1906) but eventually come to realization by Malcolm X’s theory of community control wherein blacks would have control of entirely black neighborhoods. His idea was if one could gain political control of an entire city, within that city there would be actual hope of equal opportunity and thus, actual economic advantage.

The initiative had to take hold in the executive branch, not merely legislative. At the center of black power is a belief that 1) racism is constitutive of American society 2) legal changes were up against structural barriers and 3) racial unity must occur for racial advancement. This platform lead to quick electoral success in places like L.A., Chicago, and Indiana. Harold Washington of Chicago needed his programs to appeal to outside white voters, a necessity largely ignored by Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign for the presidency in which he builds up a “Rainbow Coalition.” The downfall of the campaign lay not only in backlash against early community coalition building, but also attacks from within the community. Obama faced these same attacks in his race– that he either had too much racial agenda or not enough.

Overall, though, Countryman sees Obama’s biggest challenge as not a challenge one man, one presidency, or even one generation can meet– that is the idea that America is not longer a white country. It is not, but it takes more than one election to change people’s views about it. Obama is unique in that, given his more privileged background, he has no big racial pedestal, no immediately huge grievances to speak of for being mixed. He also had a switch by which to mobilize different groups of voters, all the while being able to honor his racial past without being bound by it. These qualities have gotten him to the presidency, but have yet to determine how exactly he will govern. Only time will tell, and then Professor Countryman, no doubt, will be back to tel us.

~ by ssmith8 on .

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One Response to “From Black Power to the First Black President”

  1. […] From Black Power to the First Black President Professor Countryman’s speech began with a mention of Obama’s Spring 2008 speech denouncing black nationalism. Still, Countryman argues that Obama and his success cannot be separated from black politics and process. […]