All Articles Tagged "race and politics"
Professor, political commentator, columnist, and author Melissa Harris-Perry, whose book, “Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought” won the 2005 W. E. B. Du Bois Award, returns with her latest book to explore the multi-realities facing black women as they attempt to affirm themselves. Harris-Perry, who can regularly be seen on MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts Show and the Rachel Maddow Show, returns with “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America”, an exploration into citizenship and black womanhood. Sister Citizen examines what it means to be a black woman and an American citizen in the 21st century. Taking a deeply concise and committed approach, Sister Citizen explores pervasive stereotypes impacting black women’s lives today and their effects on black women’s claims to the full rights of citizenship.
Atlanta Post: Can you talk a bit about some of the pervasive stereotypes that you explore in your new book?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Part of the reason that they remain so pervasive is because we reproduce them in popular culture pretty often. There exists a catalogue of negative ways that African American women have been characterized. At one point I talk about the Mammy figure in the “Sex in the City” series and in the first Sex in the City film. If I were to say there are Mammies in Sex in the City people might ask me what I was talking about. There are no black housekeepers, but what we do see are these black women who are actually inconsequential characters and who we typically never see again. They pop up in white women’s lives with these magical abilities. They come in, and despite having resources or being younger, are able to fix all of the problems that the white women are having.
At its core, that’s actually what the Mammy image is. It’s the idea that an African American woman might have skills, talents, and capacities, but they’re never put to use for herself. They’re never used to follow her own dreams or to nurture her own family or community. Instead, these skills, talents, and capabilities are always put to use assisting white women or white families. We see this pretty regularly deployed in contemporary media.
The same thing with the angry black woman. I have my criticism of her, but there is this idea that Maxine Waters is always angry about something. As if there is no context to what she’s angry about. I’ve often seen Maxine Waters angry, but she’s always angry about something quite specific. There is also the idea of black women as oversexed or hypersexual. This is reproduced in everything from hip-hop music to cartoons. I talk at one point about how First Lady Michelle Obama before the election was called Barack’s baby mama, despite the fact that Barack and Michelle were the only couple who were married to the first spouse and raising the biological children of that family.
I try to go back and show that these stereotypes are historically rooted, but the point is that they are very active and alive right now.
For newly elected African American mayors, the latest political delicacy on the electoral menu is putting a disingenuous lid on their Blackness. Not saying that they are straight denying who they are, but recent trends suggest a sign-of-the-times move and 21st century motivation. Political survival dictates the need for new black mayors to not be as … well … black. This is certainly the case in spots like Denver, Jacksonville and Washington, D.C.
It’s all in the messaging. Interestingly enough, recently victorious candidates of color seem pressed to go out of their way on neo-racial reconciliation. It’s a somewhat unbalanced pickle black candidates are forced into as compared to their white counterparts. The victory lap is short-lived, and rather than get on with the business of next policy steps, it seems like a significant amount of time is spent on messages of “unity” and being “one” or “coming together.” It’s touchy-feely, warm-fuzzy branding that can negate the toughness and roll-up-the-sleeves approach that’s needed in these tight recessionary times as municipalities struggled to recover.
Here we have three major U.S. cities, of which two are the largest in two different Presidential battleground states. Denver in the West. Jacksonville in the South. Washington, D.C. in the East. The political dynamics in each offer some clues into how the next national election cycle will turn out. But, the racial dimensions will also underscore what happens in 2012 as the country’s first black President attempts to pull it off a second time.
Former City Council President Michael Hancock (D) handily whipped State Senator Chris Romer (D) by a more-than-convincing 13 point run-off spread. Yet, Hancock finds himself forced to push the racial reconciliation chord, now Denver’s second black mayor in a city of 600,000 that is only 10 percent black. Striking the right code wording to soothe the nervousness of white Denverites (who constitute nearly 65% of the population), Hancock’s transition is immersed in bringing “Denver Together.”
Alvin Brown (D), now Jacksonville, Florida’s first African American and Democratic mayor, finds himself in a similar messaging predicament. The orange farm state’s largest city is 60 percent white in a Southern area well known for its seedy racist past (and, in some cases, present). But, Brown was able to shape a multi-racial coalition clumsily strung together by the city’s 30 percent black population, just barely walking into an ugly win that had him ahead by only eight tenths of a percentage point (we should note here that turnout was 38 percent). Before the last ballots were even counted, there was talk of “unifying” the city and “representing all of Jacksonville.”
Current Washington, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray (D) hasn’t had enough bandwidth to focus on governing the nation’s capitol, much less bridge its gentrified divides together in any meaningful way. He’s busy embroiled in a mountain of scandal which will not only ensure his seeing just one term, but may also open the door for “Chocolate City’s” first white Mayor in the near future. But, his contentious battle royale primary against one-term incumbent Adrian Fenty (D) in 2010 left the city in a charred racial state, with its barely 50 percent black majority using the election as a way to bite back at a growing population of gentrifying white yuppies. Gray’s solution: a cheesy logo and knock-off map of the District of Columbia surrounded by Ward stars and the phrase “One City.” Go to dc.gov, and you’re still accosted by the pure ugliness of it.
Suddenly, black mayor is more like cultural therapist in cardigan mending to racially wounded city on the couch. But, when is the business of the city getting done? Are you knuckling up and making deals to balance budgets, repair crumbling schools and find jobs for the unemployed? Or are you caught up in a tiresome, fake replay of Invictus? Here, Morgan Freeman’s grand portrayal of post-apartheid South African President Nelson Mandela is knee-capped by catering to bruised white feelings. Hence, the movie shows him spending more time on ensuring rugby World Cup championship than on the country’s alarming poverty crisis and skyrocketing AIDS rates. In the case of these three cities, recovery is still unseen by many of their black residents. They might be more interested in what these three men can do about that.
Charles D. Ellison is Chief Political Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune, author of the critically-acclaimed urban political thriller TANTRUM and a nationally recognized, frequently featured expert on politics.
It took me some time to accept the idea that there really is such a thing as a black Republican. I don’t know when it happened, but I imagine it occurred around the time when the Jay-Z/Nas collab song, “Black Republican”, dropped. The song, though mostly tongue and check, made the possibility of a black republican in today’s political climate less laughable. Perhaps a black Republican is just the flip side of the same political principle coin, in which some blacks believe that racial justice and equality could be achieved through the political process.
I try to keep this theory in mind as I try to rationalize the existence of Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather Pizza and current Republican/Tea Party endorsed candidate for president. Cain’s campaign has been making a lot of headlines lately for his “frank,” yet sometimes oddball talk about race and politics. When he is not keeping “it real” by declaring the absence of racism in the Tea Party, he is wowing mostly white middle class audiences with his platform on issues such as eradicating all Muslims from the federal government. Some of the things he says borders on the line of being a live action version of Uncle Ruckus, the cartoon character from the television show, “The Boondocks.”
Although Cain has never served in elected office, he is the fifth favorite in a recent Republican poll, and was declared the projected winner of the recent GOP presidential debate. Not bad for a candidate whose greatest claim to fame is pizza dough. As pointed out by the New York Times, Cain’s ‘positive intensity’ rating, as measured by Gallup, places him in the same field as Romney and Huckabee. This means, assuming his name recognition grows, he may very well start to gain momentum.
Does this mean that we should take his candidacy seriously?
As people of color, our political perspective is just as complex and diverse as our hue. Though many of us do identify with the Democratic Party, there are some of us who are independents, conservatives or – gasp – do not bother to vote at all. This is why it wouldn’t be fair to outright dismiss Cain’s candidacy as just another race traitor lackey for the conservatives, because in an unusual way, many black Republicans feel that they are too addressing issues related to racial inequality and social standing in society, even though their approach to addressing these issues are different. Whereas black Democrats believe that the government is responsible for social issues, and as such, must be the guiding force for change, black conservative argue that economics, along with behavioral pathologies, such as abortion and drug addiction—not so much racism—are the root of current inequalities and that the greatest equalizer is the free market system.
Cain’s candidacy seems to perfectly tap into the frustration that many blacks feel about today’s political landscape. Unlike his ABC (American Black Conservative) predecessor Michael Steele, Cain uses his racial identity to not only win over votes, but to speak directly to the black community.When Cain makes racially charged declarations such as, “the media was scared that a real black man was running,” it echoed, in a sense, similar sentiments that we’ve recently heard from many black pundits and politicians who have been critical of President Obama, including Dr. Cornel West, who, a couple of weeks ago, made statements challenging Obama’s “blackness.”
But sometimes, Cain’s tactics are a little over the top; for instance, during his 2004 Georgia Senate bid when he used stereotypical language and imagery in a radio ad to urge black voters to support Republicans. Essentially, his core message appeals to the conservative nature of the African American community, particularly on social issues. Cain is not the first candidate on either side of the political aisle to use race or stereotypical imagery for the purpose of swaying black voters. In the mid-term election, the Democratic National Committee waged a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, which included the use of civil rights leaders in an effort to reach out to African American voters.
So does this mean that we should view Cain’s candidacy as a threat to President Obama? Herman Cain doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the white house, let alone the nomination. I’m not saying that I agree with his candidacy, but at this point, I don’t agree with either side of the political spectrum. But why should we feel like the Democrat Party are the only ones worthy of being taking seriously – especially when in my politically Independent mind, neither party has the best track record of developing and fostering a black political agenda?
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(US News & World Report) — As he began his second year in office, Obama’s presidency was not going well. His legislation to overhaul the healthcare system was still bogged down in Congress. The unemployment rate, which polls showed was the top concern of most Americans, remained stubbornly high at about 10 percent, and much worse in many African-American communities. Obama’s job-approval ratings had dropped markedly from the astronomical levels of his first few months to below 50 percent.
Adding to his woes, in January 2010 the race issue erupted again in an unusual and unexpected way. Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader and an Obama ally, was embarrassed because of some racially insensitive comments he had made to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, the authors of a new book, Game Change, about the Obama campaign. It turned out that Reid had predicted in 2008 that Obama could succeed as an African-American presidential candidate partly because he was “light-skinned” and because he didn’t speak with a “Negro dialect.”
Reid quickly apologized, and many black leaders, including the president and Attorney General Eric Holder, defended him as a decent man who was not a racist. But Republicans tried to score political points, with party chairman Michael Steele and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, calling on Reid to resign as majority leader. He refused, but the furor showed how race remained just below the surface of American life. Racial polarization was again on the rise.
(The Grio) — Of the dozen or so candidates running for mayor of Chicago, one of them dropped out of the race. And his decision was a prudent one. James Meeks (D-Ill.), Illinois state senator and black megachurch pastor, announced the day before Christmas Eve that he was withdrawing from the mayoral race. The reason he cited was the desire to forge unity among black people in the windy city. This is a noble goal. “My friends, I come before you today to say that our city — and our community — is divided,” said Meeks said in a statement. “As long as our community remains divided and splintered — to the specific advantage of the front-running, status quo candidates — we will never see things improve. We need to speak with one voice.”
(New York Times) — The bipartisan House Ethics Committee recommended Thursday that embattled New York Democrat Charles B. Rangel be censured by the full House of Representatives for ethics violations, the stiffest penalty a member can face short of expulsion. The House will probably take up the matter after Thanksgiving. Rangel would be the first congressman censured in almost 30 years. The Harlem representative had sought a lighter sanction. Before the vote, he asked the committee for leniency, pointing to his 40 years of service on Capitol Hill and saying “there was not even the suggestion of corruption” in the allegations against him.
Over the past three years, we have witnessed the rise of a Black man to the highest office in a country where Black people were once property, where we were defined in the Constitution as three fifths a human being, in a country of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. He is a President in a nation where Black suffering is still not only legislated but tolerated and sometimes encouraged. This means a lot for the future of humanity in the United States.
Particularly, it means a lot for the future of White Americans and for the first time in the history of American racial reconciliation, they seem to recognize that. To be honest, they seem terrified by it. Not surprising however is how woefully unprepared leadership within the Black community seems to seize the moment. Leaders of today are at the wall of Jericho and poised for the Promised Land but the proverbial walls will not come tumbling down without the faith and courage of a few good men. Where are they? Who represents the Joshua generation and what must be done?
The day before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis, he delivered a soul-stirring speech. Written in support of the city’s striking sanitation workers, toward the end, it took a turn into the prophetic. He said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.” This is of course his famous allusion to the Biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Dr. King was of the Moses generation, the folks who fought hard toward a winnable peace but who will never live its manifestation.
King was allowed to see the Promised Land. Others have been allowed to see the election of a Black President but we have leaned too hard on the old guard, on the Moses Generation for their vision and courage. The freedom fighters of the Civil Rights era and those who came before cannot chart a new course for tomorrow. Just as the Hebrews of old needed leadership beyond Moses, so does a struggling Black community.
Barack Obama refers to himself as a member of the Joshua generation. Speaking in Selma, Alabama as a presidential candidate, Obama said “I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants…We’re going to leave it to the Joshua generation to make sure it happens.” Disparities that exist along racial lines have always been points of weakness to the integrity of the United States.
Barack Obama is no stranger to the flaws in the American character. In just the first short year of his Presidency, it has been uncovered like a wound that refuses to heal. There it was in the shouts of Joe Wilson, in Hillary Clinton’s “conceding her loss,” the arrest of an esteemed Harvard professor on his front porch, the Vice President’s compliment of Obama’s speech and hygiene.
Every cartoon of Obama as a bullet-ridden chimp and his wife as a gun-toting militant carries within the sting of a much larger injury and for it, the President has been able to provide little to no tangible leadership. For a problem that he knows more intimately than any other President, he has been paralyzed in the vice of American racial politics. I hope, as writer Isaac Rosenfeld once stated that “no man suffers injustice without learning, vaguely but surely, what justice is” and that Obama’s firsthand knowledge of what justice is and isn’t will make him this nation’s greatest ally to the oppressed.
John Lewis, still baring the scars of his commitment said after the inauguration, “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.” In that sense, Barack Obama as a public figure and a President of the United States is a goal of the Civil Rights Movement. There are still battles ahead and more water to wade but the President and other Black elected officials will not be as Joshua was for the Israelites.
As a leader elected by a diverse constituency, he is in the tradition of negotiation. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson, he is called to hold a nation together that sometimes needs to be pulled apart, pulled apart where it is compromised to be made stronger. It has become increasingly apparent that Barack Obama cannot speak truth to power because he is beholden to and represents it.
While Barack Obama, as a nationally elected official must assuage tension, Dr. King advocated the creation and use of tension. The Moses generation’s delicate management of tension has brought us to this moment in American history; one where White Americans are actively dealing with a challenge to the very concept of Whiteness. The election of a Black man to the highest office has threatened that which has been secure for so long: Whiteness and its place in the American caste system. Barack Obama’s very presence in the White House represents to many White Americans what the presence of only White men, in that office, has always meant for women and minorities; insecurity.
At the end of his life, Dr. King was working toward expanding the promise that is America to its poor citizens through the Poor People’s Campaign. His eyes were fixed on the Promised Land of economic and political freedom. He began addressing the issues that still trouble the waters of our imperfect union. He was pointing a way forward for the Joshua generation. There are of course advocates within the Black community – individuals and organization with the vision and nuance of a modern political age – and I do not begrudge the President for not being among them. The mantle of advocacy on the behalf of Black Americans is not his to shoulder.
The advocates of today must recognize, as the Moses generation exemplified, that “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God.” If character is like a tree and reputation a shadow, the Black community will need men to move out of the comfort the shadows provided by the Moses[es] to become branches, extending their efforts onward.
The path of progress takes great character and through individual acts of humanity, the chasm that we must cross has been made smaller. It is incumbent upon the Joshua generation to bridge the gap that remains by going where there is injustice and eradicating it, whether the President is leading the way or, more likely, if he is not.
Donovan X. Ramsey is an Associate Researcher at the Identity Orchestration Research Lab at Morehouse College where he is currently engaged in research regarding the expression of Black male identity in contemporary politics.
(Politico) — The politically charged decisions by veteran Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California to force public trials by the House ethics committee are raising questions about race and whether black lawmakers face more scrutiny over allegations of ethical or criminal wrongdoing than their white colleagues.