Beyond the Black Caucus

Beyond the Black Caucus

Arguments over Barack Obama's "blackness" are only one indication of changing racial attitudes in America.

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2m 58sec

The source: “The New Black Realism”
by Kay S. Hymowitz, in
City Journal,
Winter ­2007.

Earlier this year, opinion columnists were arguing over whether Barack Obama was “black enough” to win the African-American vote in the Democratic primaries for presi­dent. Had his white mother, his failure to grow up in the inner city, and his shortage of civil rights credentials disqualified him? Was his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention—“There’s not a black America and white America. . . . [T]here’s the United States of America”—a naive effort to curry favor with whites?

Then came the polls: Black respon­dents were moving out of the Hillary Clinton column and into the Obama camp in signif­icant numbers. While it’s far too early to venture that Obama might transcend race in his campaign, it is timely to note that black politics are undergoing radical change. “There’s a tidal shift away from the black grievance and identity politics of yesterday,” writes Kay S. Hymowitz, a contributing editor of City Journal. “Blacks are talking a more positive American language of ­self-­empowerment and ­middle-­class virtue and marking a significant turning point in America’s ongoing race story.”

Black Americans are cheering comedian Bill Cosby for his ­shape-­up-­and-­stop-­whining message. Pragmatist Cory Booker has  become mayor of ­Newark—­and is exploring charter schools. National Public Radio’s Juan Williams has published Enough: The Phony Leaders, ­Dead-­End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black ­America—­and What We Can Do About It.

For more than a half-century, the narrative of race in America has come from a civil rights script. Good versus evil. Black versus white. Bull Connor versus Martin Luther King Jr. But for a younger generation of blacks, the ­ “I-­Marched-­With-­Martin” school doesn’t cut it, Hymowitz says. This generation of well-educated, solidly ­middle-­class blacks is still occasionally annoyed, even stung, by racism, but doesn’t see it as the cause of every domestic ­problem.

To be sure, black/white in­equality remains a national blight. Black unemployment is twice that of whites. ­Forty-­four percent of the prison population is black, and 70 percent of black babies are born to single ­mothers.

Nonetheless, the old presumption that oppression is at the root of every evil rings hollow to many in the new generation. In 1960, only 45 percent of blacks lived above the poverty line. Now, 75 percent do. About 40 percent of blacks have now fled the ­cities—­just as whites did before ­them—­and live in the suburbs. Some 46 percent of black families own their own homes. And black millionaires are no longer mostly entertainers or sports figures. Today, the top-grossing ­black-­owned business in America is World Wide Technology, a Missouri-based information technology company whose clients include Dell, Boeing, and ­DaimlerChrysler.

The old lions of the civil rights movement still roar, and Charles Rangel and John Conyers have more powerful megaphones than ever as chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Judiciary committees. Jesse Jackson continues to command a following when he seizes on actor Michael Richard’s bizarre racist breakdown and demands to meet with entertainment executives. But a “surging, confident, and varied black middle class,” Hymowitz writes, is no longer content with outdated, ­self-­limiting, ­race-­based political ­leadership.

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