Beyond the Black Caucus
Arguments over Barack Obama's "blackness" are only one indication of changing racial attitudes in America.
The source: “The New Black Realism”
by Kay S. Hymowitz, in City Journal,
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.