Beyond Hope: The Racial Significance of Obama’s Campaign

[from guest blogger JDL]

Hello everyone, this is my first guest blog post. Several bloggers and mainstream media writers have tried to analyze the significance of race in the Obama campaign. His positioning as a post-racial candidate has allowed Obama to move beyond a politics of accountability and towards his message of hope. So what is the racial significance of Obama’s campaign? Barbara Ehrenreich points out that, “Obama’s election could mean the re-branding of America. An anti-war black president with an Arab-sounding name: See, we’re not so bad after all, world!” She goes on to claim that, “We, perhaps white people especially, look to him for atonement and redemption. All of us, of whatever race, want a fresh start. That’s what “change” means right now: Get us out of here!” The racial nuance of Obama’s campaign is highlighted by what Frank Rich calls the Grand Old White Party.The San Francisco Chronicle ran a piece about how Obama’s candidacy is shaking up racial politics. James Taylor, a scholar at the University of San Francisco argues that, “If an African American man can become president of the United States in the 21st century, then it tells us that the remainder of the 21st century represents all kinds of possibilities, because in his person there is a representation of both black and white American experiences. He allows us to exorcise some of the demons we’ve had in our history of race in America.” Angela Davis warns against the idea that Obama’s election would signal the age of color blindness in America. According to Davis,

“He is being consumed as the embodiment of colour-blindness. It’s the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That’s what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate.This Republican administration is the most diverse in history. But when the inclusion of black people into the machine of oppression is designed to make that machine work more efficiently, then it does not represent progress at all. We have more black people in more visible and powerful positions. But then we have far more black people who have been pushed down to the bottom of the ladder. When people call for diversity and link it to justice and equality, that’s fine. But there’s a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference, the change that brings about no change.”

Mr. Taylor’s assertion that anything would be possible in a post-Obama presidency puts some color into the classic Horatio Alger stories of American opportunity. Would Obama’s victory absolve American society from all charges of structural racism? Will all of those who suffer from white guilt finally find relief? Obama is in a position to change American society forever. What kind of change will he bring? Will emotional and moral atonement be rooted in real material changes? I hope so.


One thought on “Beyond Hope: The Racial Significance of Obama’s Campaign

  1. I sway more towards Angela Davis, though I see Obama as the precursor of what is culturally percolating in the country off the radar screen of the pundits and wonks. Perhaps only social workers and students doing their thesis know of the cultural phenomena of the brown generation emerging as family and friend of all neighborhoods.

    Obama might be the strawman for the intellectual angst or reconciliation and redemption, but the organic reality for the culture is less than 10 years away in the exploding number of kids whose grand-parents and neighbors knwo them as theirs rather than as “them”.

    “The brave few must lead the reversal of the predations of the audaciously callous”

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