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Introduction to the Special Issue on Black Political Economy: Obama and the Deteriorating Condition of African America (President Barack Obama) (Report)

The Black Scholar 2010, Spring, 40, 1

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IN "A MOPE PERFECT UNION," his March 18, 2008 address, his main speech on race, then Democratic Party nominee for President, Barack Obama, engaged the critical question facing African America and the United States. Arguing that Rev. Jeremiah Wright's jeremiads against an intrinsic white racism "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country--a view that sees racism as endemic," Obama condemned Wright's interpretations of U.S. history and the African American experience. Later in the talk, he encountered the core issue separating him and presumptively his political generation from Wright: the question of racial progress. According to Obama, "The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons" was "not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country ... is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past." While it is unclear whether Obama's characterization of Wright's perspective is accurate, it is abundantly clear that his rejection of a static view of U.S. history and the African American experience is. However, the question as framed by Obama sets the bar too low. It is not whether profound change has occurred in the condition of blacks since the days of slavery or whether minute incremental improvement has transpired since the days of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Instead, what is at issue is whether the extent of racial reform over the last forty years, since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., merits the appellation "progress." Obama's speech on race essentially retraced the ideological terrain traversed by sociologist Gunnar Myrdal more than sixty years ago. Like Myrdal, Obama views America's heinous racial practices as aberrations, as deformations of its ideals, rather than as a constitutive element of the American experiment. For both, the solution to American racial oppression lies embedded in the U.S. Constitution, whose promise of liberty, justice, and equality under the law they perceive as colorblind. From this perspective, America's race problem lingers because special interests undermine fulfillment of the ideals articulated in the nation's founding documents. This interpretation of the Constitution and its focus on the contradiction between principles and policy largely explains why Myrdal characterized the relations between black and white Americans as the American Dilemma. The question posed by Myrdal was essentially: Would the United States rise to meet the lofty humanitarian pronouncements asserted in its creed, or would it remain stunted by the hypocrisy of its appalling racial practices? In highlighting the contradiction between pronouncements and practice, this iteration of the American race problem denied that racist ideology was entrenched in American social thought, indeed its founding documents constitute what philosopher Charles Mills correctly characterized as a racial contract. More importantly, it ignores that the U.S. political economy was founded on racial oppression--the slave trade, slavery, imperialism, etc. Moreover, "dilemma"--Myrdal's term--was steeped in the existing race relations framework and reflected the crippling liberalism of white middle-class interests and perspectives.

Introduction to the Special Issue on Black Political Economy: Obama and the Deteriorating Condition of African America (President Barack Obama) (Report)
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: 22 March 2010
  • Publisher: The Black Scholar
  • Print Length: 13 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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