The State of Black America

In case you missed it, Tavis Smiley convened a very important gathering of African-American leaders on Saturday to discuss the 'State of Black America'.  It was a swirling discussion with academic leaders like Cornell West, political leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Keith Ellison, and authors and artists like Chuck D and Sonia Sanchez.  It was on C-Span, but I can't find the link.  I've always had trouble with the C-Span search engine.

Now first I'm going to address this community about our culture.  Most MyDD readers are comfortable within what I call 'Jewish political culture', which is a very individualistic, progressive style of argumentative discourse.  Since the late 19th century, Jews have been backbone activists for a certain slice of the progressive movement - the union movement and the civil rights struggle both had important elements of Jewish leadership.  That's one reason antisemitic slurs are thrown at the ACLU, for instance.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that this culture suffuses at least part of the progressive blogosphere.  On MyDD, there's a curiosity, a belligerence, a snark, a respect for academia, and an analytical tone suggesting a way of thinking about the world.  Now Jewish progressive political culture is a shorthand, and it's not precise.  For instance, gay culture is quite prevalent within the progressive blogosphere, as are scientists, hackers, and engineers and their culture of precision.

There are lots of other cultures out there, and lots of other ways of thinking about the world.  These represent themselves online, but they don't necessarily represent themselves here.  Does it matter that they don't?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I'm not so arrogant as to assume that the community created in the progressive blogs is necessarily THE place where African-American activists or Latino activists would want to spend time discussing political problems.  What is very clear though is that there are very important conversations going on among and within other progressive cultures, and we must pay attention to them.

There's a grasping right now in the African-American community to create a new movement.  Tavis Smily, an important media personality and African-American opinion leader, has published The Covenant with Black America, the first best-seller put out by a minority-owned publisher.  He just came out with a sequel, which is designed to show the covenant in action.  On the conversation on Sunday, the State of Black America showed themes that parallel a lot of what we're discussing on the blogs.  There was significant class tension between middle and upper class blacks and working class blacks, there were splits between Hip-Hop culture and church-based older culture, and there were radically different approaches to white America.  

I'm intrigued by this conversation.  It's puzzling to me though that it's not taking place online as much as I would have thought, since the internet is a great place for movements.  One reason is that Black America Web, which is a hugely important site published by Tom Joyner, seems designed to prevent organizing.  It's a top-down media outlet.  Who knows why?  It's possible that Joyner doesn't yet recognize the immense power that the internet could create for the progressive black community, or maybe he's a media guy who doesn't want a wider conversation he's not controlling.  Regardless, that infrastructure, which could be the fount of incredible organizing, is lying fallow.

At the 'state of black America', there was a subtle tension that resembles our dislike of single-ssue groups, which is the tension between a black elite and black organizers.  At the C-Span forum, a representative from Radio One, the largest black owned media company in the country, kept emphasizing the importance of doing business with black companies.  And yet, I have heard from numerous African American activists (including Davey D) that Radio One acts like another corporate monolith suppressing the voices of social justice.  Consider their LA affiliate:

Radio One's KKBT has been a constant disappointment for years. I didn't think they could go much lower after hiring Steve Harvey but then they hired John Salley and made a fool of me. It was a bad move to nix then KKBT personality Dominique DiPrima, but Da Poetess has been trying to hold it down over there for the community.

Consider this. Spanish language radio disc jockeys were the moving force behind the mass numbers of people in attendance at the pro immigration rallies and marches. They told their people where to go, when to be there, what to bring with them, and the people came.

When was the last time John Salley, Big Boy, or Cliff Winston told you to attend a rally in support of an issue that was important to blacks? My point exactly.

Illegal immigration is all everybody is talking about these days, everybody except you know who.

So imagine my own surprise when I found myself tuning in to KFI 640 AM of all stations to get briefed on the latest immigration news. Notoriously known for being Los Angeles' conservative talk station, KFI has been the only station in Los Angeles to really address immigration in a language that I can understand, English. And even though I don't always agree with their points of view, I can appreciate a station that is actually willing to at least talk about the issue. It was KFI not a black radio station that first asked blacks how they felt about illegal immigration and had blacks call in to the station to voice their opinions. Go figure?

Sound familiar?  Yes, it's pretty much the same critique that Atrios throws at Tim Russert.  And there's amazing activism in the Hip Hop community against this kind of censorship, from DJs to fans to artists.  It's not agonistic politics, but it could easily become that, the way the bloggers transformed from commentary on the media to fundraisers and activists.  I could easily imagine a Hip Hop PAC using Actblue encouraging $10 donations to run ads against bad politicians on media consolidation.  The tools are there.  There's a LOT of political music, all it takes is one artist to show that organizing around it possible.  And, well, the idea of a political fight is inherent to Hip-Hop, it's just couched in the notion of two DJs or artists lyrically 'battling'.  Attach a small donation to a music download based on a partisan political battle, and boom, there's a flood of new progressive money into politics.

The incrementalist path - that of Radio One - is similar to the insider dynamic we see at work with liberals who become investment bankers and give away money to charity (which I find kind of sad).  At the same time, it's a much harder discussion to have in the context of the African-American community, because economic opportunity is so arbitrarily denied.  Smiley gave out free copies of his new book to everyone in the audience, sponsored by Exxon Mobile, one of the worst companies in the world when it comes to progressive politics.  We could condemn that, but I've never faced the ritual of office politics as a black man, let alone succeeded at doing so.  And I can guarantee that whoever made the sponsorship deal with Smiley at Exxon has engaged in that struggle.  

Anyway, I don't have an answer to any of this, and we're going to see a lot more African-American politics pushed out into the open because of the internet, in the same way that the DNC has become a lot more transparent.  We already are, in fact, seeing that.  And Obama's going to accelerate this discussion, supersize it in fact.  

My sense is that it's going to become much more important to recognize who we are as a progressive movement.  There is no one 'white America', for instance, and we ought to start making that point.  Jesse Jackson made that argument on Sunday, when he talked about character instead of race as what makes a movement.  It's impossible not to be sympathetic to that argument, since it seems to let white people like me off the hook in terms of thinking about race.  But it doesn't, and it shouldn't.  

Every nasty trick the right-wing plays on us or our candidates they have used in a much more aggressive manner to keep African-Americans disempowered for hundreds of years.  So when we complain about smear campaigns and fear-mongering, I can imagine the response in the African-American community is something along the lines of 'what took you so long to notice that they are a bunch of crazy immoral warmongers'.  You'll notice that African-Americans, the single most progressive voting block, didn't send any votes for Nader in 2000.  Though white progressives were fooled, blacks knew who Bush really was.  The language and politics of social justice is inherent to black politics, which is why Al Sharpton was so good in the 2004 debates.  The liberal blogs are partially descended from the white libertarianism of Silicon Valley, which has a very different and apathetic history with regards to social justice.  We need to recognize that the African-American progressive struggle is our struggle, and work on bridging our community conversations.  It's rough to do this, because it means that all of us are going to have to admit truths about ourselves we don't like.  But not admitting these truths took us to Iraq, and that's much worse than feeling awkward or speaking out, now isn't it?

UPDATE: I recommend you read this post by Glenn Greenwald and this one by Pam Spaulding to get a sense of how Obama is sparking some excellent discussions of race. Moving beyond the black-white dichotomy means taking on other sacred cows, like AIPAC and homophobia.

Tags: Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, Cornell West, Keith Ellison, state of black America (all tags)



Re: The State of Black America

Why is Barack Obama's name included in the tags for this post?

just curious.

by megaplayboy 2007-02-12 07:43AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

He's in the post.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-12 07:43AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Ah, yes, I see that, briefly mentioned near the end.  thanks.

by megaplayboy 2007-02-12 07:45AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Don't feel bad... I had to re-read it too to find it.  

by yitbos96bb 2007-02-12 07:49AM | 0 recs
kind of Ironic

the same day most if not all of the major black leaders have this all day conference with 10s of thousands in attendance - CSPAN interrupts this coverage to go to Obama's announcement elsewhere.

don't know if Obama cared or thought about the simultaneous conference going on.. but I could see those in attendance not liking it

by TarHeel 2007-02-12 08:00AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Wasn't this Saturday?  They were showing it on C-Span before and after Obama's announcement.  Jesse had some interesting comments on Obama being bi-racial... He basically said the majoirty of the panel came from Black Great Great Grandmothers and White Great Great Grandfathers (AKA Slave Owners)... it was really interesting.

by yitbos96bb 2007-02-12 07:45AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Oh yeah.  My weekend kind of bled together.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-12 07:52AM | 0 recs
I don't listen to most stations

It would take too long to find something tolerable. I listen to KPFK 90.7, and Air America. KPFK covers most subjects that are not covered in MSM. Labor issues, gay issues, Black History month, etc. and frequently covers local politics, and explains the issues.

by realtime 2007-02-12 08:08AM | 0 recs
Black votes in 2000

I wouldn't jump the gun and make too much of the lack of enough third party votes by African Americans for Nader in 2000. What about the non votes. Was their turnout as high as it was in the 1992 election? I got the feeling from my African American friends that they felt taken for granted by the party even back then. The Democratic PArty should have been equally alarmed at how they lost the base turnout to the REpublicans in addition to the third party votes going to Nader because both factors are equally damaging.

I think the Dem party exposed themselves when they would not even stand by the African American congressmen/women who wanted to make their voice heard in the recount debacle as shown in Farenheit 911.

I still see a lack of urgency to fix public schools among Democrats. They say it is a priority but I sense a lack of desperation in fixing the schools. Each year that passes by, a major disservice is done to an entire grade. This should be one of their top priorities and African Americans get affected by this more in bigger proportion. I want to see white leaders view this as their immediate problem too and not just as black america's problem. They need to think out of the box with respect to education.

Oh and reparations are due African Americans. It shouldn't be that tough. Give them a tax credit for those who can trace their ancestory prior to the civil rights movement.

by Pravin 2007-02-12 08:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Black votes in 2000

I would hesitate to make a clear distinction between the 'Democratic Party' and 'blacks'.  There are a lot of powerful black leaders in the Democratic Party, and many of these people take their black constituents for granted.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-12 08:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Black votes in 2000

Isn't part of the issue with public schools also that many Blacks (Democrats) support Charter schools and in many cities, i.e. D.C where I live, charter schools are accepted  and actively promoted as an alternative to the public schools. The whole charter school revolution started in Milwaukee and was spearheaded by African Americans.

by Kingstongirl 2007-02-12 01:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Black votes in 2000

THank you for saying this. I am one of the few who actually supports the concept of charter schools FOR LIBERAL REASONS. I feel like many white liberals do not have the same urgency in giving black students from poor areas an immediate alternative because that would please some of the white conservatives who want charter schools for racist or religious reasons.

I think it is fine to say "let's reform public schools" but is it reasonable for single parent households to take on the burden of reforming their school district when many of them have to work long hours to make ends meet?

All I see is negativity when it comes to creative solutions. YOu know, I wouldn't mind if they aat least conceded that charter schools could be a temporrary solution until the establishment figured a way out to give poor students, mostly African Americans, an education what they deserve in the public school system.  Making vouchers equal to the variable cost of adding a student to public school rolls will not hurt funding the system because the fixed cost won't be given away in the form of vouchers.

by Pravin 2007-02-12 02:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Black votes in 2000

I am not actually that I agree with Charter schools, I just think what part of why public schools aren't part of the Democratic hard charge is that there are many Black Democrats who support vouchers and charter schools.  I am lucky that my children go to a good public school, so I haven't been forced to face the charter question.

by Kingstongirl 2007-02-12 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Black votes in 2000

Gotcha. I should have been clearer. I am actually happy that someone is willing to acknowledge that there are Black DEmocrats who are for charter schools regardless of where you are personally on it. When I have these discussions, it is hard to get into the next gear, because these stands are usually equated with white racists and we can't go further on teh debate. I personally don't expect everyone to be on board with my views. But just acknowledge that one can be progressive and still want to look at other solutions.

by Pravin 2007-02-12 02:33PM | 0 recs
I'm sorry,

You make a good point, but I find the logic both infuriating and depressing. You're suggesting a solution that helps people from in the middle of the socioeconomic scale get educated as if they were rich, but does nothing to help the poor. Even if you give vouchers that pay for a whole lot of tuition, you're still going to leave behind the poorest, least educationally-inclined children, now completely lacking any social contact with other education-oriented kids.

A solution that cedes the bottom 50 -- or even 5 -- percent to illiteracy, gangs, dropouts and crime is morally unacceptable to me. Sorry.

by msnook 2007-02-12 04:51PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm sorry,

Why does my solution leave out the poorest? If they are that poor, they can get bigger vouchers. I just did not feel this is the diary to finetune my proposal. So i Just laid out a simoplsitic proposal. Of course there will be exceptions in the case of families that need more assistance. With public schools the way they are, most poor families have no choice but be stuck in the neighborhood they can afford to live in.

by Pravin 2007-02-12 05:44PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm sorry,

I am going to table a more complicated discussion for a future diary. But I will say this. I do not advocate a one size fits all approach to education. Some areas, it will be suffice to just reform the public school system quickly. Some areas might need more of an injection of voucher or charter schools. Some localities may need some other solution. THe thing is we should be open. If one proposal is unfair to one segment, let's work on finding a better tailormade solution to that segment.

by Pravin 2007-02-12 05:50PM | 0 recs
some comments

My neighbourhood (Barack's too!), Hyde Park, is a bit of a center for both black intellectuals and black activists. The local café was abuzz with talk about this show -- seems like everyone (except cableless me) saw it.

Actually, that same day, I was talking with a black journalist. She writes for a number of papers, including the venerable Chicago Defender. She's young, active, smart, and had just interviewed Barack.

And she had almost zero idea of what the deal with "blogs" was. As she saw them, they were an adjunct to marketing (she is writing a book on post-partum mental disorders right now, and is planning  the internet portion.) I tried to get across to her what I saw as the essence of why blogs mattered.

If I had to engage in some pop analysis of what is going on -- I would say that being a black intellectual or activist carries with it a whole lot of marginalization. People like the journalist I talked with are concerned with "breaking in" -- getting the attention of the mainstream. This has been a long, long struggle and it is still going.

I think it is difficult to ask young black intellectuals and journalists to make the choice to "go with the blogosphere" at this point. Doing so, because of the adversarial nature of blogging, can cut you off from the older centers of power. Many of the bloggers I know (not all) are people who have had the doors open for them for a long time, and have chosen either to break with, or refuse, the offers that come their way. Very different dynamic.

By the way, we also chatted a bit about the whole "is Obama black" stir-up. She was adamant that indeed he was, and found the whole argument rather offensive. One remark she made was that the black community -- and, as she saw it, Obama himself -- was torn by the choice between him and Hilary. The wife of the first black president, and the guy who might be the first black president: whom do you choose?

by sdedeo 2007-02-12 08:13AM | 0 recs
Re: some comments

I think it is difficult to ask young black intellectuals and journalists to make the choice to "go with the blogosphere" at this point. Doing so, because of the adversarial nature of blogging, can cut you off from the older centers of power.

This can be fixed with money.  And since there's no money in blogging...

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-12 08:17AM | 0 recs
Re: some comments

Yes and no. I mean, the journalist I talked to was definitely not "in it for the money." But I definitely agree with what you are saying -- that money matters and that it's a proxy for respect.

If I had to guess as to what the "solution" is -- how to bring black intellectuals into the blogosphere -- it would in part be to get some of the established institutions (why not the Defender!) to invest in the blogosphere.

African-Americans have been creating and investing in alternate, parallel institutions for generations, so in some sense the blogs would be nothing new -- but in another sense I think there is incredible loyalty to those old institutions and the usual narrative of "fuck the Times" just doesn't play as strongly.

by sdedeo 2007-02-12 08:24AM | 0 recs

Why isn't Edwards considered in that mix?  Why is it inherently a choice between Hillary or Barack?

by Mike Connery 2007-02-12 09:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards

I wouldn't say it's "inherently" a choice between Hill and Barack. But those two have caught -- for very different reasons -- the attention of many African Americans. Barack because he is black and has received the attention of long standing figures, Hillary because Bill is beloved.

by sdedeo 2007-02-12 09:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

As a white organizer/activist working in the black community I appreciate your post.  

Potential reasons why black america doesn't cling to  the netroots:

1. The net is more wealthy than poor.

2. Blacks are disproportionately poor.

3. This disconnect includes a lack of access to hardware and a lack of interest in net-based issues (meta-analysis of media and politics).

4. Blacks are already on board with social justice issues--no debate needed.    

5. Issues of policy are not big around here.  

6. There isn't a lot of awareness on the net re what it is really like to be poor.  There just isn't.

7. Blacks don't really act as a voting bloc--altho they turnout and vote --they don't organize themselves to leverage that political power.  I think it is because they don't all agree and they can't all agree. (that's my experience in MD where based on their numbers--35% of pop.--they should have much more political power than they do) For whatever reason there is a difficulty/reluctance in the black community to speak with one voice.

8. They will and do however support their own.

9. Many blacks would like us to stop talking about 'black' issues and start talking about 'America's' issues.  

by aiko 2007-02-12 08:29AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

There's a lot of value and insight in what you write, and yet BlackAmericaWeb is a very popular, and blacks do use the internet in very large numbers.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-12 08:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Which is why I think we should have more reciprocity in terms of link placement with some African American blogs.

by Pravin 2007-02-12 02:23PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

As Matt said, we're out there. There is a sizeable black middle class that is wired and active on the Internet, but perhaps not participating in the political forums most of the folks here frequent.

Those blacks may or may not have experience with poverty, but aren't voting Republican either. Just to relate personally -- I was raised in a middle class environment, but have also experienced living in near homeless circumstances as well. It gives me some perspective when I see generalities tossed out there about this group or that group.

Just my two cents -- I think the 'Net is as self-segregated as the real world when it comes to social and political interaction. There are some of out there with feet in both worlds, others who are not. I think for a lot of ground-level activists the issue isn't about affording to dive into online activism, it's about having the time to do so, and raise a family, or hold down a FT job and do offline community work.

What we do know is that blacks of any political stripe, save the head cases of Project 21, aren't voting for a Republican in droves given the party's pathetic record. In some ways it's too bad, because I would think that an appeal to the generally social conservative religious black community in many ways could be successful and would force the Democrats to actually court the vote, not expect it. Alas, the GOP can't wash its hands of its legacy of bigotry through policy and practice.

Pam's House Blend

by pamindurham 2007-02-12 09:09AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

I had just read your post. I am glad that you are here.  

by aiko 2007-02-12 09:31AM | 0 recs
Where are they organizing?

As Matt said, we're out there. There is a sizeable black middle class that is wired and active on the Internet, but perhaps not participating in the political forums most of the folks here frequent.

I'm curious to know where that is happening.

I ask, because our organization had a fairly disappointing experience recently trying to organize online around issues of race.

Last month, we launched an online campaign to raise awareness about racial and economic disparities in health care - specifically in New York City as it relates to a series of hospital closures that are slated to occur.

You can view the website we created - a google map linked to a letter writing campaign - here.

We compiled lists of local blogs, NY State blogs, health care blogs, and blogs that focused primarily on issues of race (we had about 30 of these).

Almost every single New York blog covered us - from The Albany Project to Daily Gotham to Empire Zone.  Quite a few health care blogs picked up our story about racial and economic inequalities in access to and quality of care.

Only 2 race blogs covered our campaign.  And almost no one even replied to our emails to say why they didn't feel comfortable posting about the campaign.

I'm still scratching my head over why this happened.  Any insights would be appreciated.

by The Opportunity Agenda 2007-02-12 09:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Where are they organizing?

No easy answers, for you, since I'm not deeply connected to the traditional black netroots you're seeking coverage from; what I see  mostly represents social organizing networks (blackplanet) that may discuss politics, but is not focused on activism.

This reminds me of the "where are the bloggers of color" melee after the Clinton Harlem lunch. It's not that they can't be found, it's finding the right match of folks who have politics at the top of the agenda in the areas of interest. Color alone, as we've seen, doesn't give you cred in some circles.

by pamindurham 2007-02-12 09:48AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America
On the idea that those on the net can't relate to poverty, I've been thinking of making that part of my first diary.  As a person who has been both upper- and lower- middle class at times, and just barely above poverty, I can definitely relate.  A lot of people just have no concept of what it is like.  It is so difficult to relate.  People from middle and upper-middle class backgrounds often can't seem to understand that so many issues have an economic context, how having little money really limits you, and the shame.
I certainly would like us to stop referring to 'black' issues.  Poverty, bad schools, drugs, and violence are issues that all kinds of people have to deal with.  Hell, I dropped out of my mediocre, 85% white, high school.
by jallen 2007-02-12 09:28AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Yes.  Race and poverty are two different issues, and there are many middle class blacks and poor whites that feel excluded from the conversation when we treat the two as interchangeable.  

by Valatan 2007-02-12 10:03AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Hi Aiko,

I live and blog in Baltimore, Maryland.  I am curious what kind of organizing/activism you do and if there is any way for me to get involved. Drop me a line: akujan@hotmail

Anyways, I agree with most of your points, especially the one about "black issues" vs "America's issues".  That is one reason why I love the CWBA, because their issues are ones all progressives can all rally around, race aside.

As for the lack of "bloc" politics by blacks or ANYONE in Maryland, I think that has more to do with Democratic dominance throughout the state, but mostly in Baltimore City and PG County.  

The Democrats are so entrenched in many of those places, they don't need to compete for any votes, much less those of their black constituents.  In my opinion, Maryland kills the political activist impulse, because "look, Democrats are in charge of EVERYTHING, and have been (save '02-06') forever.  Why should another year of Democrats change anything? Why should the 10 term incumbent care about losing my vote?"

The only chance to really change anything with a voting "bloc" is during the primary. This frustrates me to no end.

by andy k 2007-02-12 10:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

This is where the class issue comes into play.  In a state like Maryland, where there is a high number of Black Middle Class, you are able to see that the Black vote is not uniform, but diverse according to income and interest, much like America.

by Kingstongirl 2007-02-12 02:41PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

The vote is uniform--Maryland blacks supported Kerry at approx. 96-99%.

The message, the spin, the voice, the platform, the demands, the talking points are not uniform.  There is not unity.  Class is a big part of the reason--it may be the reason.

But the vote is uniformly democratic almost 100 percent.  And you wonder why the democratic party takes them for granted?

by aiko 2007-02-12 03:58PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

That's what I meant, that while we may be uniform in our Democratic vote, we are not uniform in the reason we are voting Democratically and so we don't make our demands in a uniform voice, because we don't necessarily have the same demands.

by Kingstongirl 2007-02-12 04:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

matt, here's the c-span links for realplayer streams:

part 1:


part 2:


by selise 2007-02-12 08:33AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

A few points:

a) The primary concerns in the African American community right now are economic and social, not political. They are political only in a tangential sense. As one friend puts it, we don't need another march, we need you to show up with open checkbooks.

b) There is a lot of attempts by people to make things about being black that are not. The recent dust up over Isiah Washington for example. There are many who will tell you that this was about his being black, when in actuality it was about a person who happens to be black who is a homophobe. We are in an interesting period in which African Americans have a found a group that they can treat as poorly as they have historically been treated without seeing the irony in it. I've seen diaries over at D Kos with several hundre comments where people will take for granted that it somehow makes homophobia justified just because its coming from my community. Nevermind  that it ignores all the black gays and lesbians out there. We are suppose to work only from the race differences in America rather than the fact there are multiple differences upon which opression is based. One source of complication are these diverse streams of differences that aren't focused on race, although they may touch upon them.

by bruh21 2007-02-12 08:45AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

The primary concerns in the African American community right now are economic and social, not political.

That's like saying people care about being hungry and thirsty, but not about nutrition.  Politics is entirely about economics and culture.  People don't necessarily see the connection between partisan agonistic politics and their own economic or social circumstances, but that is different from not being concerned about politics.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-12 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

The question becomes: why don't they see the connection?

I can't imagine anyone less qualified to talk about the black community than I, but isn't this largely due to the Democratic failure to cater to our base? This is one lesson I'd love to learn from the right: you empower your base, you encourage and enliven your base. You ensure that they don't compete on a level playing field, because you give them an actual advantage.

Like the right catering to the extremely wealthy via estate tax, and to the fundamentalist right via Christian-only taxpayer-funded faith-based initiatives.

This seems to elude Democrats. You don't piss off unions, you strengthen unions, because they're a core part of our organization. You don't ignore blacks except on election day, you serve them as concretely as possible, with economic and social politics--not necessarily (or not exclusively) for any ethical reason, but because it's simply political common sense to strengthen your allies. You pander to gays. You suck up to trial lawyers. You shmooze the Jews. And you disempower right-wing radio, attack media consolidation, and undermine the 18 (?) families pushing estate tax revocation.

The Democratic Party seems to spend more time trying to woo people who don't like us than working to expand and empower our staunchest allies.

Hm. Is this becoming totally off-topic? Well. What's the equivalent to the African-American community of the Employee Free Choice Act? What specific legislation, not just generalized and deracinated 'more opportunity/higher minimum wages/better schools/less racism' approaches, is out there?

by BingoL 2007-02-12 09:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America
"The question becomes: why don't they see the connection?"
Because Democrats no longer talk about economic issues.  Those who are in charge of our economic agenda act as if there is nothing to be done but charity and a better education system.  God, I really hate liberals right now.
by jallen 2007-02-12 09:36AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

that's exactly right.

by bruh21 2007-02-12 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

to add to the point- education doesn't do you any good if there isn't a vibrant economy generating jobs that will pay you well, and producing capital that is being disseminated for business ventures.

by bruh21 2007-02-12 09:51AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

This is absolutely dead-on - I'm glad you posted this.

by the wanderer 2007-02-12 10:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Like the right catering to the extremely wealthy via estate tax, and to the fundamentalist right via Christian-only taxpayer-funded faith-based initiatives.

Just to keep it real, there are plenty of Black churches cashing in on that gravy train too. This was supposed to be part of the GOP plan where they peeled off 20% of the African American vote.

by Josh Koenig 2007-02-12 01:11PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Yes, but they realized the train was just rhectoric. I saw a 60 minutes piece where they were bitching about how they weren't being given the spoils from the faith based inniative.

They sold us out for nothing.

by bruh21 2007-02-12 01:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

I think you are missing my point. The point isn't that politics doesn't matter. It's about the fact that we are less interested in symoblism than we are in results. It's difference between opportunity in fact versus opportunity in theory. If you want to understand why African Americans, in general, have been polling as less enthusiastic of Obama it is because of a couple of reason, one is HRC, but the other I'm almost certain from what I am reading has to do with his generalized discussion of hope when in reality we need a little less speechifying, and conferences, and a little more action plans and legislation that brings money to the table. At the end of the day, explaining that politics matters means nothing if this part of the equation doesn't change. it's how Bush lost some of the black churches. They realized afterall the rhectoric- they still were being given the short end of the economic stick.

by bruh21 2007-02-12 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

So what you are saying is that African-Americans don't respond to meaningless symbolism and that our current political system is set up to debate meaningless symbols?  That's a good point.  But it's not the same as saying that they aren't concerned with politics.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-12 10:02AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Matt, I think you're distinguishing too well or too much between little-P politics and big-P Politics. Yes, everyone has political views and hence little-P politics whether they know it (or like it) or not.

But a lot of people have zero interest in big-P professional Politics and Politicians because they get far too little done and instead debate meaningless symbols. Case in point, the Senate fight over a non-binding Iraq resolution.

I think the main point many are making here is that what little that does get done by professional Politicians (big-P politics) of either party largely does not help black people that need help. So there's less engagement.

by the wanderer 2007-02-12 10:21AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

I stand corrected, but I don't see how given what we have this changes the concern or helps. I suppose in an abstract- well they don't mean all politics, just ineffectual politics, it matters, but since they assume de facto that conferences are ineffectual, what's the real difference?

by bruh21 2007-02-12 10:51AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

The difference is that if politics can be shown to have results -- to be effective -- that there would be a different attitude and response. In other words, political disengagement is a logical choice, rather than a apathetic or lazy one.

by Josh Koenig 2007-02-12 01:19PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

It's definitely not about laziness. But, it is about the money. What people need is the capital to make their businesses happen, and to own their own property. They need to be able to have affordable education. They need to have healthcare that's not so expensive it becomes a luxury. A lot of the problems in the AA community right now are economic. Even the prison issue to me is at base an economic one. If people have economic resources they are a) less likely to go to jail because t hey are less likely to commit the types of street crimes that put them in jail and b) are less likely to go to jail because they have the resources to defend themselves better

by bruh21 2007-02-12 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

True. Although the prison issue is also related to how our laws are enforced as well.

by Josh Koenig 2007-02-12 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Thoughtful post.

This is the second State of the Black Union conference, IIRC. Smiley held the first at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church -- full disclosure, I used to go there -- which some of you might know for its pastor's fondness for Bush.

Why doesn't Smiley have an infrastructure to keep a permanent discussion going? The internet makes that possible -- and that strategy makes more sense, to me, than limiting talks to a confab of the great and the good held once a year. You should be pressuring him rather than Tom Joyner, Matt, since Joyner -- AFAIK -- sees himself primarily as an entertainer, rather than a journalist/leader.

Oh, and re: ExxonMobil: corporate greenwashing has a storied history in the African-American community. Remember AT&T buying off black state legislators over net neutrality?

by Greg Greene 2007-02-12 09:37AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

The GOP has zero chance of getting the black vote after Katrina.

by bruh21 2007-02-12 09:52AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

I read Greenwald and disagree with him on one thing: I watched that portion of MTP and I think Roger Simon was saying that Obama is like JFK who encouraged/challenged voters to support a catholic as a way to demonstrate their liberalism. (I hear a lot of comparisons between Obama and JFK)

Simon was saying that for the centerist, who does not consider himself racist, Obama provides a potential for healing. Folks can vote for Obama as a way to cleanse their guilt and appease the sins of their fathers. Voting for Obama for President is like a rite of passsage that shows that we are no longer a racist country or racist people--it has the potential to prove that 'we' have moved on. It provides the healing that people want/need.

It may just perpetuate a myth but it is a believable myth.  A vote for Jesse Jackson could never be viewed in that fashion. But Obama's star quality makes people feel safe.

People don't care that Obama is black imho.  Ain't that great for a change?

by aiko 2007-02-12 10:38AM | 0 recs
A Hip Hop PAC to gather money for TV Ads?

With my best intentions forward, I want to address  and challenge Stoller's idea of buying advertisement placement.

Stoller has an idea to get Hip Hop artists to form a Hip Hop PAC and raise money to take out tv ads, or national print ads, radio slots, or I suppose other advertisements.

I have a better idea, if someone can afford to give money, rally your effort to put money into community organizing: that's where cash can really make the  difference. You want people to vote? Some people need a reason to become engaged in a system that originally intended to disenfranchise the "other" (see Fair Housing Act of 1964). TV is primarily not about engagement, (even if you can cellphone your pick for the next Idol-football star-pop diva-political hack-or war- etc...and  CSPAN [Seriously, what percentage of the population watch CSPAN?].) Advertisement is more akin to marketing than a societal discussion board. (Adbusters, check it out) Why pay Murdoch, Clear Channel, Disney, Time Warner when money and aid can go right to grandma so she can defend herself in court? Activism is rooted in street level politics rather than spending $200,000(+) for a national level TV ad. As an example, $200k could pay to save 80 Katrina damaged homes. At a cost of $2500 per home, ACORN has already managed to  clean up 1450 homes.
80 homes directly impacts how many families?

If someone wants to make headlines and get their message out, start a rally, hold a concert, hold public meetings, talk to people: organize. A most recent example of getting in the news with very little capital was the antiwar protesters disruption at Barack Obama's homecoming stage. How much did the antiwar group spend in making news? Was the news pitted in context to the antiwar groups message? Perhaps it depends on how the Chicago Tribune writers pen the article. They end it with the same old rhetoric Obama supporters chant, "he's new, fresh", or my favorite "new and refreshing"!

Why are antiwar protesters storming Obama's platform? Perhaps the Glen Ford's November, 2006 article, Barack Obama and the Winds of War, is a good starter for readers.

The Saturday discussion, 'State of Black America' was picked up on TV, print, internet, and blogs (see myDD as example). How much did they spend on Ads?

Martin Luther King, Jr  and Malcom X made TV and print by turning dreams into action, by making news, by offering something of substance, and by backing it up by walking the talk, going to jail,   even sacrificing their personal safety. There was no political slight of hands, no trimming of the sails to appease the "the machine" - no mush, or fluff.

and one last example, Cindy Sheehan's personal antiwar movement is another example of making the news through activism, and not ad placement. Sheehan over at Progressive Democrats of America challenged, as she put it, "the machine" in last 2006 elections.

With my best intentions.


by Rob Price 2007-02-12 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

This won't get fixed as long as there's such a tight political duopoly and/or the Black community remains politically disorganized.

Regionalism is an increasing trend in politics -- and in culture generally -- so there's some reason to be hopeful that the duopoly will begin to dissolve even though the two-party system may not.

Additionally, it seems to me that conditions are ripe for black self-organizing within the community as well, for all the reasons on this thread as well as some others.

These two things dovetail. As self-help becomes an increasingly viable option politically, I think there could be some interesting and disruptive effects.

by Josh Koenig 2007-02-12 01:17PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Exactly my point. I think Matt missed that when he said blacks wouldn't vote third party. Hey, when they do not show up at the polls, that is almost as hard a slap at the party as voting third party.

by Pravin 2007-02-12 02:27PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

I hold the Congressional Black Caucus responsible for the Democratic Party taking the Black vote for granted.  Most Black Congress people have Black or mostly Black constituents, and every two years they  go home and talk about education, poverty, and discrimination and how we must overcome it by voting for them and then they get reelected by being "Black enough" and do nothing to push a progressive(read Black) agenda within the Democratic party.  You'll hear Al Sharpton saying the Dems are taking Blacks for granted, but why not specifically say Black Congressmen and women, stop taking your voters for granted. More Black voters need to ask their congressional representative,"What have you done for me lately?".

by Kingstongirl 2007-02-12 02:52PM | 0 recs
I wonder how much of the CBC is in the CPC

by msnook 2007-02-12 05:05PM | 0 recs
Good article but one thing...

...I do wonder how "a curiosity, a belligerence, a snark, a respect for academia, and an analytical tone suggesting a way of thinking about the world" becomes associated with Jewish political culture.

That's rather annoying.

by MNPundit 2007-02-12 03:50PM | 0 recs
Re: The State of Black America

Why do you liberals always say that those on the right try to keep blacks and those of color down?

If you will look at Bush's cabinet, he is just as high, percentage wise as Clinton was in having those of color and females. 2004-12-09-diverse-usat_x.htm

In fact, Bush's minority cabinet members that are of color are in higher positions than those of Clinton.

by BradS1 2007-02-12 05:25PM | 0 recs


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