‘The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama’
by Gwen Ifill
A few months ago, you made an X, drew a line, flipped a switch, or otherwise indicated which candidate you wanted to see in the White House. Whichever you did, you helped make a first.
Would the next Pennsylvania Avenue resident be the first African American president, or would he govern with the first woman VP? Were you mourning because your candidate wouldn’t be the first woman president? Or did you cast your vote elsewhere, thus making history by not voting for a first-time history-maker?
In the new book “The Breakthrough” (c.2009, Doubleday, $24.95 / $27.95 Canada, 277 pages, includes index), author Gwen Ifill examines race and gender in the 2008 election, and how it changed the political landscape forever.
When Barack Obama won the primary in Iowa in 2006, people who marched in Selma and protested in Birmingham were surprised. Few - politician or otherwise - ever thought they’d see a Black man win an overwhelmingly White state in a race for the highest office in the land.
But this should have come as no surprise; it was almost inevitable. Younger-generation African American politicians had been making their marks for years. Those men and women didn’t live through race riots and Jim Crow laws, but “lived in a world shaped by access instead of denial”.
Through them, the times, they were a-changin’.
Still, the rift between old Civil-Rights-era lions and new Gen-X cubs deep, Ifill says, and it can be wide even within families. Witness the Jackson family: Jesse Sr. was heard muttering insults toward Barack Obama (and subsequently apologized), while Jesse Jr. threw himself wholeheartedly behind the Obama candidacy.
Add gender to the mix, and things get muddier. Many African Americans supported Hillary Clinton for myriad reasons. Though Obama won an overwhelming amount of liberal White votes, “…Black voters remained skeptical for months,” says Ifill. Clinton supporters were often supporters because they were anti-Obama.
But is racism at the root of this convolution? Ifill says that it definitely was an issue in the 2008 election, on both sides. Some Whites were confused because Obama “did not fit the corrosive stereotype of what a Black man was supposed to be.” Some African Americans questioned if Obama was “Black enough.”
Ifill quotes Congressman Kendrick Meek who says that “Black folk… want to know that the people they elect… have not forgotten their roots.”
“Breakthrough” is, as a political examination, a bit of a conundrum. Author Gwen Ifill interviewed a great number of African American politicians to get a wide view of the Old Guard versus the Newcomers in Washington.
White politicians on the subjects of race and gender were scarce.
Yes, this is a book about “breakthroughs” in African American politics, but a sprinkling from “the other side” might’ve sparked more dialogue on this timely and important subject.
Though it meanders occasionally and though Ifill often says the same thing ten times, I think “The Breakthrough” is a fascinating look at an era of change within an era of change. If you’re a fan of politics or a student of racial relations, look toward this book first.
The monument to 20th-century social change leader—and some say 20th-century prophet—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was finally dedicated this weekend on the National Mall.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich backpedaled from his reverse racist slur of Supreme Court designate Sonia Sotomayor as a racist. A defiant Rush Limbaugh didn’t. There’s a reason.
In a day and age when Barack Obama can be elected president of a country that a mere 200 years ago held people who looked like him in physical bondage; where laws that prevented Whites and Blacks from going to school and socializing together 50 years ago have been struck down, the relevance of an organization like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is sometimes questioned.
But newly appointed NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer, Benjamin T. Jealous, has the answer to that question.
White privilege is one of the cornerstones of the legal dimension of the reparations movement. It is a fascinating question to ponder the fate of White privilege in the Obama era. Clearly, the new president has indicated consistently that, while willing to listen to any reasonable argument, he is oriented towards extracting the best lessons from the past, then moving forward. He is not, however, interested in wallowing in the past.
President Barack Obama lists “Civil Rights” as the first item under his “Agenda” on his White House Web site, whitehouse.gov. He pledges to end gender and race based pay disparities, push through the Fair Pay and Employment Non-Discrimination Acts, harshly penalize voter fraud, outlaw racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies, provide financial incentives to local and state police to ban racial profiling, and to dump the race tinged drug sentencing disparities.