The terms of race based politics
nside a recent New York Times’ (NYT) magazine story entitled “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?” four dapper African American male politicians are posed in conversation mode, pontificating on the fate of black America.
Emboldening those who would declare black resistance a throwback to a bygone era, the article questions the viability of a race focused political agenda in the potential wake of Obama’s election to the presidency. Throughout the piece traditional civil rights movement politics were contrasted with the race neutral (i.e., assimilationist) approaches of younger politicians like Obama. Echoing CNN’s flaccid special on Black America, the NYT’s snapshot is one of black “bourgie-dom” uneasily holding the urban pathology of poor blacks in the ghetto at bay. The problematic focus on male politicos trying to be post-black under apartheid conditions reflects the usual corporate media paternalism. In this brave new post-black world charismatic black male leadership (with women cheerleading on the sidelines) is still the currency of black political capital as affirmative action devolves into redress for white Appalachians.
The so-called “end of black politics” monolithically defines the terms of black leadership as constituent politics divorced from community organizing and a vision for redressing the structural consequences of segregation. This is a particularly egregious premise considering the scores of black communities devastated by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Drive through any neighborhood in South Los Angeles and the sea of “For Sale” signs flapping on the lawns of single family homes is a powerful visual symbol of the foreclosing of the black American dream. While traditional channels of white upward mobility exclude most African Americans, homeownership has always been both crucible and preserve of black stability in the face of centuries of violent dispossession. So the anemic response of mainstream black politicians to a crisis which has been dubbed the largest loss of black wealth in American history is especially troubling given the lip service that many of these politicos pay to middle class self-determination.
The only presidential candidate to address the subprime mess from an economic and racial justice standpoint is Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. Following the lead of Shirley Chisholm’s good old boy challenging candidacy in 1972, McKinney has consistently linked the hijacking of black neighborhoods by predatory lending with gentrification. McKinney’s critique of gentrification defies the see no evil development friendly approach of Barack Obama. The loss of scores of older homes and apartment buildings to gentrification has deracinated African American and Latino communities while remaking neighborhoods once deemed undesirable-such as the western part of downtown L.A. and Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill-into real estate rich yuppie enclaves. As progressive housing analysts have noted, the mortgage crisis has effectively reversed the increase in black home equity which grew out of a decades’ long effort to redress racist Federal Housing Administration lending policies that bankrolled postwar white flight to the suburbs. Although white homeowners also face record losses in equity their communities are not rooted in the inveterate urban poverty and underdevelopment that devalues black and Latino property. With lower property values to begin with, black homeowners are in a free fall, at the mercy of piecemeal bailout plans like the recently passed housing recovery legislation championed by the CBC which would only help 400,000 homeowners and contains a few provisions for remedying blight in neighborhoods with heavy foreclosures. As billions in black equity is sucked down the drain, bankrupt racist prophecies about post-race, post-black politics are really about sanctioning the looting of black wealth.
- Sikivu Hutchinson’s commentaries can be heard on Fridays @ 6:25 p.m. on KPFK 90.7 FM.