Friday, January 18, 2008

As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

Obama's change also threatens the old guard of the civil rights movement.  This article has it exactly right: it is indeed "amazing" (horrifying, really) that the civil rights leadership isn't pulling out all the stops to elect a black President:

The most amazing thing about the 2008 presidential race is not that a black man is a bona fide contender, but the lukewarm response he has received from the luminaries whose sacrifices made this run possible. With the notable exception of Joseph Lowry, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference veteran who gave a stirring invocation at Obama's Atlanta campaign rally in June and subsequently endorsed him, Obama has been running without much support from many of the most recognizable black figures in the political landscape.

That's because, positioned as he is between the black boomers and the hip-hop generation, Obama is indebted, but not beholden, to the civil rights gerontocracy. A successful Obama candidacy would simultaneously represent a huge leap forward for black America and the death knell for the reign of the civil rights-era leadership -- or at least the illusion of their influence.

The most recent example of the old guard's apparent aversion to Obama was Andrew Young's febrile YouTube ramblings about Bill Clinton being "every bit as black as Barack Obama" and his armchair speculation that Clinton had probably bedded more black women during his lifetime than the senator from Illinois -- as if racial identity could be transmitted like an STD. This could be dismissed as a random instance of a politician speaking out of turn were it not part of an ongoing pattern.


As Obama Rises, Old Guard Civil Rights Leaders Scowl

By William Jelani Cobb
Sunday, January 13, 2008; B01

Washington Post

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when "black president" was synonymous with "president of black America." That was the office to which Jesse Jackson appointed himself in the 1970s -- resigned to the fact that the actual presidency was out of reach. In 2003, Chris Rock wrote and directed "Head of State," a film about the first black man to win the presidency. (It was a comedy.) And in the ultimate concession, some African Americans have attempted to bestow the title of black president upon Bill Clinton -- a white man.

In the wake of his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Barack Obama has already permanently changed the meaning of that term. It is no longer an oxymoron or a quixotic in-joke. And this, perhaps more than anything else, explains his tortured relationship with black civil rights leaders.


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