Crossed posted at My Left Wing

     It is ironic that with the ascension of the Barack Obama candidacy many people believe that it is ringing the death knell for the civil rights movement as we have known it. After 50 years of struggle, are we reaching the end of the movement that has defined the state of black America for decades? Has America or more importantly the black community outgrown the type of politics and confrontational style of the previous generation? Is black America better served by the rhetoric of reconciliation and personal responsibility being touted by Senator Obama. The answer largely depends on who you ask.
     The roster of supporters for the two Democratic candidates I think speaks volumes about the generational fissures being displayed on the national stage in the black political arena. While the majority of civil rights leaders of the past came out in full force for Senator Hillary Clinton, the newer black political leaders supported Senator Obama. How could there be such a disconnect between the two groups who supposedly want to achieve the same goals? The most vocal critic of Jesse Jackson after his ill-advised comments concerning Senator Obama was his own son, the younger Jackson stated that he was “deeply outraged and disappointed” by the comments. There is a palpable stench of jealousy and envy surrounding the Obama campaign emanating from the early civil rights leaders.

     Many of whom have never welcomed the Senator because they view him as an outsider. Some may even believe like many wing-nuts that he is not fully invested in America. Maybe it is because he doesn’t share the heritage of slavery or the legacy of Jim Crow, but the truth be told while many publicly support him they also don’t trust him. You would think that the Obama campaign would be seen as the culmination of decades of hard work and sacrifice on the part of the civil rights leaders, but unfortunately it is not. His ability to garner support from large numbers of whites and his references to personal responsibility have won him few friends among the black elders.

     The growing riff between the elder civil rights leaders and the new class of black leaders is not new. There has been a push by younger more educated blacks to unseat older black elected officials for close to a decade. The younger black candidates do not share the experiences of their elder counterparts with the fire hoses, police dogs, and blatant racism. They recognize that racism has become more subtle and that new methods must be developed to combat it. The older civil rights leaders continue to cling to the politics of confrontation and  blame. The problem with this strategy is that it loses some credibility when there is no discussion of individual responsibility.

     When you have more black men in prison than in college, more than 70% of black children are being raised in single female homes, and the institution of marriage is all but forgotten in the black community then it might be time to adjust strategies which the older civil rights leaders seem to be unable or unwilling to do. Sometimes when you are so close to a situation it is difficult to see it clearly. It is hard to know you’re in a forest if you continue to stare at one tree. That tree for many years has been race at the exclusion of so many other variables that are plaguing the black community. For many years it was unthinkable or unimaginable for a politician or celebrity to comment on or to publicly expose those self defeating behaviors that plague black America. It was looked upon as treasonous to talk about the internal misfortunes in the presence of whites. Part of the reason I think some of those elder black leaders had a problem with Senator Obama was his refusal to play the game by their rules.

     According to their rules he would have to bow at the feet of previous civil rights leaders regardless of their current status in the community or their ability to deliver anything more than memories. You see Senator Obama did not pay his dues; not only has he not paid his dues but the growing crop of new black leaders have not either. These new young upstarts are not keeping the focus on the real enemy of black people; racism. Instead they are no longer identifying themselves as black politicians or as speaking for blacks only. They are willing to reach out to white voters and represent all voters.

     Many of the old black politicians and leaders came up in a time when the best a black politician could hope for was a congressional seat or a mayor’s office. Usually the mayor’s office was in some urban center with a reduced tax base, failing schools, and a decaying infrastructure. Many of them also came from the black pulpits and felt as if they not only represented the black community but also spoke for it. The other blacks were unable to speak out about the deplorable conditions they faced so it was up to the empowered clergy/politicians to address these issues.  The newest round of black politicians are college educated, some even at prestigious schools and are just as comfortable with diverse groups as they are with black voters. They refuse to be pigeonholed as “black” politicians, instead preferring to be referred to as politicians who happen to be black.

     As the black community is facing enormous challenges both internal and external there are many voices that want Senator Obama to tilt his campaign towards these issues. The problem is that as a candidate for President of the United States it would be political suicide for Senator Obama to follow those voices. Senator Obama should not be required to fill the gap vacated by the “so-called” black leaders nor should he be expected to have to prove his “blackness”. How bewildering it must be for those older black leaders to see the culmination of all their efforts being realized in Senator Obama and they not being able to recognize it. I guess one should be careful what one wishes for.

I don’t never have any trouble in regulating my own conduct, but to keep other folks’ straight is what bothers me. – Josh Billings

The Disputed Truth

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