Politics is transactional. While the language of "civic responsibility" and "patriotism" are used to mask the basic fact that voting is at its root level about 1) advancing a self-interested set of policy goals; 2) what have you done for me lately?; and 3) who get's what, when, how, and why?
Symbolism and appeals to emotion by political actors to win over the public are a means of attaining part, or ideally, all of the above.
Black Agenda Report's Bruce Dixon Jr. would suggest that the support of the Black community for President Obama has been a mismatched relationship where they have been used and exploited by their "first black president."
His final point is the most compelling:
1. After 8 years of Barack Obama, black leadership and black America will have decisively lost and forgotten the habit, the inclination, even the example of standing against unjust and abusive power, and our former reputation around the world as a people of struggle.
The height of the black Freedom Movement was only about 8 or 10 years, but it left an example of what it was to stand for justice and righteousness against bad laws and bad governance that inspired us and the rest of the world. Black youth who will reach maturity in the middle of this decade have no examples of struggle to look up to, only accommodations to power and excuses for inaction and ineffectiveness on every front.
All in all, it's not an inspiring legacy. For Latinos, the Obama era will mark historic broken promises on a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and the largest number of deportations by far of any administration in history. For labor, the biggest single broken promises are the failure to push through laws that would make the organization of unions easier, or the renegotiation of NAFTA. For media activists, there are the broken promises on network neutrality and freedom of the internet.
White America gets its card stamped as officially anti-racist ---- there are black CEOs, black admirals and generals, 40-some blacks in Congress and there's been a black president, after all. When the accounting is done, and Obama leaves the White House, everybody gets something.I agree with the spirit and substance of Dixon's ten point critique.
However, his claim that the "black political class" are lockstep in support of Obama is problematic.
The public face of the black "leadership class" (and other heirs to the Civil Rights Movement) may express support for a President whose election was groundbreaking and "historic"--and are quite compelled to do as a natural reaction to how Obama's identity as a black American has been used to mobilize white racism by conservatives--but in private black spaces there is much concern and upset.
Barack Obama represents the full nadir, if not immediate obsolescence of both "Black Politics" and the Black Freedom Struggle. I am not alone in that belief.
There is a growing literature on how Obama has forced a reframing of Black Politics, and how his election has ironically helped to advance a neoliberal/hyper-conservative colorblind agenda which disproportionately harms black and brown folks because they are the Americans who are most likely to be poor and working class. Austerity is "race neutral" in theory; in practice Austerity advances white supremacy and reinforces a society structured by systems of racial inequality along lines of class.
The "Price of the Ticket" panel at Columbia University is a wonderful overview of the anxieties, fears, worries, and implications of Barack Obama for Black Politics and the Black Freedom Struggle. The discussion is also noteworthy because it features Professor Richard Iton who passed away last week. He was a great thinker and critic whose work will continue to influence generations of scholars and students in both the present and the future.
Ultimately, if President Barack Obama's election did not represent a successful ascent to "the Mount Everest of black politics," what would be a better and more accurate analogy?