One Nation, After All

From The Washington Post:

Book Barack Obama's historic struggle to become the nation's first black president is over, but the fight over the meaning of his victory has only begun. In What Obama Means — one of what will certainly be many efforts to interpret and define the Obama phenomenon — Jabari Asim argues that Obama's victory is the culmination of decades of black political struggle, social advancement and cultural achievement. Obama promises to continue this cultural transformation with a new style of racial politics: more productive and less antagonistic than that of the “charlatans and camera hogs with whom we are all too familiar” (a group in which the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson figure prominently) but no less committed to social justice. Asim, editor of the NAACP's journal the Crisis and former deputy editor of Book World, insists that Obama is the latest and most inspiring of a long line of “dedicated champions of black advancement.” Because of Obama “it's becoming cool to be thoughtful, temperate and monogamous,” writes Asim, and Americans “may come to associate blackness with brilliance, thoughtfulness, confidence, and radical optimism.”

By contrast, Obama's detractors, left and right, have suggested that the new president inevitably will be limited by the racial politics of the past. Last year the conservative commentator Shelby Steele argued in A Bound Man that Obama was tethered, by his liberal ideology and racial loyalty, to a counterproductive politics of grievance that exaggerates white racism and denies the need for individual responsibility among blacks. By contrast, left-leaning black social commentators such as Cornel West, Tavis Smiley and Jesse Jackson have complained that, to win elections, Obama pandered to white voters, ignoring his responsibility to blacks.

More here.