by Guest Contributor Jamelle, originally published at PostBourgie
There’s a part in The Audacity Of Hope, where writing about race, Obama notes that, rightly or wrongly, a significant swath of white people are exhausted, and repeatedly scolding them (even if you’re right) is unlikely to alter the poverty stats. What we need, Obama argued, is a different strategy, one that connects our practical interests with the practical interests of the broader country–less energy on Don Imus and more on Harlem hospital. This sounds like a surrender, but it’s really a re-affirmation of strategy that goes back to Douglass. The point was never to wash white people, (an arrogant pursuit, at any rate) but to free ourselves. My interest in anti-racism is passing. My interest in black people is essential.
As much as I am sympathetic to Ta-Nehisi’s aversion to focusing on anti-racism, I think he is a little too quick to divorce anti-racism from the broader struggle for the practical interests of black people. That is, if you were going to translate “practical interests of black people” into a legislative program, it would look pretty similar to the platform liberals have been pushing for the better part of a century: universal health care, robust public education, and generous income supports (EITC, unemployment benefits, welfare, etc.). And so when Obama says that we should connect the practical issues of African-Americans to those of the country, what he means – really – is the opposite: the practical issues of the country are those of black people; and programs designed to benefit the country at large will also benefit (maybe even disproportionately) black people.
But here is where anti-racism and public policy is directly connected. It’s not just that racial prejudice makes it incredibly difficult to pass legislation that directly addresses problems within minority communities – no, racial prejudice makes it incredibly difficult to pass legislation which directly benefits the majority of Americans. Continue reading