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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Friday, March 21, 2008


post-racial politics,0,3898931.story

posted by Aziz P. at Friday, March 21, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
Jerome quotes approvingly of a piece in the LA Times which argues that Obama made a huge mistake by giving his speech on race, because it didn't evaporate the Wright controversy, it just exacerbated attitudes against Obama on the matter:

I waited in vain for our hybrid presidential candidate to speak the simple truth that there is no such thing as "race," that we all belong to the same race -- the human race. I waited for him to mesmerize us with a singular and focused appeal to hold all candidates to the same standards no matter their race or their sex or their age. But instead Obama gave us a full measure of racial rhetoric about how some of us with an "untrained ear" -- meaning whites and Asians and Latinos -- don't understand and can't relate to the so-called black experience.

...I expected Obama, who up to now had been steering a perfect course away from the racial boxes of the past, to challenge racial labels and so-called black experiences. We're all mixed up, and if we haven't yet been by the process of miscegenation, trans-racial adoptions and interracial marriage, we sure ought to get used to how things will be in short order.

This is a facile, naive argument for a post-racial politics that does not and never will exist. Obama is certainly not selling the idea that there is no such thing as race - if anything, that's the delusion under which our present political status quo doggedly insists on, counter to all reason and pragmatic sense. It's wishful postmodernist thinking to pretend that there is no such thing as race.

Race is a real, genuine concept and has always been in human history. Race is not "bad". Its just a source of variation within the human race, like height or musical ability or intelligence or strength. Its not purely genetic, either - race is also enmeshed at its boundaries with culture, and with language.

The human race would be poorer if there truly was no such thing as race. The better state is one in which race exists but doesn't matter. But before we can achieve that state, we need to confront the fact that race exists. And be honest about what our attitudes are - and yes, all of us, white, black, asian, latino, etc DO have "typical" attitudes about everybody else. We need to confront them, be honest about them, and thus recognize them for the barriers they are rather than wish them away.

Obama does not, despite the stereotype, speak of or promise to transcend race. He promises to approach it realistically instead of in the pseudo cryptic way we all dance around in in politics. That is what made his speech on race so unique.

His goal was to explain his embrace of Wright, not repudiate it, because the latter would be buying into the cynical racial politics that have still not done a thing to heal us as a nation since the trauma of Jim Crow. If that means that everyone who is not ready to move forward with actual progress on race relations, instead preferring the cryptoracial dance that serves as status quo, becomes entrenched in opposition to Obama, then that is actually fine. And if Obama cant win without the support of the racial status quo, also fine. That means that we arent ready for change. But we will be.

Addendum - Larison observes,

That elite conservatives could turn on Obama with guns blazing in their phony p.c.-driven rage was the perfect arrangement for them: they could express disapproval of the media darling because he had made a very un-p.c. blunder, making it possible for them to pose as the champions of the kind of “liberal intolerance” they might have decried a decade or two earlier.

Meanwhile, middle- and working-class white (and probably other) audiences heard this, remembered the anti-racist catechisms they had been taught for as long as they could remember and understood that the proper, approved reaction was to shake their heads and boo. McWhorter makes a similar observation. Now that anti-racism has captured the minds of so many of these people, now that the conditioning has had its intended effect, observers sympathetic to Obama are dismayed that Obama’s nuanced effort to explain (or, as the critics have it, explain away) racially-charged and potentially racialist rhetoric fell on deaf ears. Yet this shouldn’t surprise anyone–if the speech fell on deaf ears, it was the elites who deafened them years before with a single, simple imperative: “Don’t pay attention to race, except when we tell you to!”

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Hey thanks for the great blog, I love this stuff. I don’t usually read much into politics but with the election coming up (not to mention the dem primaries) and everyone going green these days I thought I would leave a comment.

I am trying to find more about the government and if they are going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol any time soon. Has anyone seen this pole on ? It said 75% of people think the government should ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Earth Day (when I took it). I also saw something on Wikipedia but it wasn’t up to date. Any other thoughts on where the government is going with this?

I am looking for more info on what candidates’ opinions are and how are we are going to get closer to solutions. Drop a link if you see anything worth my time.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.