October 3, 2008

What An Obama Presidency Means For Blacks

This is not an anti- or pro-Obama article, so get over yourself.

Not widely (anywhere?-- seriously, am I the only one?) discussed is the effect of an Obama Presidency on the relationship of blacks with other blacks.  Because Obama has almost all black voters, there's the feeling that he's going to unite them, do right by them-- but how?  Are all black people the same?

I'm not the only one to notice a widening divide among blacks.  Before WWII almost all blacks were poor.  Post WWII you get the beginnings, now widenings, of blacks moving in different classes, especially working class/middle class.  No one noticed this (i.e. no one complained) because incomes across all classes rose comparably.

That stopped at the end of the 1960s; from then on, incomes in the lower classes went stagnant, while the others continued to rise.  That might have been due to lower inflation rates, or the weakening of labor unions and the welfare system in general.  Or, it might have had to do with the beginning of psychiatry as a supplemental welfare policy.  Pick your own untestable explanation.

But the result is that one group of blacks is moving along the class ladder-- up and down-- like anyone else; while another (very large) group stays stuck in the bottom.  The two groups are  philosophically united on matters of equality, opportunity, etc-- and are both voting for Obama, but their needs are completely different.

These differences have not been as politically urgent because race has been more important than class.

Blacks, with good reason, have their hopes tied to Obama.  But as blacks are not all in the same class, his policies will not affect them all the same.  Same with McCain's policies-- the difference is blacks may be hyperaware of Obama not meeting their expectations.

So if Obama wins, we may have a new era of race relations in which the class, not race itself, plays the larger role.

A hierarchical relationship of lower classes receiving "protection" and "land" from upper classes in exchange for their "work" (read: servitude) is a rough definition of feudalism.  This  pretty much describes the country 1968-2008, especially as it applies to blacks and Hispanics.  What makes feudalism work is that each class accepts their role. 

Blacks have been so unified by race that they have not had opportunity or energy to try unifying by class.  For example, workers could have tried to obtain more power/money/jobs/benefits by strengthening trade unions.   Instead, much more emphasis was placed on the role of discrimination laws and affirmative action. It's impossible to judge whether this move was right or wrong.  But that's the way it played out.  Racial differences increased in importance, class differences decreased.  It parallels the social dialectic: "equality" was replaced by "diversity." 

That's likely to change.  The class differences will be more apparent under Obama.  It's tempting to assume all blacks will benefit under Obama, and that's probably accurate;  but the point here is that some will benefit more than others.  Along class lines.  And the resentment is likely to be more acute because of the higher expectations.

Turn off your Caps Lock.  I am not judging this, I'm guessing at the future: if Obama wins, then race is on the way out, and class is on the way in.

I am not at all saying whites will be more or less racist.  I'm only describing what I think will happen to blacks.

That means: increasing power of labor unions; decreased emphasis on diversity laws/affirmative action.   Progressive taxes and consequent resentment all around.  And the resultant dividing of the Democratic party to accommodate different classes of blacks who now need new representation.   In short, the beginnings of class struggle within blacks.

There's a book about how class struggle replaces the race struggle, but I can't remember what it was called.



I should caveat all of this and say that there is one specific black person for whom race will still be the defining characteristic: Michelle Obama.  Barak has managed to overcome this, but Michelle will be held to an unfortuante standard well articulated by Chris Rock, who said that the equality he wants is to be allowed to fail, and not have the failure be linked to his race.  Michelle Obama will not have this luxury, and God forbid she misspells potato or chokes on a pretzel on a trip oversees, America will never forgive her or her race.