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. 


As much as it pains me to s... (Below threshold)

October 3, 2008 12:41 PM | Posted by PoliSciGuy: | Reply

As much as it pains me to say this, I almost hope that class becomes the central issue over race. The destruction that affirmative action has caused economically and socially, and also the blow it strikes to black ego, has been detrimental to any real progress or discussion of the issue. While I disagree with you about the expansion of unions, which I am surprised you predict because of your interests in narcissism (this is a half-serious statement), it is likely we will see less employer control over work place happenings. This could manifest as payroll insurance taxes, and by extension the mandated health insurance that seems to be the chic idea these days, to consideration of economic background in job candidate selection. Perhaps instead of companies being encouraged to fill racial quotas, they will be influenced to fill class quotas. I cannot see how that would stand up over any length of time, however interesting the idea. To a certain degree, class always HAS been the underlying issue, or concomitant issue, of racism and civil rights. Once rights were established it became the forerunner. This is the underlying theme of all liberation ideologies. Collectivism as divisioned by class, as advocated by Marxists and similarly, po-mo theory. Feminists as a class, blacks as a class et. al, all beholden to the dominant white European landowner male Form.

We still are, and will always be a world separated by the can-dos and the can't-dos. The can't-dos will always covet and demand that the can-dos "share" the fruits of the abilities, as if they are obligated by nature to do so.

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Oops, I forgot to mention w... (Below threshold)

October 3, 2008 12:44 PM | Posted by PoliSciGuy: | Reply

Oops, I forgot to mention why I prefer class to be the central talking issue. The idea of class struggle is easier to combat than race. Race is a loaded topic where ideas can easily be dismissed, and will be, if they hit too closely to the truth or can be easily repainted as racist. I think class is less emotionally charged, at least in the modern day.

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nice post. i tend to agree.... (Below threshold)

October 3, 2008 1:15 PM | Posted by the0ther: | Reply

nice post. i tend to agree.

off-topic: could you please write about treatment's efficacy, specifically how effective talk-therapy is for men versus how effective it is for women? i'm not really trying to get free advice, but i've been in therapy for almost two years now and i don't think it's going to work. i am male. i have a hunch that there are huge sex differences.

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If class becomes the issue ... (Below threshold)

October 3, 2008 2:12 PM | Posted by demodenise: | Reply

If class becomes the issue of resentment instead of race, aren't we setting the sociopolitical stage for the rise of socialism, and ultimately communism? Along with the government poised to take even greater control of the economic sector, it's slightly terrifying to think about how easy the shift would be.

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I agree that an Obama presi... (Below threshold)

October 3, 2008 2:36 PM | Posted by EH: | Reply

I agree that an Obama presidency could reveal class discord, but this is a secondary effect to his leadership. Late French definitions of (micro-) fascism hold that people will produce the leaders that satisfy their needs for authority, their desire to be led. This means that racial structures may take a back seat on the front pages as blacks (or minorities in general, in sympathetic politics) organize their racial arguments behind Obama. When people identify someone as the kind of leader they (or the country, the world) need, it comes down to the people to change themselves to be a member of the "we."

What was the diagnosis that TLP analogized as someone who needs to be a character in other peoples' movies? BPD? There's a metaphor thereby somewhere in there.

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What happens if the Obama p... (Below threshold)

October 3, 2008 6:40 PM | Posted by Shalmanese: | Reply

What happens if the Obama presidency turns out better for lower class blacks than upper class blacks? Instead of widening the divide, it starts to lower it. While upper class blacks might "lose out" in a relative sense, it's hard for them to justifiably complain while still donning the mantle of solidarity.

So assuming Obama is better for lower class blacks, what do you see the sociological effects being?

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I think we're already begin... (Below threshold)

October 4, 2008 6:21 PM | Posted by See?: | Reply

I think we're already beginning to see a shift of attention toward social stratification, and for very good reason: The economic policies of the Republican party, which has dominated government for the past 10 years*, has virtually decimated the "middle class." There is a growing gap between the have- and have-nots, not entirely because society can be divided into "can-do" and "can't-do" types, but also because those in power exploited those with less power in their quest for greater wealth.

I don't think the pendulum will swing all the way to communism, but we may well see a government that is a bit more hybridized toward socialism if the Democrats prevail. This is what usually happens in response to extremism of any sort. And frankly, I think this country needs a correction back to more humanitarian policies.

* During the final two years of the Clinton administration, the Republicans held a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate. During the first six years of the Bush Jr. administration, both the executive and legislative branches were Republican-controlled. During the past two years, the Democrats have held a simple majority of Congress, but not a veto-proof majority, which is an important distinction. In other words, the past 10 years has been entirely dominated by Republican ideology.

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To clarify, when I said ... (Below threshold)

October 4, 2008 6:28 PM | Posted by See?: | Reply

To clarify, when I said "This is what usually happens in response to extremism of any sort," by "This" I meant "change," not "socialism" per se. Sorry for any confusion.

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I know when I look at an Ba... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2008 1:41 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I know when I look at an Barack Obama or a Marian Anderson or a Colin Powell, the first thing I do, as a white guy, is try to assess their class status. I'm sure all of us do.

The second point that comes to mind is how, up until 1964, "separate but equal" laws, law enforcement, and justice ensured the rights of all citizens, regardless of class.

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My own untestable explanati... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2008 4:04 AM | Posted by ActiveTrader: | Reply

My own untestable explanation about the decline of Real Income in the lower classes: Debasing the dollar currency to pay for VietWar.

My 2 cents on this particular candidate: A great deal of disappointment in the lower classes, black or white, once they realize that his first allegiance is to the higher class paying for his campaign.

the0ther: I'm not a psychiatrist nor do I play one on TV. Just have a question. Is your doc practicing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Doesn't sound like it.

Good CBT doesn't spend years to analyze your id when your mother-in-law might be the problem.

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"there's a book about how c... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2008 11:35 AM | Posted by lyrical: | Reply

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

rotflmao (lower case)

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"The second point that c... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2008 12:05 PM | Posted by Oh_Brother: | Reply

"The second point that comes to mind is how, up until 1964, "separate but equal" laws, law enforcement, and justice ensured the rights of all citizens, regardless of class."

You may not be old enough or have seen enough documentaries addressing conditions prior to the Civil Rights Era, but your assertion is wrong. "Separate but equal" was never equal.

Minority children had underfunded schools with fewer supplies and less qualified teachers. There were fewer recreational facilities (no pools, for example) for their use. Black people often had to eat outside a restaurant, or sit in a corner and wait until all whites had been served. Many were harassed or beaten for talking to whites, and law enforcement was unevenly applied, both for protection and prosecution, for minorities. College-educated blacks were shut out of better-paying, mainstream jobs. Those are just the few examples my tired mind can produce at the moment.

Society regarded black people as inferior to whites, and this was evident in the way we provided for their needs. I don't know whether your argument is naive or racist, but it most certainly is wrong.

I think Barack Obama would be a populist president, not one who would cater to the elite. That's what Republican administrations do.

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Exactly. I was being compl... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2008 12:40 PM | Posted, in reply to Oh_Brother's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Exactly. I was being completely sarcastic. Given the central premise and more than a few comments ... I didn't see any other way of presenting my objections. Using logic would have been like teaching a pig how to sing: It wastes my time and annoys the pigs. Not that I'm accusing anyone of being a pig. We are all equal. Some of us are just more equal than others.

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Ha! Not being familiar with... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2008 1:09 PM | Posted by Oh_Brother: | Reply

Ha! Not being familiar with your writing, I took your words at face value. Sorry about that.

Hat tip to George Orwell. Just don't put lipstick on that pig. ;)

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Yeah. It might turn into a ... (Below threshold)

October 6, 2008 8:14 AM | Posted by Becca: | Reply

Yeah. It might turn into a pitbull. And we wouldn't want that. (Well, I wouldn't.)

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"I think this country needs... (Below threshold)

October 6, 2008 11:59 AM | Posted, in reply to See?'s comment, by Joseph Bergevin: | Reply

"I think this country needs a correction back to more humanitarian policies"

This concept scares me much more than the highs and lows of economic freedoms. Government cannot fairly legislate morality and shouldn't attempt to. What if, say, NFL referees had the power to make things more fair or humanitarian? Too many touchdowns for Randy Moss. It's hurting morale. Let the other team score. There, isn't that better?

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Unregulated Capitalism isn'... (Below threshold)

October 6, 2008 12:46 PM | Posted by See?: | Reply

Unregulated Capitalism isn't working well for the majority of Americans -- witness the recent "relief" program rammed through Congress.

Any form of government can become "evil" when corrupted by the power-and-wealth-seeking few. (Read Machiavelli's take on government, in general.) This holds true for Capitalism as much as for Communism. Those who benefit (or delude themselves into believing they do, or will in the future) are understandably reluctant to place any checks on the system, even if the majority of people are hurt by its policies.

If the idea of people going without food, shelter and medical care due to an unfettered, profit-driven free market is okay with you, there's not much I can say to change your mind. Values tend to be deeply entrenched.

If you value money over people, I'm sorry for you. Personally, I value people over money.

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ActiveTrader: thanks for th... (Below threshold)

October 6, 2008 1:29 PM | Posted by the0ther: | Reply

ActiveTrader: thanks for the reply. yes my therapist practices CBT. i wonder if maybe i am just the sort of whiner Phil Gramm was talking about.

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To be honest I really don't... (Below threshold)

October 6, 2008 7:04 PM | Posted by Felan: | Reply

To be honest I really don't see any real difference between Republicans and Democrats. There are a few issues they quibble over, which are minor in grand scheme of things. Their plans differ in details that are trivial compared to just having something. Any piece of legislation seems to be a bundle of legislation that whether you vote for or against someone can say you don't support this or that.

Personally I would prefer legislatures drafted the laws and the public as a whole voted on it. If a law is so convoluted that the majority of America can't figure it out, then it shouldn't be a law? Give everyone a blackberry or somesuch, each person enters their vote three times, once to each of three independent voting channels. Security is a concern, but hacking or selling a vote (or even a 100,000 votes) is less of a concern to me with millions of Americans than with the much smaller Congress selling their votes to special or party interests.

Finally on topic, I think it would be a sad indication of how dysfunctional America is, if Obama was able to change dynamic from race to class - simply because he is black, not because he has some particular talent for leadership. Maybe I'm cynical but I doubt that he is race will encourage a shift like that and I haven't really seen signs of great leadership. I think America will limp along in our own version gimped and uninspired course regardless of whether Obama or McCain wins.

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Obama would not be where he... (Below threshold)

October 6, 2008 9:37 PM | Posted by AK: | Reply

Obama would not be where he is today, had he not been nurtured in a family and community and gone to school with classmates whose families all honored intellectual achievement and convinced him when young that it could be possible to be manly AND cultivate a well trained mind, speak complete sentences, culivate a rich and flexible vocabularly, have excellent social skills, achieve impulse control and use reason and negotiation, rather than one's fists and profanity, as the default method for dealing with frustration.

That is the underpinning of class advantage. If you have all of these, you are apt to behave in ways that, in a just society, increase your likelihood of gaining access to valuable employment prospects and social networks.

Obama didnt get trapped in a toxic neighborhood culture where young males beat each other down by accusing scholarly friends of being sell outs, wimpy, elitist or 'too white.'

Class is culture and community, access to education--it is more than money.

Low class musicians and sports stars have become millionaires, but some still behave like hooligans and thugs even after getting rich and famous.

They are living proof that money and fame do not automatically give them class. What the money does is just enlarges their opportunities for getting in trouble--and at best, enables them to hire lawyers who can bail them out and wangle them lighter sentences than they would get if they were poor and had only the public defender.

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The Obama effect has alr... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2008 1:56 PM | Posted by Alone: | Reply

The Obama effect has already started: Pew Research center finds "Blacks See Growing Values Gap Between Poor and Middle Class." Worth reading the whole thing, but highlights include:

A 53% majority of African Americans say that blacks who don't get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation, while just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, black opinion on this question tilted in the opposite direction, with a majority of African Americans saying then that discrimination is the main reason for a lack of black progress.

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There's a book about how... (Below threshold)

November 6, 2008 12:24 PM | Posted by bourbon: | Reply

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

Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats explores how the race struggle is used as misdirection to the class struggle. Its an excellent book, and Goad is unique voice to say the least.

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"The Declining Significance... (Below threshold) jeeeze. So-called Americans... (Below threshold)

November 8, 2009 6:50 AM | Posted by bonnie: | Reply

jeeeze. So-called Americans. WHICH division should we in Obama's carefully disunited states of various incongruent distinctions engage in NEXT?


The forefathers would never have bothered. England now tries to one-up us for tyranny and you liberal idiots use the word "struggle" just as if you had any balls.

Nice going, geniuses. You'll live to know the meaning of the word now.

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