Mon, 2 February 2009
Is Black GOP Chairmanship a Victory For Black People?
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
"It proves only that we have arrived at the end of the road of a politics that is consumed in promotion of Black faces to positions in high places."
The election of Michael Steele, a Black man, as chairman of the Republican National Committee is viewed by many as additional proof that America is becoming less racist. If one measures racism entirely by headcount - that is, by the number of Blacks or other minorities represented in places of power or prominence - then one would conclude that racism is now a dead issue in the two major U.S. political parties. American politics can at long last be declared a racism-free zone. Right?
Wrong. In the real America, the ascension of Michael Steel to the GOP chairmanship, on the heels of Barack Obama's presidential victory, proves only that we have arrived at the end of the road of a politics that is consumed in promotion of Black faces to positions in high places. There is no place further to go. A Black man heads the party in power, and the major party that is temporarily out of power. If that's all the centuries of Black struggle was about - to place a few dark-skinned individuals at the highest positions of party and government - then Black folks should do as Prof. Francis Fukuyama suggested 20 years ago and declare the "end of history" - the end Black history, that is.
But of course, Black history is not over. What needs to end is the foolish mode of thought that equates individual Black victories with progress for the race as a whole - an assumption that has led to today's state of mass Black political confusion. Many if not most African Americans have lost site entirely of the issues that define the lives and fortunes of their families. They thought they had their eyes on the prize, but were really just fixated on a single personality - Barack Obama, a man who never promised much in the first place, and will certainly deliver far less. If one believes that Obama represents the ultimate Black victory, then Michael Steel's capture of the Republic National Committee chairmanship must be rated as at least a significant advance for African Americans. Right?
"Why not give Clarence Thomas his due?"
That depends on what you mean. The Republicans remain the White Man's Party. They have simply become more polite in their race relations, as have white Americans in general. The suppression of overt expressions of white racism is a bona fide victory achieved over the last 40 years. Whites now accept the inclusion of certain acceptable Blacks as players in their political games.
Michael Steele's individual good fortune may owe something to Barack Obama's singular victory. But then, Obama may owe something to the Republicans for elevating Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to previously unheard of heights, which conditioned the white public to seeing Black faces in high places. In that sense, why not give Clarence Thomas his due? In nominating Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, George Bush The Elder was acknowledging that the retiring Thurgood Marshall's seat should be filled by another Black person. By "Blacks in high places" standards, this was a Black victory - despite the fact that Clarence Thomas became Black folks' worst enemy on the High Court.
The Republican National Committee decided not to elect Black former Ohio secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell, who was an early candidate for chairman. Blackwell single-handedly denied many thousands of Blacks the right to vote, in 2004. Would his victory have been an example of Black progress? By the standards of "Black faces in high places," yes, as much a victory as Michael Steele's. The lesson here is: be careful what you celebrate.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.