Friday, June 27, 2008
Black Men, Black America, Black Fathers
Email from Justin White, a YBW Family Member from Cleveland, OH
A little personal background...This political process supports an hypothesis that I have submitted to students in classes for nearly 20 years while doing adjunct faculty work. Among other social science coursework, I teach social welfare policy and urban politics. Naturally, the current political culture, with respect to recent history, results in spirited discussion and interesting papers. I also speak as a brother; a baby boomer and; a resident of an almost exclusively black and not too prosperous suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
The above mentioned hypothesis...It has been apparent to me for some time that African-Americans, for good reasons (and some not so good) do not understand the fundamental differences between electoral politics and protest politics. But, this election due to its duration and complexity, is becoming a graduate course for the community. Friends and colleagues are redefining themselves with respect to the manner in which they and other black folk should demonstrate civic participation. We are volunteering thoughts and feelings to each other unlike anything I have seen since the "rap sessions" of the early seventies.
Rather than applying the "conventional wisdom" that so frequently results in myths and derogatory conclusions, I believe we need dialogue and research that addresses the relationships between black civic/political participation and the existence (absence) of the types of institutions that engineer and support political participation. All the while remembering that African Americans are a minority people and the blueprint for these institutions generally reflects the dominant culture.
Today's political process, at least as we view the percentages of black voters who support Obama, indicates the utility of electoral politics as a factor in creating cultural bonds that offset social and economic divisions. (sounds like another hypothesis in the making)
I hope that of African American academics like yourself and Michael Dyson can assist us as we negotiate the political, cultural and social learning curves related to blacks taking on leadership responsibilities in electoral politics. This is not to place an unbearable onus on you. That would be unfair. The often amorphous, but real, "black community" must become engaged in every respect, by all forms of media to overcome the habit of ignoring its scholars. Your website is so important in that regard.
Barack Obama is living the "Jackie Robinson Syndrome" as he negotiates the dominant cultures' institutions in the absence of black institutions designed to support and strengthen him. Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton forewarned us 40 plus years ago in the classic book Black Power about the need to develop political institutions that are reflective of the culture. Again, I believe there is a a basic assumption to be considered...politics, whether they be electoral, protest or those politics associated with specified public policy, can and will define culture.
Additionally, Black Power's thesis was, in some regards, old wine in new wineskins if the messages of DuBois, Garvey and some others are carefully examined.
So now that we have all been caught unprepared by the politics of today, the leadership of academicians who still have a semblance of a resonating voice, is "so welcomed". We must support you and dialogue with you just as we make every effort to do the same for and with Barack Obama. I hope Obama's organization functions so that he can be reasonably receptive. I worry because I do not see the strong black institutions required to support this idea.
Personally, I cringed twice-over at Obama's politicizing of black fatherhood just as you expressed on your website. I heartily agree with your sentiments about that. I also believe that Obama, as a politician needs the fuel for more cogent commentary and that must come from all of us...ie black educators, researchers, teachers, social workers etc.
In addition, that unfortunate commentary was an example of the need for social science to provide us all with knowledge that countervails the current diatribe that currently prevails about black folks.
Again, I highlight the merits of your website as well as Michael Dyson's book that answered Bill Cosby . I just wish I could receive your beautifully thought out sentiments directly. I will sign on again.