Race and American Culture

Teaching Black History:  A Precious Legacy Lost?

It’s Black History Month, a time for all people to pause and celebrate the contributions that African Americans have made to the nation and the world.  These contributions, big and small, have helped make the America in which Blacks now live the world’s most important country and have also created a multi-century list of accomplishments of which all African Americans, young and old, rich and poor, can be proud.

But while I think it’s a time to celebrate Black culture, I can’t help but wonder what needs to be done to build on past gains to ensure future success.  I also wonder if our young people, who are increasing distanced by time from the Civil Rights Movement,  really appreciate that which has been given to them by the civil rights generation.  The change in America’s racial status quo that opened previously locked doors to them was won with the blood, sweat, and tears of the civil rights generation.  The fruit of their struggle is a precious legacy left to today’s teens and twenty-somethings.  I fear that many of the post-civil rights era babies are disconnecting from that past.

I’m particularly worried about young Black people and whether they understand what the civil rights movement was about or if they are getting the cultural enrichment that they need in order to have a well-formed sense of self.  The self-confidence that comes from understanding who one is and from where one comes can provide a wealth of protection from life’s cultural slings and arrows.  If this sense of self and understanding of what Black people in America have overcome is fading, then what are we celebrating each February?  Further, how do we keep traditions and history in the minds of our kids when the primary mechanism for transferring information from one generation to the next–family oral history–is less possible as the nuclear Black family has deteriorated to a point where more than 60 percent of Black children are born out of wedlock?

I think African Americans need a "right of passage" exercise–a cultural equivalent to Hebrew School, if you will–in which Black children learn all that they need to know about their heritage and the contributions made by their predecessors to the nation and world.  This is needed because much of the nihilistic and dysfunctional behavior coming out of some of Black America is due to a poorly formed sense of self.  It is needed as well because it is a mistake for African American parents to rely solely on schools to teach children about Black history (or any other non-white history for that matter).  Formal education should be supplemented by home and other cultural institutions, and should not be seen as the only form of learning.

Given that school systems around the country are homogenizing history and seeking to blot out or overlook anything that reflects poorly on the idealized view of America, it is incumbent upon Black families to impart more, not less, Black history upon our children.  Failing that, we can only expect more, not fewer problems in the Black community.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, January 31, 2011
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Fauntroy on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is a clip from a piece I did with Shawn Yancy on the WTTG, the Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., in which I discuss Martin Luther King, Jr. and the holiday in his honor.

The First Family Works in DC for MLK Day of Service: MyFoxDC.com

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, January 18, 2011
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If Helen Thomas, Then Why Not Pat Buchanan?

Helen Thomas recently set off a firestorm with her comment that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Germany or Poland.  The comments resulted first, and predictably, with her apology.  Over the weekend, with the heat turned up considerably, she decided to retire immediately (before she was fired).  Her comments have raised a number of questions – What was she thinking? Is she an anti-Semite? Should she lose her coveted front-row seat in the White House briefing room?  However, one question immediately came to my mind when I learned of her retirement that I have yet to hear discussed:  If she has to go, then why does Pat Buchanan still have a job?

Helen Thomas’ view of the Israeli-Palestinian situation is out of step with mainstream American thought. She’s been nearly universally condemned and rightfully so.  And I’m not arguing that she’s been wronged; words are weapons and sometimes, you shoot yourself.  However, people should not be shocked at her comments.  She is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants (no, I don’t think all Lebanese think like this) and has long had very well know views on the Middle East.

Buchanan, meanwhile, has been able to successfully launder his racism through CNN, MSNBC, and as a syndicated columnist for decades despite that a career including stints in the Nixon and Reagan White House’s in which he advised Nixon that Martin Luther King was “one of the most divisive men in contemporary history”; referred to the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa as “whites mistreating a couple of blacks” (sixty-seven Blacks were killed and scores more beaten and injured); defended South African Apartheid, belittling the Free South Africa Movement, and delivered that disgusting 1992 Republican National Convention speech in which he declared that the country was in a culture war and his side had to “take back our cities, take back our culture, and take back our country.”  Allow me to translate: Black and Brown people out of the cities, no diversity, immigrants go home.

Buchanan has often waxed nostalgically about his upbringing in segregated Washington, D.C. He  has written of Blacks having their place and Whites having theirs and everyone was fine with it.  As a fourth-generation Washingtonian, I’m particularly struck by his coded racism: “There were no politics to polarize us then, to magnify every slight. The negroes of Washington had their public schools, restaurants, bars, movie houses, playgrounds and churches; and we had ours.”  My father and Buchanan are about the same age and his stories of growing up in segregated D.C. were not anything like Buchanan’s.  They revolved around police oppression, out-of-date hand-me-down school books, and racism.

While my reference to Buchanan is certainly aimed at him, his inclusion here speaks to the larger phenomenon of certain kinds of people spewing racism and being treated with impunity.  For me, there are more than a few people of his ilk who don’t get fired for inflaming the public discourse with racist talk.                         
So let Helen Thomas go; she earned her unemployment (though I am concerned about the free speech implications in all this).  But the public discourse requires that people of goodwill to respond forcefully to racists, so let’s make sure Thomas is not alone on the “retired” list.  Buchanan is far more dangerous than Thomas ever was.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University.  An author, commentator, and columnist, he blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com.
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, June 07, 2010
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Michelle Malkin is an Opportunist—Racial and Otherwise

Michelle Malkin is a poor-man's Ann Coulter.  She is inflammatory and narrow-minded, yet also annoying and ignorant.  She used the Today Show to flack her book and, at the same time, engage in while racial opportunism.  Calling President Barack Obama a racial opportunist, as Malkin did, is absurd.  There is no reasonable evidence to back up here claim.  If anything, President Obama has consistently avoided ANY real focus on race.  Then again, Malkin is, in calling President Obama a racial opportunist, is showing that it takes one to know one.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, July 30, 2009
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Gates Got Arrested Because He Hurt Sgt. Crowley’s Feelings

The arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates is an example of poor police work, to be charitable, and the vestiges of racial relationships between Black and White men.  The police officer, after having been presented with two valid identification cards demonstrating who Gates was and where he lived, should have simply moved on.  He didn't.  According to the first-person account I read on The Root, the officer didn't do that, ignored reasonable requests by Gates, and was joined by numerous police officers for backup.  Gates, likely tired after a long flight from China only to be greeted by a front door that was disabled in what may have been an attempted break-in, was likely offended that the officer didn't immediately bring the matter to a close. As a Black man, I've been there and can easily believe that the officer thought Gates was insufficiently deferential and was looking to knock the professor down a peg or two.

Gates' commentary during the incident didn't help and I willing to bet that he may, at some point, regret some of what he said.  But the reality is: once the officer confirmed Gates' identification and address, then the officer should have ended the situation.  Ultimately, Gates got arrested because he hurt Sgt. Crowley’s feelings. That won’t hold up in any court of law.  And prosecutors declined to prosecute because they knew the arrest was complete garbage.

I think it's folly to ignore the history of race in the interaction between some White men and some Black men.  From calling grown men "boy" to the well-documented cases of race-based violence, upstanding Black men are not willing to accept the behavior exhibited by that police officer.  For every Henry Louis Gates, with resources, notoriety, and connections, there are countless others like him who have to live with the reality of racism is anonymity. We don't need hypersensitive cops who didn't like the fact that a Black man stood up and required respect and professionalism.  Professionalism should have prevailed.  Now, the Cambridge police force will pay in the form of a damaged reputation and, perhaps, even monetarily too.  All because one officer got mad because his feelings were hurt.
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, July 22, 2009
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Facebook Comment Train: Skip Gates Edition

I love Facebook.  I’ve connected and reconnected with so many people.  Occasionally, I’ll make a comment that starts a discussion train and the arrest of Skip Gates – for talkin’ loud in his own house – led to some interesting, and funny, stuff.  So, for the first time ever, here is my Facebook comment train – Skip Gates edition (the comments are listed in the order in which they were posted; the names have been withheld to protect the guilty!). Enjoy:

Mike Fauntroy (MF):  I'm a Black professor with a far smaller profile than Skip Gates. Does that mean I have NO chance with the cops? I should just go to jail now, huh? You know, just wait for them to charge me with something.

1.    No chance! I hope you don't lock yourself out on a Friday night because that's a long time to have to stay in the Pokey. I have a few $$$ toward the bail for you because you are my boy.

2.    (From MF) I can't go to the joint (unless it's for a civil rights protest). You mean I have to stay home on Friday's now. I thought things changed with Obama winnin' the presidency! Shit!

3.    I wasn't aware that life with the shorties allowed you to go out on Friday nights so I'm guessing the stay at home thing won't be a problem! Obama's election was two steps forward but Dr. Gates' arrest is certainly three steps back.

4.    Lol they can't keep it a good brother from doin what he does

5.    Baby boy, we would organize to support you. Of course, you might have some local folk representing you--not Ogletree, but we got your back.

6.    Don't worry my brotha -- I got your bail money! For real that's a sad shame!

7.    We all know the deal and aren't shocked that this happened. What is shocking is that the Senators who grilled Sotomayor really tried to paint her as racist when stuff like this still happens. PS - He probably can't get a cab in NYC either.

8.    ....., I'm w/ U. I could only say WTF when I saw that a white, male Congressman had told her to, "stop making things racial!" Why now? Does he really think people are stupid enough to believe the "Fair Treatment" battle has been won? I guess what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander. Our next Supreme Court Justice should've walked up there and pimp-slapped that bamma....TWICE.

9.    Ok Huggy Lowdown! LOL

10.    At a time like this, I hate to act out stereotypical Black violence, but damn, sometimes a pimp-slap really is the only appropriate response!

11.    I'd pull out my hidden jar of cash in the fridgedaire for you too, Michael. I have 4 boys and worry what could happen.

12.    I'll give you .....’s card.

13.    (From MF) Thanks, I always knew I could count on you! Does he give a "friends and family" discount?

14.    for you...bien sur!

15.    Mike, it all depends on your attitude and the energy you are attracting. I have been stopped by white sheriff in VA while speeding to my favorite hunting site at 4am with an arsenal of hunting rifles and guns in plain view. I was told to slow down. I did get a $50 speeding ticket, but no drama. I've been stop going to blockbusters to drop off ... Read Morea overdue video at 2am with no I.D., no driving licenses again by white police officers. My license was suspended. I gave them my license number, which I remembered; I got a ticket for driving on a suspended license. I got the charges dropped in court. all of these stops were at night. I turn on all of the dome lights, ignition keys in hand and say how can I help you officer and not get a azz whipping. lmao Did I mentioned I practiced criminal law. lol

16.    Just don't try to get a taxi...

17.    Just don't get locked out of your OWN home.

18.    catch metro and keep a key hidden outside
Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, July 22, 2009
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Race and the Housing Crisis

One of the undercovered aspects of the current housing crisis is the extent to which ones race can help to explain ones predicament.  As this article notes, Blacks and Latinos with identical credit are far more likely than Whites to receive subprime loans.  These kinds of loans are at the forefront of the mortgage credit crisis and have disproportionately negative impacts on Black and Latino communities.  The reason?  Blacks and Latino homeowners have a disproportionate amount of their household wealth tied up in their homes.  So if they lose their house, they also lose a substantial amount of their overall wealth.

Here (here and here) are links that lay it out in more detail.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, July 31, 2008
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Fauntroy on the Cover of Diverse Magazine

Mike_on_diverse_cover_3 I recently made my first magazine cover!  Diverse: Issues in Higher Education did a story on the relative proliferation of African American pundits analyzing the presidential election and general political landscape.  The article is here.  I think the opportunities some Black pundits have received this year is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, it's good to get the exposure and add commentary that might not otherwise see the light of day.  On the other hand, however, is the likelihood that many of us won't see the light of day after the election is over.  I hope this trend is the start of a more diverse media landscape when it comes to commentary and analysis.  My fear is that this is just a short-term thing based solely on the fact that there is a Black presidential nominee.

We'll know more shortly after the election.  If Obama wins, then there could be more to come.  A McCain win likely guarantees that the status quo -- a largely homogeneous puditocracy -- will return to its previous place.

I think this is a pretty important issue.  For all the talk of how people are not influenced by talking heads, the reality is that the punditocracy has tremendous influence.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, July 28, 2008
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Interview Clip:  Fauntroy Discusses Race Relations on NPR

News_and_notes_badge_2 I participated in a discussion on race relations and the continuing need for affirmative action on the Wednesday, June 25 edition of NPR's News and Notes with Farai Chideya.  I was joined by Danielle Belton of Black Snob, and Amani Channel of My Urban Report.

While I think he has largely ignored his capacity to lead on the issue, Barack Obama's presidential campaign is providing the opportunity for thoughtful discussion and debate on issues that center around race.  Let's hope intelligent discussion can continue and, further, that we wrest control of the language that we use to discuss race from those who only want to use race to validate their own warped view of the world.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Wednesday, June 25, 2008
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Wright Speaks

Wright_at_press_club_3 The Reverend Jeremiah Wright made a few public appearances over the weekend that I am sure left some Barack Obama supporters out there asking “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”  Obama supporters need to understand, however, that Wright’s friendship with Obama doesn’t require the Reverend to crawl under a rock until after the election in the hopes that his presence won’t sink the SS Obama.  Wright has the right to speak.  And he should, given Big Media’s spasm of Wright coverage, launched by some inflammatory clips hurtling through cyberspace.

Wright has no choice but to defend himself against charges that he’s a racist, unpatriotic, conspiracy-theory spouting kook; in the court of public opinion, silence is akin to a guilty plea.  His recent visibility is clearly intended to counter the one-dimensional characterization of him that Big Media ran with.  I’m also willing to bet that there is a part of him that feels his most famous congregant, Obama, didn’t go far enough to defend him.  He may even be offended by the fact that, as the story began to fade, Obama went on the ABC television show “The View” and, as if to shovel dirt on his mentor, noted that he would have left the church if Wright had not retired.  This came after Obama went to great lengths to explain why he hadn’t left the church and had the faint whiff of someone scrambling to put the toothpaste back in the tube.  Wright's words strike me as those of a father who feels like his son didn't come to his defense.  It's akin to a scorned father who decides to take a pound of flesh from his son.

In a speech before the National Press Club, Wright broadened the discussion to contend that the attacks on him are really an attack on the larger Black church.  As The New York Times reported, Wright said that political opponents of Senator Obama were exploiting the fact that the style of prayer and preaching in black churches was different from European church traditions emphasizing that it was “different, but not deficient,” he said.  While I think it’s a bit of a stretch to conclude that it’s about the Black church, there is no doubt in my mind that we too often fear and demonize that which we do not fully understand.  So I won’t summarily dismiss Wright’s larger point.

Of course, this all boils down to one question: How will Wright’s words impact Obama’s quest for the presidency?  I think it will have a very limited impact in the nomination fight; it’s still his to lose.  It would certainly have been a different story had this erupted just before Super Tuesday.  This controversy may still prove to be political poison for Obama in the general election.  Many voters, including some who may have been inclined to support Obama, have seen the video, heard from Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, and people of their unfortunate ilk, and already decided that Obama is unsupportable.  For Obama’s sake, let’s hope that universe of people doesn’t grow as the story continues.  And it will.

Michael Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.  An Independent, he blogs at www.MichaelFauntroy.com.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Tuesday, April 29, 2008
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Thank You, Tavis

Tavis_smiley_2 It was announced Friday morning, April 11, that Tavis Smiley will leave his twice-weekly perch as a commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS).  I think this is a big loss (disclosure:  I've appeared on Smiley's PBS television show).  His departure is disappointing and reveals what happens when one has the audacity of independent thought. Tavis has the temerity to think for himself, ask Black people difficult questions, and avoid the temptation to look at matters through rose-colored glasses.  But, alas, no good deed goes unpunished and Smiley's prize has been blistering, often off-based criticism from some longtime TJMS listeners who think that Tavis crossed the line for not joining the fawning over Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign.  I can't help but believe that listener reaction to his position pushed him out of the door.  I know it's being played as a scheduling thing, but the reality is that Smiley speaks to more people on the TJMS than on his radio and television shows combined.  It's a valuable outlet, so I don't believe that he wanted to give up access to such a large audience.

There are plenty of people who can do commentary -- but very few who can do it intelligently -- and I'm sure they are salivating at the opportunity to fill a plumb vacancy (disclosure:  I've been a weekly commentator on WVON-AM in Chicago and the Cliff Kelley Show since June 2005).  The reality is, however, that Tavis is an original and almost singlehandedly created this role for Black commentators on national radio.  Black-formatted radio shows all over the country have taken the TJMS lead and now have regular commentators/analysts talking politics.  That's an important contribution in an arena where such talk has been sorely needed.  He used his notoriety to branch out into his own television and radio shows, which he has used to bring much needed Black voices to America's ears and, for that, he should be commended. In this way, he's the embodiment of DuBois' "Talented Tenth."

Bon voyage, Tavis. You've done well. You were brave to take the stances that you have over the years, including your wait-and-see approach to Obama.  You were right not get caught up in the hype and seek accountability from all, regardless of color.  Too bad your people didn't appreciate what you were trying to do.  Worse, still, is that they took your approach for hatin' on Obama or, ridiculously, that you're in the Clintons' pocket. Sadly, one of the lessons of the Democratic presidential nomination fight is that we can't have objective conversations about Obama; you get fired when you try.

I know better, Nupe, and wish you well.

Michael Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book, Republicans and the Black Vote, which was recently updated and released in paperback.  He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, April 11, 2008
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Barriers Broken, Barriers Remain

There are many ways in which the country acknowledges the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  Most retrospectives focus on his speeches and how his eloquence inspired a nation.  Unfortunately, too often the reason why King and his generation were making demands of the country in the first place is lost.  The fierce, stubborn, and systemic racism that served as one of the pillars on which America was built left Black people in a degraded social, economic, and political state that has shackled African Americans for generations.  The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) recently released a report that lays bare that with all of King’s successes, much more needs to be done to bring about the fairness and equality he and his generation fought so courageously to attain.

Fauntroy_and_king_at_the_voting_rig The report – 40 Years Later: The Unrealized Dream – examines some of the racial disparities that exist in important societal indicators.  While enormous strides have been made in educational attainment, poverty reduction, income and wealth, asset development, and social development, the data are incontrovertible in showing where we are as a nation.

In education attainment, for example, the change has been astonishing.  Fewer than 30 percent of African Americans were graduating high school in the mid-1960s; now that figure is about 80 percent.  The African American high school graduation rate has increased by over 214% despite the fact that a majority of African American high school students attend resource-poor public schools.  At this rate, however, African Americans will reach equality with white Americans by 2018 – 64 years after Brown v. Board of Education.

White opponents of affirmative action in higher education appear to be driven, in part, by a fear that Blacks are overrunning American colleges and universities and pushing out Whites.  The report makes clear that while the African American college graduation rate has increased by almost 400% since 1968, there is still room for significant improvement.  At the current rate, it will take another 80 years to overcome the inequality in Black and White college degree attainment.

Educational attainment is a major factor in wealth accumulation and these educational improvements would suggest that income disparities are closing.  The reality is that there has been a scant reduction in income disparities between Whites and Blacks.  African Americans, on a per capita basis, earn less than 60 percent of what Whites earn.  Even with inflation-adjusted Black incomes increasing by 150 percent during the last 40 years, “African Americans have closed the gap with whites by only 3 cents on the dollar over the course of nearly four decades.” At that rate, it will take more than five centuries to reach income parity.

Not all of these problems lend themselves to policy solutions.  However, acknowledgment of the current state of play is necessary if we are to ever get beyond the surface, gut-level reactions to race that pollute our discussions of racism and its impact on our society.  Too many people, White and non-White alike, want to ignore these issues in hopes that they will just fade away.

Senator Barack Obama’s recent speech that touched on race has led many commentators to hope that we are on the verge of open and honest discussion on the role race places in American society, not just politics.  I believe that America is in desperate need of such a discussion and hope that the facts presented in this report lie at the forefront of the conversation.  For those who are serious about moving the country onto higher ground, the continuing significance of racial disparities, despite all of the great changes that have taken place in the nation, should drive any discussion.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.  A registered Independent, he blogs at: www.MichaelFauntroy.com.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, April 04, 2008
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There’s Nothing Conservative in Cosby’s Message

Bill Cosby’s Black critics are circling like vultures in response to his new book written with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.  The book is the latest phase in a three-year effort by Cosby to publicly urge change in the Black community.  In ways unique and controversial, has toured the country, often with little fanfare, speaking to growing groups of African Americans – in what he has dubbed “community call-outs” – about the need for Black America to take a more aggressive approach to community change.  Many of his Black critics charge that he focuses too much on personal responsibility in his public statements while ignoring the structural-racial reality of Black life in America.  They also charge that he is providing aid and comfort to conservative enemies of Black America that use his words to validate their own racism.  The truth is there is nothing conservative in Cosby’s message.

Cosby’s Black critics should pay closer attention to what he is saying.  Cosby says that he wants to get drugs and violence out of Black neighborhoods.  In fact, he wants Black communities to see drug dealers, too many of whom are Black, in the same way as we see the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, and racism – a threat to physical and psychological survival and advancement of Black people.  He wants parents to pay more attention to what their children watch on television and hear on the radio; he wants parents to turn off harmful images.  This negative imagery is all the worse when one considers that many of the “artists” that create the images are Black.  He wants parents to participate more actively in the education of their children, meeting with teachers and making sure that the home is an environment in which education is valued and children are expected to achieve.  What’s conservative about that?  If that is conservative, then what are liberals and progressives to stand for?  Many successful liberals and progressives emerged from such environments and to argue that this is cover for conservative racism is to apologize for Black dysfunction.

An unfortunate fact of life regarding Black public discourse is that, sometimes, if you are Black and say something that is even slightly seen as critical of African Americans, then you are branded as a conservative apologist for White racism.  That is ridiculous in this case because it infers that the change Cosby is advocating is wrong and that his prescription for what is ailing Black America won’t work.  As a progressive, I find that offensive and stupid.  Neighborhoods that are safe and drug and crime-free, schools that educate and nurture, and parents that protect their children from dangerous images encourage achievement have produced great people, even in the face of structural impediments such as poverty, racism, and segregation.

By criticizing Cosby for airing dirty laundry (which is probably the real reason for their enmity toward him) his critics are ceding the moral high ground to enemies of Black people when they heap scorn upon the messenger, in this case Cosby, while ignoring the message.  Many Black people have longed for stronger, more tightly-knit communities.  Cosby is showing the way.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Thursday, November 08, 2007
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Is He Black Enough? Part Two

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, awash in money, energy, and hope, has the political equivalent of a nagging cold that may ultimately be its undoing. He can’t seem to shake it no matter what he does and far too many media observers can’t seem to leave it alone. Nothing Obama has said on the campaign trail – with the possible exception being his recent talk of potential military action in Pakistan – has gained as much attention in the Black community as his response to “the question”: Is he Black Enough? I’ve written before that the question is stupid and discussing it gives it more credence than it deserves. As a Black man who lives a Black life, I have yet to encounter anyone who spends much time on it – not in the barbershop, the grocery store, on the subway, in a restaurant, or church. Most Black people I know are just happy that a serious, accomplished, though inexperienced, Black man is running a credible and potentially successful campaign for the most important office in the world.

Obama’s comments on the subject at the National Association of Black Journalists convention last week gave new attention to the question. He knew he would be asked about it and, according to one report, he joked about the issue at first, poking fun at a stereotype of blacks always being late for appointments: “I apologize for being a little bit late, but you guys keep asking if I'm black enough, so I figured I would stroll in.” He would later get serious on the matter, wondering why, given his physical appearance and issue positions, he should be faced with this question. (Michelle Obama, his wife, decried the issue at a Chicago event two days later, contending that it sends a confusing message to children that must be stopped.)

The curious truth is that Barack Obama presents a quandary to many African Americans. He is undoubtedly Black, but his life doesn’t have the same back story of rank-and-file African Americans. For example, he can’t trace his heritage to the slaveholding or the Jim Crow South. And Indonesia and Hawaii aren’t regular stops along the way for Black kids on their way to adulthood. Also, he is undercut in the Black community by the same attributes that make him so attractive to Whites: his comfort with Whites and his ability to make them comfortable with him. Some African Americans view with suspicion the quickness with which White America has embraced him. The irony there is that it may not be he, but White America’s response to him, that raises questions about his racial authenticity. That is a shame, but not surprising; Black America places a very high, and often unfair, burden on those who seek “mainstream” achievement. The greatest slur one African American can deliver to another – “he or she is trying to act White” – is used against some Blacks who seek success outside the Black community.

So why, given his success so far, might this issue derail his presidential aspirations? Obama will not win the nomination without significant Black support and while he has strong support from Black America, so far, he hasn’t quite dominated as hoped. The road to the Democratic nomination goes through places like South Carolina in which African Americans have a disproportionately large roll to play in who wins the primary. Though about 30 percent of the population, Blacks comprise nearly half of the Democratic voters in the state. This seemingly built-in advantage has not resulted in Obama pulling away from the field in the Palmetto State. Indeed, most recent polls of likely voters show him trailing New York Senator Hilary Clinton, in some cases by double digits.

The expectation upon his entry into the campaign was that he would wipe the floor with his opponents in the Black community. That hasn’t happened to the extent that some hoped and may be traced to “the question.”

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Friday, August 31, 2007
Race and American CultureRace and American PoliticsU.S. Electoral Politics

Fox News Traffics in Racial Stereotypes—Again!

I'm no fan of Fox News Channel.  There are just too many instances in which it traffics in racial stereotyping and symbolism to the detriment of minorities, particularly African Americans (You may recall that during the 2006 Millions More Movement rally in Washington, D.C., Fox chose to devote most of that afternoon's coverage to a gang fight in Ohio rather than give significant time to one of the largest and most peaceful mass events in the history of the country.)  Well, here's yet another example of the willful use of racial symbolism likely to be explained away as a simple mistake. 

As you may know, Louisiana Representative William Jefferson was indicted yesterday and charged with a range of abuses of office -- bribery, racketeering, etc. (Disclosure:  I wrote a column last year calling for Jefferson to resign after $90,000 was found in his freezer; honest people don't put that kind of cash in their iceboxes.  I also wrote a column criticizing the Congressional Black Caucus for it's blind loyalty to Jefferson).  Jefferson, an African American Democrat, was somehow confused with Michigan Representative John Conyers, an African American and chairman of the powerful Judiciary committee, during Fox's story announcing the Jefferson indictment.  This may seem benign on the surface, but a closer look will show otherwise.  Conyers has been a target for Fox for some time now.  He was featured throughout the runup to the 2006 election as a way to scare voters into voting for Republicans to prevent Conyers from chairing the Judiciary committee.  They know who Conyers and Jefferson are and I don't believe they have their "B" team running the control room during the middle of the afternoon.  There is no reason to believe that this was anything other than purposeful.

Props to TPM Media for pointing out the "gaffe."  See for yourself

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the Recently published book Republicans and the Black Vote.

June 5, 2007

Posted by Michael Fauntroy on Monday, June 18, 2007
Race and American Culture

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