Putting Barack Obama's Candidacy in Historical Perspective

By Rogers, Ibram | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 16, 2008 | Go to article overview

Putting Barack Obama's Candidacy in Historical Perspective


Rogers, Ibram, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


A host of pre-eminent Black scholars sound off on the historical and sociological significance of Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy and its aftereffects on Black America.

Sen. Barack Obama's historic candidacy for president of the United States has generated an intense and thoughtful national discussion within Black America. His campaign has brought several issues to the fore. This summer, Diverse spoke with five of the most pre-eminent Black scholars in the nation to search out some of their thoughts on five key subjects of passionate discussion in Black America, including the impact of Obama's campaign on the phenomenon of race in America and the effect an Obama presidency can have on Black America. They are:

Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, a professor of African American studies at Temple University, is one of the most published Black scholars, having published more than 65 books and 300 articles. His latest book, An Afrocentric Manifesto, continues to advance his innovative philosophy and intellectual approach, Afrocentricity.

Dr. Darlene Clark Hine, the Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and History at Northwestern University, is ar- guably the most prolific and highly regarded historian on African-Ameri- can women in the world. Hine is also the co-author of one of the most widely used textbooks on Black history, The African-American Odyssey.

Nikki Giovanni is one of America's most revered and read poets. Currently a University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech University, Giovanni has written about 30 books over her illustrious career as a writer and activist.

Dr. Manning Marable, a professor of public affairs, political science, history and African-American studies at Columbia University, is one of the nation's most influential and widely read intellectuals. Marable is completing a comprehensive biography on Malcolm X, entitled Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.

Dr. Shelby Steele, the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, specializes in the study of race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action. Steele, who recently published White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, is one of the nation's leading voices for Black conservatism.

Although Diverse asked them all the same questions, their comments were edited for space. Visit www.DiverseEducation.com for a full transcript of their interviews.

DI: What do you think Barack Obama will do (or not do) for Black America if he is elected presidenti

Hine: I anticipate that Barack Obama will initiate programs and policies that will benefit Black Americans in the same way mat they benefit all Americans. But most important, Obama's substantive shattering of the most public and powerfully symbolic barometer of outsider status, that is, achieving the U.S. presidency, will inspire all minority and majority racial and ethnic populations in addition to African-Americans. If elected, Barack Obama will not solve all of the problems of Black America. The struggle against racial, gender and educational inequities will continue.

Giovanni: I sincerely think it is an improper question. The reason I think it is an improper question is that Barack is Black. We cannot hold Barack Obama to a standard that we don't hold anybody else to. So there's no candidate, not John McCain, not anybody and any of the 43 presidents that we've ever asked, 'What are you going to do for White Americans.' You can't say, 'What are you going to do for Black Americans?' We have to say: What are you going to do for the country, for poor people, for single mothers, for gays, for the military? What are you going to do in the world? But you can't take him to a standard that we don't ask everybody else, unless you ask John McCain, 'What are you going to do for White people?'

Marable: Barack's victory will bring us to what we call the first post-Black-president presidential era. …

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