Michael Bindner's DC Blog

In this blog, I discuss DC politics and other issues of import to local government. I have posted several essays from my book, Musings from the Christian Left, on blog entreies dated June 2004.

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Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Barak Obama, Race and D.C. Statehood

I am so going to get in trouble for this.

As my readers should know, let me state at the outset that I am not one of those right-wing-nuts who oppose Senator Barak Obama because of his Muslim upbringing (or for that matter his Catholic schooling – which I share) or because they would never vote for a black person due to their own unreconstructed neo-Confederism. My background is quite the opposite. I have spent a few hot August days marching (and helping organize) marches for civil rights and D.C. Statehood. Anyone who knows me knows that I was Marion Barry’s ward healer for upper Northwest Washington. Lawrence Guyot has called me an honorary soul brother.

The candidacy of Senator Obama has gained wide acceptance in the white community in part because he does not speak like civil rights leaders of the past. There is a good reason for this – he isn’t anything like them. The uncomfortable fact is that, should he be nominated or elected, no commentator (unless he or she is completely ignorant) is going to refer to the Senator as a descendant of African slaves. There is an entire shared history that he has no part of. He has never picked cotton and his family did not move to Chicago as part of the northern migration. He is the child of a black African. He is an African American because he was born here and has an American mother, not because he has faced generations of oppression at the hands of American white supremacists (although his family likely suffered under British colonialism, but that is a separate story). If he were to speak in the language of oppression, he would be considered a Wannabe. To call any controversy around his candidacy racism is stretching the point. The issue is more about color than race, if race requires an element of shared cultural experience which frankly the Senator cannot claim.

Obama has much more in common with the immigrant community, which is often at odds with the American descendents of slaves. Of course, if the Obama candidacy can heal that rift, so much the better. If the descendents of slaves are comfortable supporting a candidate who does not share that common history it is their right to do so. Barack Obama has the potential to unite the descendents of slaves with white liberals in a way that has not yet been seen before, although I hope this is not simply a form of settling for what is available. An Obama presidency will definitely have an impact on America’s youth in a profound way, so as a symbol his candidacy is powerful.

We do need to see some substance, however. From where I sit, the main piece of unfinished business in the civil rights movement is the status of our nation’s capital. The question is, will Obama settle for voting rights in one house of Congress or will he go all the way and not only support, but also champion DC statehood? As or more important than that, will he appoint an Administrator for the National Capital Service Area as mandated by the Home Rule Act and empower that Administrator to negotiate an agreement to annually and automatically reimburse the District for services rendered and as importantly provide some financial settlement for those years when no agreement was possible because the office was vacant? How he and his competitors deal with these questions should be the standard as to whether one of them deserves the support of the African American community.

2 Comments:

Blogger Brother Billy said...

I'd like to see some substance from Obama, too, although since I live in NY, I'll vote for McKinney if she gets the Green nomination.

I see, with pleasure, that you know one of the poker players I could never beat -- Guyot. A quick Google didn't show any contact information for him, so if you see him you can tell him that Bill Peltz is still around and sends his best to him and Monica. (I was in Mississippi from 1966-71 and played a minor role in the MFDP.)

January 21, 2008 2:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Great comments, and now that he is "President-elect", it's a great time to comment on what it appear the future will hold. Obama's initial appointments (with the possible exception of Eric Holder) are signaling very strongly that Obama will govern from the center. I spoke with him the day Sen. Ted Kennedy and Caroline endorsed at American U. and got his unqualified support for DC statehood. I know that a centrist would not put statehood at the top of his agenda...but with recent signs that the "Yes We Can" theme is going to be used by DC activists to get him to focus on DC statehood - I hope the politician Obama will see this as a chance to make history twice. What better legacy than the first "Black" president signs the bill for the first "Black" state. Maybe with his ethnic heritage, that's a bit ironic, but so be it. I say: "Yes We Will!"

Anise Jenkins
anisej@hotmail.com
Stand Up!/Free DC!
www.FreeDC.org

November 26, 2008 10:49 AM  

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