Monday, February 11th, 2008

2G2K Circus :: Scott Kurashige On "The Multiracial Challenge"

Our man in Detroit, University of Michigan professor Scott Kurashige pens one of the best pieces yet on race and the 2008 elections in today’s Alternet and HuffPo.

Here are some pullquotes…a bit long (especially for all yall anti-intellectuals!) but well worth reading in full:

This is a turning point in U.S. political history: no serious candidate for the presidency from here on out can ignore the mandate to build a multiracial coalition.

Unfortunately, the pundits have already seized upon an equally divisive and reductionist theme. Interethnic relations are no longer a sideshow, but our understanding of them is severely limited. Everyone following the campaign has now read Clinton pollster Sergio Bendixen’s remark, “The Hispanic voter — and I want to say this very carefully — has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.” (JEFF NOTE: That argument is taken apart completely by Gregory Rodriguez right hurrr.) Also surfacing less noticeably in places like online forums was the assertion that racial prejudice inhibits Asian Americans from voting for Blacks.

While prejudice and narrow-mindedness circulates in various forms within sectors of the Latino and Asian populations, crude thinking can blind us to the less sensational but more significant reasons why Clinton prevailed. She had built up a huge lead and enjoyed immense name recognition, which translated into a huge lead in absentee voting. In many places, Obama has overcome these obstacles with an excellent ground game that has attracted and energized new voters. Local observers, however, have remarked that his campaign lacked either the time or proper strategy to develop effective grassroots outreach to Latinos and Asians in California.

But here’s the money point, a thoroughly convincing argument. It gets at why the Clintons are on the wrong side of history, why the old-guard civil rights establishment has disappeared in this election, and why most of the talk about Asian and Latino votes these past two weeks in the commentariat has missed the point entirely:

But if Clinton’s multicultural strategy is unprecedented, Obama’s effort to transcend “minority” politics is historic. Casting Obama as a “colorblind” politician, the pundits and his left skeptics have largely missed the significance of what he represents. Getting “beyond race” today is not about ignoring the problem of racism or moderating ones politics to appease whites. Instead, it means thinking about America as a multiracial nation that dispels old notions of both white normativity and majority/minority identities. Culturally and demographically, millions of Americans — especially youth — already live in a world where that notion of white majority has been displaced by a multiethnic reality. Obama is helping us to envision what a new majority will look like politically.

For this reason, the Obama campaign is the only one with movement building potential and why we all have a stake in its efforts to build a multiracial coalition on new ground. Following the dictates of pollsters and consultants, traditional Democrats carve us all up into “interest groups,” so they can push the hot buttons that reinforce our sense of victimization and vilify the other side. Obama has learned — both from his study of what historian Charles Payne has called the black freedom struggle’s “organizing tradition” and from his experience organizing against the depths of despair in Chicago’s deindustrialized South Side — that such an approach is not only ineffective but also spiritually bankrupt. If you are just a “minority leader,” then you’re not really a leader at all. If you are only fighting for your “fair share” of the riches controlled by those in power, you’ll never address the root causes of oppression. Above all is the sense that none of us can be free in America or face the global crises of our lifetime until we change the whole country. That is why Obama has the “audacity” to think he is the best person to lead the entire nation.

It is clear from the California result that we will now be witness to a paradigm shifting clash between two consciously multiracial organizing strategies. Clinton’s appeal is to give all minorities a seat at the table and a share of the pie. Obama challenges us to see ourselves instead as a collective majority….

posted by @ 8:16 am | 5 Comments

5 Responses to “2G2K Circus :: Scott Kurashige On "The Multiracial Challenge"”

  1. Eddie Basden says:

    I love how Scott’s time spent with Grace Lee Boggs shows through in his analysis:

    Getting “beyond race” today is not about ignoring the problem of racism or moderating ones politics to appease whites. Instead, it means thinking about America as a multiracial nation that dispels old notions of both white normativity and majority/minority identities.

    Good Stuff.

  2. Paula says:

    Jeff, leaving aside what one thinks Obama can, will, or should do if he gets the nomination and/or the presidency …

    1) Kurashige’s article pressed on something that’s been disturbing me since the post-Iowa Obama-mania. Could the promise of this coalition of voters — with all the attendant attention and spurious analysis that comes with punditry these days — actually make a diff in our politics/society if attached to what by all accounts is a mainstream candidate? I feel rather stupid about buying into the hopemongering but I can’t help it if there’s a feeling of something “genuinely” grassroots about the Obama-wagon. It means young people, including myself, feel like they have a stake in politics again, and if young people care about politics it means that young people’s concerns are taken seriously. If young people start caring then it means the country is going left over the long haul, regardless of who wins.

    Is it real? Or is it just the first successful occurrence of Internet-era branding for retail politics-as-usual?

    2) You and others have already written about the responses that older civil rights leaders and 2nd wave feminists have to Obama’s rise, but I honestly kept these two issues apart in my head. In the fashion of “bloc” politics examined by Kurishige, I supposed it to be the correct thing to do. I have to confess that I thought the “generational” spin was interesting but definitely less a political distinction than an academic one, one that was at least two elections away from becoming a “real” issue. But Obama’s numbers keep climbing in the most unlikely places, and the youth vote is always the bulwark.

    One of the things that historically comes with being a legitimate “people’s movement” is the skeptical, then mocking, then fearful attitude of establishment elites who chide know-nothing commoners (in this case, IN THEIR OWN PARTY) for not being “serious” or failing their tests of compliance with political orthodoxy. Now it looks like part of the major meme circulating about Obama is that Obama’s supporters are a “cult-like” group. [See Paul Krugman;]

    3) What does this mean? There’s genuine nuttiness about Obama that can lead to unfortunate statements in blog-land, but there’s genuine nuttiness in all camps that comes into flower during election season. Leading democrats in blogland excoriated the evangelical wing of the Rep party for being nutty about GWB, but I’ve never seen them dismiss members of their own party like this, in mainstream outlets at least, for liking a candidate that for all intents and purposes has shown himself to be quite canny and got good-to-indifferent notices from everyone two years ago. This idea is also strange in light of the fact many mainstream Democrats [read: outside of the rabid blog-hordes and the Clinton-hating media] are quite fine with either candidate.

    Sorry for what I know is a very rambly statement, but confusion is ruling the day for me right now. Skepticism at Obama himself, but even more skepticism for the people who deride his base of support.

  3. Zentronix says:


    I’m struck by your comparison of Dem supporters in 2008 to Bush’s evangelical following in 2004. That’s a really interesting analogy. Lots of progressives who think themselves rational left-brain and scientific would be horrified at the comparison, but it’s an interesting one.

    I mean I’ve been looking for deliverance my whole life, as have most of us born in or after the late 60s. I am Fox Mulder. But I still don’t think it’s wrong to be skeptical and Scully about it. I think it’s a genuine reaction, and, heh heh, I’ve shown it myself.

    I had a great convo with a close friend of mine who’s one of the best community organizers out there and he raised this point, one that resonates with Scott’s work with Grace Lee Boggs and her center in Detroit: we should never forget that movements are never about the charismatic leader at the front, but the people pushing him/her forward.

    Oddly enough, this is a point that both Obama and Clinton respect: that history will not be made by them. It’s in Barack’s proclivity to pepper movement sayings in his speeches, and it came across in Hillary’s last two debates and sometimes in interviews when the questions turned personal.

    Part of that respect of course is pandering for votes. The other part of that respect is an indirect acknowledgment of the work of Manning Marable and others who have dissected the Moses complex’s role in political praxis from the 60s forward. But regardless if it’s Obama or Clinton or McCain or someone else, we won’t be led to the promised land, we’ll get there ourselves.

    Krugman and other people in the commentariat–myself included–tend to create narratives around the people we write about. It’s actually our method of circulating ideas. But I think Krugman, whose work I respect very much, and many others also fall into the trap of seeing the world from the 80th floor. The MSM regularly denies people and communities any kind of agency; it’s part of what the commentariat does. It’s also why it’s been so wrong so much this year. I think that’s one of the things that Scott is pointing out in his piece.

    “Cultishness” is just columnist-speak for “I don’t get it”. (I agree with Krugman about Obama’s health plan, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Krugman pretty much outs himself as a Clintonite soon, the same way Frank Rich is clearly an Obama supporter.) This dude probably never appreciated The X-Files or Poor Righteous Teachers. I’m more sorry for him than for me.


  4. Zentronix says:

    Kweli says it better, of course:

    Talib Kweli’s Open Letter On Barack Obama

    It is the last year of the Bush administration and thank God. I usually rail against being described as simply “political rapper”, and I haven’t voted since Bill Clinton first ran for President. I was following the tradition that Black Americans have had of voting for democrats since we got the right in 1964 (temporarily). Then, Clinton , as president’s go, seemed better than Bush Sr., but I did not like his policies in Sudan or the constant bombing of Iraq .

    I also did not like the way our government dragged us thru the Lewinsky scandal. I felt betrayed by the system, and I stopped voting, no longer accepting of the lesser of two evils. I knew the two party system was designed to fail us. I knew that politicians must lie for a living, because it would be impossible to make good on their promises. I knew about the lobbyists and the PAC. I did not make it my issue, but if someone asked me, I would explain why I didn’t vote.

    Most of the time people talked to me like I lost my mind, but every once and awhile someone understood. I knew that our ancestors fought and died for the right to vote, but I didn’t feel like voting for the lesser of two evils in a broken system was the proper way to honor them. It was pageantry, and I wasn’t with it. I wasn’t with Vote or Die, because I knew that voting itself, with no real knowledge of who is paying these candidates to run million dollar a day campaigns, is far from a revolutionary act. I haven’t even started to talk about the electoral college that they taught us about in grade school. In this republic, delegates votes are counted, and states with more land have more votes.

    You can technically have more votes, but lose the election. When the verdict is in question, the Supreme Court decides, as they did when Al Gore clearly won the election but lost due to bipartisan bulls**t. The bankers of the world pay our politicians, and often tailor laws and regulations to line their own pockets. I have often stated that I cannot participate in a system that not only is designed to see me fail, but corrupts itself as well.

    This was all before Barack Obama threw his hat in the ring. I, like many, appreciated his effort from the sidelines, watching him do the dance on the news. I found myself relating to him and enjoying hearing him speak, but I still remained distrustful of politicians in general. I felt like I could serve my community in many ways on a grassroots level that proceeded politics. I started to see the Obama campaign doing that grassroots work. I hear him speaking about poor people, the environment, things that I haven’t heard from politicians who have electability.

    My criticism of the political system is that it siphons out rational thought because (you) have to be all things to all people. You can’t stand for anything doing that. I remember when Obama spoke out against the war, early. I think the time he spent as a civil rights attorney on Chicago’s south side gives him a unique perspective. I often hear about his lack of experience, but his experience is one that I most closely identify with. I’m not saying I could be president, but I am saying that our government could use a new energy. In order for a revolution to happen, you need revolutionary writers, soldiers, teachers, poets, musicians, garbage men, cab drivers, politicians, across the board. Everyone will not always agree, but the things we agree on, we should strengthen. When I was younger, none of this really mattered. Now I have two beautiful children, and Barack Obama is an incredibly positive influence on them. I want them to know they can be anything they want.

    With that said, I still feel the same as I do about the political system, and one man can’t change it. But this man deserves our support nonetheless. I appreciate what he’s doing, and there comes a time in history when change is necessary for all of us to prosper. I can’t be critical of a society that is scared of change, but be stubborn in my ways for the sake of it. I support Barack Obama and encourage others to take a real look at his campaign so they can come to their own conclusions. I am not delusional about what the office of the president represents, but my support for him is just that, support for someone speaking my language amidst an ocean of doubletalk. Thank you for you time.

    Talib Kweli, MCEO, Blacksmith

  5. Paula says:

    I’m definitely not anywhere near challenging wits w/ Paul Krugman on the economy or policy or anything like that. But I can’t get over my deep fear of the ability of the right wing to demagogue anything that smacks of big gov’t (they couldn’t even let food stamps pass in the stimulus bill).

    But for the most part, I took Krugman’s arguments in good faith as a watchdog for hackery and half-heartedness from self-professed liberals on the campaign trail. The culty-venom thing hit a raw nerve since I’ve been avoiding talking about HRC simply because I realized 6 months ago that I would have a really hard time voting for her. And it had nothing to do with Obama, but my level of disappointment in her foreign policy views.

    The narrative around GWB himself felt less about conservative evangelists getting duped on his stupidity (because I don’t think he is) but more about seeing in him a sympathetic soul who would take the next step in an evolution of values — if Reagan provided economic and political groundwork, GWB was the cultural and spiritual development (i.e. “values”). Progressive types might be (over?)thinking the idea that Obama’s lefty-leanings are going to translate to full-on progressivism in office with a mandate from the people because his talk of change translates as an academia-dogwhistle for “paradigm shift”. The realists who’ve “seen it all” think that they’re really stupid, and concentrate on Obama’s right-leaning dogwhistles on mandates and social security.

    In any case, it does tend to disempower people, esp. young people, to hear their political elders tell them that they know nothing, that their enthusiasm for one politician or issue is cultish or empty. The MSM will no doubt fly that theme to the moon if it becomes an Obama/McCain match. And that theme has already taken root in some of the older voters to the point where I fear that if Obama wins the nom [I still doubt it], they’ll either vote for McCain or sit it out.

    In any case, thanks for indulging my comments. I’ve really enjoyed the commentary here and it’s helped me to feel a little bit optimistic about the future. As for Kweli — I wasn’t expecting him to go all out a la Common and the letter is a nice surprise.

    Also, I totally should have asked you to sign Won’t Stop @ the 2006 L.A. Festival of Books (your panel on Hip Hop w/ Toure and some other dudes). But I was “too cool for autographs”. Whatever.

    [Please delete if this thing becomes a double post.]

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