Black Politics by Nigel ParyThat’s the provocative title of Matt Bai’s cover story in this week’s NY Times Magazine. Ain’t it a sign of the times we live in — there’s something of a digital divide between those who will see this article online on starting today days ahead of those who will see it in print several days from now. I suspect it will be in part generational which is good since both the civil rights warriors and the affirmative action babies need to read this. I spoke in detail with the author as he was writing this story and I think he did a good job in exploring the changing dynamic of black power in politics from multiple vantage points. Here’s a quick excerpt.

The generational transition that is reordering black politics didn’t start this year. It has been happening, gradually and quietly, for at least a decade, as younger African-Americans, Barack Obama among them, have challenged their elders in traditionally black districts. What this year’s Democratic nomination fight did was to accelerate that transition and thrust it into the open as never before, exposing and intensifying friction that was already there. For a lot of younger African-Americans, the resistance of the civil rights generation to Obama’s candidacy signified the failure of their parents to come to terms, at the dusk of their lives, with the success of their own struggle — to embrace the idea that black politics might now be disappearing into American politics in the same way that the Irish and Italian machines long ago joined the political mainstream.

“I’m the new black politics,” says Cornell Belcher, a 38-year-old pollster who is working for Obama. “The people I work with are the new black politics. We don’t carry around that history. We see the world through post-civil-rights eyes. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but that’s just the way it is.

“I don’t want in any way to seem critical of the generation of leadership who fought so I could be sitting here,” Belcher told me when we met for breakfast at the Four Seasons in Georgetown one morning. He wears his hair in irreverent spikes and often favors tennis shoes with suit jackets. “Barack Obama is the sum of their struggle. He’s the sum of their tears, their fights, their marching, their pain. This opportunity is the sum of that.”

I don’t think Barack Obama is the end of black politics. What do you think? The challenges that impact African-Americans disproportionately are going to go away overnight with the miraculous ascendancy of Obama. However we are witnessing the end of one style of African-American political engagement and participation to another where African-Americans are fully able to represent all Americans who believe in American ideals and the American dream. We’re ready to talk more about what we have in common with all other Americans rather than what makes us different. Van Jones of Green for All and his passionate argument for green collar jobs to address both poverty and climate change springs to mind – check him out on the Colbert Report in April. And I’d guesstimate (we’re planning a survey) that 33-50% of our blog audience here is not black.

The work we’re doing here at JJP and in the “Afrosphere” among other black bloggers is mentioned. Here’s my quote after the jump and that of James Rucker over at Color of Change. What do you think? Read the article and then holla back.

More from the NY Times:

[Benjamin] Jealous’s main difficulty in rejuvenating the N.A.A.C.P., though, may have less to do with the racist power structure than with a new class of black competitors online. And in this way, what’s happening among the black grass roots mirrors what’s been happening in the Democratic Party over the last several years, as loyalty to institutions and leaders has given way to a noisy conversation about how to better hold them accountable. A new generation of black activists is now focused on reforming institutions, namely the Congressional Black Caucus and the N.A.A.C.P., that they say have become too mired in the past and too removed from their constituents. And as in the rest of the political world, this rebellion is happening on the Internet, driven by ordinary Americans with laptops and a surprising amount of free time.

“The African-American voting population is very much online,” Cheryl Contee, who in 2006 helped found the blog Jack and Jill Politics, told me. Contee, who is an owner of a digital consulting business, blogs under the pseudonym Jill Tubman, and hers is one of a number of sites that have emerged in just the last year as part of what’s often called the “Afrosphere.” “One of the things I talk to clients about is that the digital divide has changed,” Contee said. “It’s no longer along racial lines like it was in 1996 and 2000. Now it’s more economic and educational.” In other words, after lagging for a time, college-educated African-Americans are now organizing online in the same way as their mostly white counterparts at Daily Kos and started doing several years ago.

James Rucker on how old and tired the older generation of black leaders are:

As in the liberal online community at large, there is not a lot of ideological coherence among the emerging “black roots.” There is no clear action plan for how to bridge the divide between middle-class black families and the millions left behind, aside from the same basic antiwar, anticorporate ethos that permeates the rest of the digital left. But there is a strong sense that the leaders of the civil rights generation need some kind of retirement plan, and soon. “Victims don’t make things happen,” says [James] Rucker, who previously worked for MoveOn. “Things are changing from where they were 30 years ago. The fights are changing. And you have an infrastructure that’s not producing results. Look at the incarceration rates, the difference between whites and blacks. What are the old organizations accomplishing?”

Photo credit: Nigel Parry

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