By Shanta Driver, Chairperson of BAMN
The American people deserve a huge congratulations for overcoming the prejudice that has characterized all of American history and voting in their self interest.
The election of a progressive black president of the United States is a historic milestone in the struggle for equality. It signifies a victory of reason over irrational racist fears. But eradicating racism will take more than casting a vote.
Peddlers of “New Jim Crow” policies like Ward Connerly, who cloak racist attacks in the bogus language of “race-blindness,” will seek to use an Obama victory as a rationale to further dismantle integration and affirmative action programs. They will falsely claim that the measures which made it possible for a black man to become president of the United States are no longer necessary.
They could be aided by the fact that in order to assuage the fears of white voters, Obama has felt the need to present himself as the least angry black man in the world. In his Philadelphia speech on March 18, he seemed to call on black people – and by extension, other minority Americans, to limit their struggles to not challenge white privilege. If that advice is followed, the hope and promise of change will not be fulfilled.
Progressive change is only won when the collective social power of the oppressed is organized and mobilized. In 2006, the “sleeping giant” awoke and millions of Latinas and Latinos took to the streets to demand immigrant rights and the end to their invisibility in American society. The whole character of American politics and race relations was altered by their action. The sense of possibility and power aroused by that movement made Obama’s long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination a reality.
The Obama victory has been a victory for the young activists who acted as the foot soldiers for hope and change. Now after his election, they must demand that President Obama be accountable to them. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders gave President Kennedy no “honeymoon”; rather, they saw his victory as the moment to press harder for their demands. Similarly, an Obama victory can empower the forces of racial progress in America –- but only if we follow Dr. King’s example and build a new, independent civil rights movement.
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