Thursday, June 5, 2008<

Obama as Role Model

There were several articles yesterday and today about the impact of Obama's nomination on black communities. I thought this was one of the most striking anecdotes (told by Obama):

“Probably the most powerful story I heard was today at a conference, a woman came up to me,” he said in an interview on NBC News. “She said her son teaches in an inner-city school in San Francisco and said that he has seen a change in behavior among the young African-American boys there in terms of how they think about their studies."
Who could have guessed that having a positive black role model would inspire young black men?

I think what stories like this highlight is the overreliance on the dichotomy between de jure and de facto discrimination. America has patted itself on the back for eliminating de jure discrimination, but many people think that is as far as we should go as a society. Do young black men see our country's claim that society won't hold them back because of race as credible? How can they? Sure, there is lots of lip sevice paid to equality under the law, but we have not yet seen a black president. Does it really matter if society is holding back black men and women not through laws but through other forces? The bottom line, and what black men and women will see, is that society holds back black people. Whether discrimination is legally mandated or not has no effect on the material impact of discrimination for those who experience it.

That's why a moment like Obama's nomination is so important - it shows that not only is a black man legally allowed to be President, but that he actually could be president. And that is a concrete sign of progress.

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At August 2, 2008 at 3:01 AM , Blogger NG said...

So what's your proposal? That the NBA and MTV should place limits on the number of black men allowed to become point guards and gangsta rappers?

More to the point, yes, the difference between de jure and de facto discrimination matters immensely. For all the problems that black people have as individuals and as a community in the US, I can see a big positive difference between that and how things were just a generation ago - between an individual's choice to discriminate and discrimination by government.


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