Friday, 26 February 2010

Discussions in Black History Month: Do we need a Black Agenda?

A fellow named Tavis Smiley is looking to hold Obama and numerous other black elites' feet to the fire for not pushing for a black agenda. LINK

As far as responses go, I can't really do better than Ta-Nehisi Coates. He writes:

I don't know what a "black agenda" is. I can think of very few policies which I would say are good for black people, but aren't good for most of America. I think Tavis would agree. (His site says "a black agenda is an American agenda." But that only raises another question: why would we calling it (sic) a "black agenda?" Surely changing the way we approach incarceration would help black men, but were there no black men in this country, we still would do well to think about how we incarcerate people.

I'm at a loss to see what we gain by simplistically racializing problems that may well have a racial component, but aren't wholly, and in many cases even mainly, racial problems. To be clear that component should be called out. But it seems you implicitly alienate allies when you claim that broad problems are the property of specific communities.

Moreover, you do the work of your adversaries. Nothing would please them more than for America to think of incarceration as a "black problem" to be addressed by a "black agenda." People hear "black issue" and they feel relieved--"Oh well, it ain't my problem." Except that it is. And we should make them aware that it is.
Yes, it definitely strikes me as poor strategy. Similar to my point in this post you're more likely to achieve your policy goals if you align the interests of a broad coalition, or at the very least do not mobilise significant opposition.  Emotionally it can be a tough sell, for example my girl N said "Why do we have to be the bigger people?" "Why isn't it enough to just talk about American history and outline the legitimate reasons for policies that benefit black people? Why can't we point to past wrongs and say that we are working for policies of corrective justice?"

Again, I get it. Doing things like avoiding the word "welfare" is not a direct challenge to the prejudiced thinking that changes the meaning of "welfare" to something like "taking money from hard working whites and giving it to shiftless blacks". However I would argue that if the goal is policy that benefits ordinary black people, being mindful of the biases, fears and interests of potential opponents and acting accordingly is not weakness.

No comments:

Post a Comment