The disagreement between Rev. Wright and Barack Obama can be viewed as a disagreement over the most appropriate political path for African Americans to move into the future. Obama is clearly striving to transcend the black-white racial polarity of previous generations; Wright is striving with traditional black demagoguery to hold onto black domination of America's racial politics. It is not clear to what extent either man understands that the America's racial situation has been transformed since the 1960s.
The racial conversation in America today is not between black and white; and racial politics, no matter whether blacks take the Rev. Wright path or Obama path, cannot be re-established on in exclusive terms of black-white conversation. Blacks are no longer the largest racial minority in the nation (defining "race" in popular, if unscientific, terms of skin color); they are far surpassed in numbers by Latinos, a "brown" race. Latinos are themselves ethnically divided, e.g., Cubans in Florida are different from Mexicans in the Southwest and Southern California. Moreover, in the Eastern cities, especially, blacks are divided between the native African American community and new immigrant black communities from the Caribbean and Africa. The new black communities do not at all see their fate as identical or tied to the native African Americans. And the Asian and American Indian minorities are larger today and far more politically important than they were a generation ago. Meanwhile, new ethnicities has grown and embarked on typical American journeys, such as the Russians and Russian Jews in New York.
There is a conversation about race going on in America today; it has never been absent. The "conversation" takes place in the streets and neighborhoods, as well as in city council chambers and state legislatures. It takes place in city offices that administer business licenses, as well as college recruiting offices. If a politician, Obama or whoever, wishes to take that conversation to a new political level of honesty and realism, s/he must start by acknowledging the racial complexity of the nation today. And the ground of that reality is that American blacks no longer occupy the central racial position they once did.
Update. May 1, 2008. "Newly released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the nation's Hispanic population grew by 1.4 million in 2007 to reach 45.5 million people, or 15.1 percent of the total U.S. population of 301.6 million. African Americans ranked as the second-largest minority group, at 40.7 million." (Howard Witt, "Hispanics top population growth data," The Press-Enterprise [Riverside, CA], May 1, 2008, A12.)
Minority Populations (millions | percent US total), US Census projections
- Hispanic: 45.5 | 15.1%
- African American: 40.7 | 13.5%
- Asian: 15.2 | 5.0%
- American Indians, Alaska Native: 4.5 | 1.5%
- Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders: 1.0 | 0.3%
- (Whites, of single race, not Hispanic: 199.1 | 66.0% )
Revised. May 2, 2008.