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 Today Black America needs political figures that are similarly mindful of the imperfect

constituency that they represent. Advancing a solely black agenda will ultimately advance no agenda



 Barack Obama: Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. (Crown 2007)

Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

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Of Obama and Oakland

By Keenan Norris


Glen Ford's article, published in ChickenBones and also available at Black Agenda Report, regarding Barack Obama's visit to the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama is indicative of the largely negative stance taken by hard-line black liberals in regard to Mr. Obama's presidential campaign. Ford suggests that Obama is a politician, first and foremost, principally concerned with acquiring power; and that Obama only promotes an agenda that speaks to black people's needs when it is politically advantageous to him. Thus, depending on whether Obama is speaking in Selma, Alabama or in Palm Springs, California, the man is liable to profess far different political agendas; consequently, he is no more trustworthy for blacks (or, to follow this logical line, for any other group of people) than his white rivals on the campaign trail.

As a California black, where people of my race represent only about six to seven percent of the statewide population and where blacks rank as the third-largest minority group, it has long been clear to me that despite our urgent and specific needs as a race, black people cannot successfully advocate for more equitable public school funding or legislation against environmental racism or any of our other myriad needs without joining the relevant mainstream political debate. To require that a black candidate for president or any other national office adhere to a specifically black agenda makes little sense in a country where blacks make up only about thirteen to fifteen percent of the overall population. Any black politician making a serious attempt at the presidency should advocate for black issues up to but not beyond the point that those issues conflict with the wants and needs of the rest of his constituency, white, Asian, Latino, etc. The candidate should be honest with black people and explain that because his constituency is racially various, where the specific demands of any one group supersede the demands of the majority of his constituency he must, of necessity, side with the majority. The invisible hand of institutionalized racism would not guide such a sea change, but the quite visible and imminently understandable hand that tallies votes and weighs imperfect options.

Abraham Lincoln skillfully reconciled his racist white Northern constituency with a radical minority of abolitionists and created out of that uneasy pairing the most significant legislation in U.S. history; not only the Emancipation Proclamation, but the legislative underpinning of Reconstruction. Dr. King managed to balance the radicalism of SNCC and the gestating Black Power Movement with cautious, moderate white liberals like John F. Kennedy and held together a movement that was, despite its failures, one of the most extensive social justice movements in history.

Today Black America needs political figures that are similarly mindful of the imperfect constituency that they represent. Advancing a solely black agenda will ultimately advance no agenda. In South Central Los Angeles and Houston, Texas, Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson Lee represent predominantly Latino districts. Their support for the rights of immigrant laborers, which, in truth, often-times do not coalesce with but contradict the needs of working-class black people, is the kind of issue for which less-loved black politicians are so often taken to task. But the reality of political life outside of black cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Gary and in the nation itself is that blacks represent not a numerical majority but a dependent minority. We must, therefore, argue not from a position of self-defeating weakness that masquerades as power, but from a position of relative and shifting strength.

To take the immigration issue, for instance: instead of defending our dead-end working-class jobs from Mexican immigrants, we need to unite with people of other races that share our under-served neighborhoods and advocate for an education system that makes its primary goal not social promotion or ethnically-identified coursework but math, computer, and multi-language skills that are relevant to the white-collar work force. In addition, we need to identify those unionized working class jobs that still pay well and make a concerted effort, through extra-educational means, to dominate those professions.

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Barack Obama came to Oakland recently. The event was free, a kind of festival, really; the crowd was vast, disorganized, constituted primarily of people under thirty; the mood was casual, police and security not in evidence.

Oakland. The home of the most principled legislator in either the Congress or the Senate, Barbara Lee; the home of the old Congressman and new Mayor Ron V. Dellums. Oakland: today the most Californian of all California's cities. Without anything close to a majority population (blacks are the majority-minority representing somewhere between 30-35% of the population), Oakland possesses significant minorities of Mexicans, El Salvadorans, East and Southeast Asians, Tongans, Samoans, Arabs and European-descended people. The crowd at the City Center was either primarily white or primarily black. I couldn't tell which.

In his speech, Obama made self-congratulatory reference to legislation he wrote and helped pass in Chicago requiring police interrogations to be videotaped (a popular selling point in the historical home of the Black Panthers). He also came back several times to his steadfast opposition to the war in Iraq, which dates back to its original declaration, when support for the U.S. invasion was widespread. Obama was not lying and to charges that he is attempting to be all things to all people and in the process selling out black America, it should be noted that Obama is on record predicting that an invasion of Iraq would result in a "dumb" war in 2002 and 2003. This is hardly a moot point for black people when one considers that we make up one-quarter of U.S. military personnel and are thus over-represented two-to-one in view of our population percentage (12-13%) within the nation. Obama has written legislation proposing the swift withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Other of his claims, such as the institution of a universal healthcare system by the end of his first term in office, are not exactly irrelevant to the quality of black lives.

The fact that none of these issues are solely black issues and that none of these issues is exclusive of the needs of the white majority is, of course, smart campaigning. Obama's campaign is a practical one and he will, apparently, be the first non-white candidate to make a truly serious run at the presidency. The inclusive nature of his platform is also the reason that he has so many detractors among hard-line black liberals. There is a strain of always-oppositional, anti-establishment black intellectual thought present in the internet media, academia, and grassroots political organizing that is fine so far as it goes but that needs to be left on message boards, in lecture halls, and at neighborhood rallies. All politics is not local. If we, as black people, want a real share of fortunes in the political, professional, and academic world that extends beyond our neighborhoods and self-perpetuating ghettoes, we need to embrace a way of being in the world that does not wed itself to unrealistic demands, that is smart-minded, inclusive even of opposing forces and which is focused finally on our long-term goals for equity, access, and power.

I have no idea what will become of Mr. Obama's presidential campaign, and, personally, I feel Mrs. Clinton would probably make as good, if not a better nominee for the Democrats. But I want us as black people to recognize militancy for what it is, a local strategy, and to learn how to represent our interests in a practical manner in the wider world.

Keenan Norris works as an adjunct community college professor in the Bay Area and is pursuing his Ph.D. at UC Riverside. His work has been published in the Santa Monica, Evansville and Green Mountains Reviews, as well as internet entities Rhapsoidia and ChickenBones. He was a contributing author to Inlandia: A Literary Journey Through California's Inland Empire.

posted 31 March 2007

Call for Papers on Street Lit

The Takeover

Street Lit Subjects, Controversy, Commercial Phenomenon & Art

By Keenan Norris, Editor

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#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 11 June 2012




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27 Days   Of Obama and Oakland   Call for Papers on Street Lit