Commentators on both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum have been suggesting in their writings that the election of Barack Obama points to the end of black politics and that America has now become a post-racial society.
Without a doubt, the election of the son of an African immigrant and a white woman from Kansas is a monumental step forward for America.
But, America is not a society free of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of exploitation and oppression. For the descendants of those who survived centuries of chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation, the journey is incomplete.
Black (and brown) communities across America face a litany of social problems, including poverty, unemployment, inadequate access to quality housing and healthcare, rape, HIV/AIDS, mass incarceration, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and intraracial violence just to name a few.
- According to “State of the Dream 2009: The Silent Depression,” the sixth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report from United for a Fair Economy (UFE), although the black unemployment rate is currently 11.9 percent, among young black males age 16-19, unemployment is 32.8 percent.
- A factsheet produced by the Women of Color Network shows that for every black woman that reports her rape, at least 15 black women do not report theirs. The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) found that 18.8% of African American women reported rape in their lifetime.
- A study by The Violence Policy Center, “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States,” shows that from 2002 to 2007 the number of black male juvenile homicide victims rose by 31 percent. Meanwhile, the number of young black homicide victims killed by guns rose at an even sharper rate: 54 percent.
- Data compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that in 2005, the rate of AIDS diagnoses for black women was nearly 23 times the rate for white women. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black men was 8 times the rate for white men.
Barack Obama’s election does not change overnight the fact that Blacks are routinely and systematically disadvantaged in American society.
Though the claim that black politics is dead is a bit premature, in order to tackle these problems, the content and style of black politics much change.
It is important to note that many of the social ills black America faces have gender specific dimensions, which, if they are to be solved will require that issues involving gender and sexuality must move from the periphery to the center of the black political agenda.
In her seminal book, “Black Sexual Politics: African American, Gender, and The New Racism,” Sociologist, Patricia Hill Collins, makes a compelling case that to confront these problems the black community must embrace black sexual politics.
According to Collins, “Black sexual politics consists of a set of ideas and social practices shaped by gender, race, and sexuality that frame Black men and women’s treatment of one another, as well as how African Americans are perceived and treated by others.”
To combat white supremacy and structuralized racism, race will have to remain at the center of the black political agenda. But it is also important that the black community and its political leaders embrace a political agenda that shows much greater sensitivity to issues of gender and sexuality if these longstanding social problems are ever to be solved.