Earlier today, I blogged at Right-Thinking on the new wave of black politicians. I wanted to add a thought:
The reason for the rise of mainstream black politicians like Barack Obama and Shirley Franklin is the growing success of blacks in this country. I recently read, somewhat belatedly, It’s Getting Better All the Time by Stephen Moore and Julian Simon, which chronicled 100 great trends through the 20th century. America has practically become a paradise over the last century, but the progress of blacks has been nothing short of astounding. You may not think so to listen to Jesse Jackson, but take a look sometime at black rates of illiteracy, infant mortality and poverty in 1900 or 1950 and shudder. The improvement, particularly in the last 30-40 years, has been incredible. If African-Americans were their own country, they’d be the success story of the 20th century.
I grew up in Atlanta and witnessed this first hand. Atlanta not only has a substantial black population but is the epicenter of black higher education with no less than four quality historically black colleges. In just my lifetime, I’ve been stupidly amazed by the explosion of black-owned business, the surge of black presence in the suburbs and the rise of black middle and upper classes. On a recent trip home, I took a shopping trip to a high-end mall. Twenty years ago, the customers were almost exclusively white. Now, at least half are black.
For me, the rise of the black middle and upper class and the rejection of the race-baiting politics of the past crystallised with the 2002 defeat of Cynthia McKinney (my mother lives in her district). McKinney was specifically rejected by blacks in favor of the mainstream Denise Majette; then again for Hank Johnson in 2006.
The older generation of black politicians were playing to a different base. They were campaigning to people who were old enough to remember when several hundred blacks were lynched every year in this country; people who had their heads smashed in Civil Rights marches and witnessed Jim Crowe and George Wallace. People who had personal experience with racism that was open, blatant and proud. People who could remember, as I recently read about in I Was Right on Time, the days when black America was invisible to the media.
Today’s black voters knows that there is still racism and discrimination in this country. But they are far more optimistic and far less angry. They are concerned with issues like taxes, jobs and crime. Obama and the new generation of black leaders are simply the crest of this wave of progress. The know that the fight isn’t over, but they know it’s going well.