Feature Article of Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Columnist: Sawyerr, Ade

A new realignment for change in black politics - Opinion

Will Senator Barack Obama win the Democratic Party nomination and go on to become the first black president of the United States of America? Though we do not know the answer now, we know that he has emerged on the political scene as the most prominent of a new breed of black politicians. It does not matter whether he wins or not because his performance to date in the Democrat primaries has highlighted to us black people, that there are several such high profile politicians like Obama who are holding high office in America and who have the power to change things for all including the black community.

Like Obama they have done it in a different way; their politics is not one of anger seeking justice for the black community, or protest or grievance about the state of race equality, or complaints about victimisation, or making symbolic gestures for, whilst seeking endorsement from, the black community. This new type of politician appeals directly to the mainstream where elections are won instead of taking on narrow minority issues takes on diversity issues. This new brand of politician does not need to stand in mainly black constituencies or wards in order to win but uses the party organisation to advocate for policies that benefit all their constituents.

This new brand of politician, who happen to be black, are gradually replacing the traditional black politician, who cut their teeth on the protest movement, and see themselves as representatives of, and advocates for the black community. Gradually the politics of confrontation is being replaced by the politics of compromise and inclusion and the politics of symbolism is being converted into the politics of substance.

This new type of politician may have benefited from the dividends of the civil rights movement and affirmative action; but they may also have grown up in suburban neighbourhoods and studied with white folks in top mainstream universities, so they will not allow themselves to be defined by their colour and the need to advocate only for their own community. They have moved away from the politics of narrow interest groups to the politics of uniting and delivering for all the community. They have embraced diversity in such a refreshing way that their appeal transcends race; invariably they are increasingly acceptable as representative in white communities.

So if 50 years after the defining moments of the civil rights movement, we now have black congressmen, black senators, black governors and have produced black UN representative and black National Security Advisers and two black Secretaries of State, . Who knows? America may already be ready for a black president; they are probably just waiting for the right person to emerge.

Commentators are busy comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of the different types – the acid test is the extent to which they deliver the things that the black community needs. Cynics point to the fact that politicians end up with higher profiles and do not necessarily seek to primarily satisfy the black community.

Though black people are, and still remain poor in America, the fact that this new breed of politicians exist at all is a testament to the changes that have taken place. Black people need good housing, good schools, good jobs and health care and other benefits of a wealthy state, but they are also doing well and ambitious enough to contest for the high office despite the racism that still exists. They are aspiring because the have role models who are changing the face of politics by improving the representation of black people in yet another arena where they were previously underrepresented.

The fact that Barrack Obama, is running for president as a credible candidate and even managed to defeat the front runner Hilary Clinton in Iowa, a predominantly white state, says something about how this new type of politician who is black but post civil rights, post segregation, and post racial, can be effective.

As with most things, those of us on this side of the Atlantic have adopted and adapted strategies for advancement deployed in America, we may now start inviting this type of new post racial politicians to come and inspire the black community here and share with us the alternative paths that they have used for mainstream political advancement.

Is this the time for black people in this country to also accept that there are alternative entry points into politics and we are entering into a new phase of post black sections. post-Brixton, post-Handsworth, post-Moss Side riots, type of politics.

Will the new brand of politics be more acceptable in raising the profile of African Caribbean and Asian politicians in this country and make them better representative for us all?.

Obama may have lost in New Hampshire because of the 'Bradley effect', where politicians who are black often under perform the polls. This shows that race is still a big issue in politics in the western world and the 'black penalty' in politics still exists.

But will such upsets stop him and the others who come after him.

When comes our own such Obama in Britain!

Ade Sawyerr is partner in Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides consultancy, training and research services and focuses on formulating strategies for African Caribbean Asian and minority ethnic, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. He also comments on political, economic and social, and development issues. He can be contacted through www.equinoxconsulting.net. or by email on ades@equinoxconsulting.