Monday, September 29, 2008

Easy for him to say

I consider Makheru Bradley a friend in the same way that Patrick Ewing considered Michael Jordan a friend. He is a tenacious black partisan and even when I disagree with him about the implications for an Obama presidency I retain respect and admiration for his principles.

Walter Benn Michaels writing in the recent New Left Review shows the limits of white radicals:

The point, then, is that the nomination of Obama is great news for American liberals, who love equality when it comes to race and gender, but are not so keen when it comes to money. Liberals are the people who believe that American universities and colleges have become more open because, although they are increasingly and almost exclusively populated by rich kids, more of these today are rich kids of colour. (Obama’s popularity on college campuses is no accident—he is diversity’s pin-up.) And having helped keep the poor out of college and thus made sure they remain poor, liberals are now eager to point out that white voters with only a high-school education (the very people who do not go to Harvard) are disproportionately sceptical of Obama; they are happy to deplore the ignorant racism of people whom they have kept ignorant, and whose racism they have thus enforced. The Obama candidacy is great news, in other words, for a liberalism that is every bit as elitist as its conservative critics say—although not, of course, quite as elitist as the conservative critics themselves.

Omitted from his analysis is the historical fact that committed opposition to savage economic inequality isn't synonymous with confronting racism. New Deal palliatives, for instance, did not translate into gains for blacks commensurate with those of whites. Moreover, there are real racial distinctions such as stereotype threat that become obscured when you consider only income. Until I see black versions of entitled mediocrity equal to George W. Bush and Sarah Pailin, I'm not buying what Professor Michaels is selling.

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