TONY COX, host:
Now, we've got our bloggers' roundtable and some of the hot topics they're talking about online. With us, citizen journalist and public-policy consultant, Faye Anderson - she is founder of Tracking Change, a wiki that will be launched later this month - and L'Heureux Lewis, assistant professor of sociology and black studies at the City College of New York. He blogs at uptownnotes.com. L'Heureux, Faye, welcome to News & Notes again.
Ms. FAYE ANDERSON (Journalist; Public Policy Consultant): Thank you.
Dr. L'HEUREUX LEWIS (Sociology and Black Studies, City College of New York): Thank you.
COX: We've been hearing from people across the country about President Barack Obama's inauguration. L'Heureux, you were in D.C. Faye, you stayed in New York and watched the ceremony at a viewing party at the Schomburg Center. Is there a moment that stood out for either of you? Faye, you first.
Ms. ANDERSON: Well, actually, Tony, I was locked out of the Schomburg Center.
Ms. ANDERSON: They reached capacity. So, I ended up in a better space, at the Harlem Armory. So, I watched the inauguration with thousands of kids. And I guess the moment that stands out for me was when President Obama - then President-elect Obama - when he first appeared and the kids just absolutely erupted, and you can see the future on their little faces.
COX: You know, we talked to Robert Smith from NPR earlier in the program about that. He was also at that event. L'Heureux, talk about something that stood out for you.
Dr. LEWIS: Well, the temperature was absolutely freezing in D.C., and I know people were really cold, and we were waiting for the inauguration to get going. And when Barack Obama started to come down the stairs, his image was projected on the JumboTron and all of, almost, the complaining and the bustling froze for a moment as he walked down. His confidence was exuding when he was taking on what's fundamentally almost an impossible task, but it just seemed like the transition in power had occurred, and everyone snapped to attention in a really powerful manner.
COX: You know, one of the things that seems to be heating up on the blogosphere, from what we're hearing here on News & Notes, is the benediction as delivered by Reverend Joseph Lowery yesterday. Here it is if you missed it.
(Soundbite of Inaugural Benediction by Reverend Joseph Lowery, January 20, 2009)
Reverend JOSEPH LOWERY (Civil Rights Leader): We ask you to help us pray for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rev. LOWERY: When yellow will be mellow....
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rev. LOWERY: When a red man can get ahead, man...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Rev. LOWERY: And when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who will do justice and love mercy say Amen.
Rev. LOWERY: Say amen.
Rev. LOWERY: And amen.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
COX: Now, on the blog, some people are giving a number of different points of view, one saying that, quote, why weren't Lowery's racist comments allowed - Why were they allowed to taint this historic event? And who are these yellow and red people he's talking about? Another said, it's day one of the Obama presidency and the race card already has been played. Mr. Lowery, may we look to you to direct us to what is right.
Faye, what did you think when you heard it, and what have you been seeing in the blogs?
Ms. ANDERSON: Well, I've seen what you just said. Let me say, I know Reverend Lowery very well, and frankly, I was a little bit disappointed with his benediction, not because of any racial implications, but you know, it was a historic, momentous occasion, and that's a schoolyard taunt that every black child knows. And so, Dr. Lowery is old-school and I had hoped that he would have risen to the occasion. But I think it's a reflection of black culture; there will be very few black people who don't know what Reverend Lowery was talking about.
COX: You sure...
Ms. ANDERSON: It calls more to interracial politics, dynamics, than - as much to interracial dynamics as it does to black/white dialogue.
COX: And I'm following you. L'Heureux, what did you - what were your thoughts?
Dr. LEWIS: I think I'm probably on the opposite end of the spectrum. I think Reverend Lowery is old-school, and I appreciate his - the tradition he's coming from. When he opened up with "Lift Every Voice and Sing," that was the first implication of race. We are in an era when people are willing to look past race quickly, but race has always been at the forefront of this campaign, whether it's said or unsaid. So, when Reverend Lowery brought out "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and in the end, when he ended with the homily that was about race relations, this is him signaling to folks, even though this is a powerful transformative moment, it is not an ahistorical moment. Let's remember history and responsibility that we all have for changing America.
COX: Let's talk for a moment, if we can, about how far Barack Obama's presidency relates to the issue of changing perceptions of black Americans. Some see it as - I've heard people saying - we're standing taller; we're straighter; we're prouder. And I've heard others say that this isn't going to change a single thing. Faye, how do you - how are you interpreting it, and what are you reading in the blogs in terms of how people across the country are looking at that particular issue?
Ms. ANDERSON: You know what, Tony? I've been surprised - well, not shocked - but surprised how many times I've read in the last few days that, well, Obama, he's not the first black president; he's the first biracial president, the first mixed-raced president, anything other than he's the first black or African-American president. So, I think whites want to see it as post-racial, but certainly blacks are not buying into it. And again, looking at those thousands of kids and what must be going - yesterday, at the Harlem Armory - what must have been going through their minds that their first president, for practical purposes, is a black man and the possibilities it opens up for them. So, I think it would be very hard to look at black folks in the same way. And just to finish, that I've read on - I've forgotten on whose blog - about rappers that they have to clean up their act. How are you going to talk about the B word and assume that pimp persona with a black man in the White House?
COX: Is it not palpable, L'Heureux, the sense that something has changed between blacks and whites since Obama's candidacy and now his election and ascension to the presidency? Although the question, I suppose, remains, how long will it last?
Dr. LEWIS: Yeah, I think there is a noticeable change in the orientations towards folks. Now, the biggest thing is that Barack Obama is exceptional, right? He is a cut above almost every human being that we see in terms of intellect, in terms of confidence, in terms of political ability. What I think this moment we have to look to is making sure that not only do perceptions about Barack Obama shift, but perceptions about everyday African-Americans. Ironically, I was in D.C. and right after midnight, I was trying to catch a taxi in D.C. and waited outside for 30 minutes as cabs passed me by and by. I want to see a transformation that every person who's black, brown, yellow, red - whomever - that they're treated with respect and dignity, like we now treat the president of the United States.
COX: You know, it's...
Ms. ANDERSON: And I would just add...
COX: Go ahead.
Ms. ANDERSON: With Obama's exceptionalism, if he were to show up at, let's say, Penn Station without his Secret Service detail, he would still have trouble catching a cab.
COX: You don't, either of you, see Barack Obama as a civil-rights president, do you?
Ms. ANDERSON: No, but he has an obligation as president to enforce civil-rights laws.
COX: Certainly. But do you see this as an issue for him?
Dr. LEWIS: I see it as a major issue. I don't see him as a civil-rights president. As folks have said time and time again, Barack Obama can't be, quote/unquote, "the president of black America." With that being said, I think it's important for the civil-rights community, people of color, to redefine the role to the president and say, with presidents before, we've had to push and make sure our voices are heard. We have to take that on even more now because there's a willingness to try to push race, gender, sexuality off the agenda. We have to push it back on. Even though we have a candidate who may look like us or may come from some of the same circles, that doesn't mean that he'll act on our behalf.
COX: We're going to pursue this point even further here at News & Notes probably on Thursday, if not in the very near future. Let me move on to one last point before we end our conversation. It has to do - since you are all bloggers - technology, because technology played a significant role in the 2008 presidential race, Obama successfully using mobile technology, the Web, social-networking sites to reach out to voters. Do you think and feel that that will continue through his presidency, Faye?
Ms. ANDERSON: Oh, absolutely. I sure hope so. That's why I'm launching Tracking Change wiki later this month. As was mentioned earlier, if you go to change.gov - I'm sorry, now whitehouse.gov - you see that a lot of the features from change.gov is there, and its citizens want to participate in the policymaking process. They are going to have to use these online tools.
COX: Now, during the campaign, just to follow that point a little bit further, L'Heureux, the president, the candidate at the time, was reaching out to people to raise money and to mobilize voters. Are they still reaching out in the same way with the same intensity at the moment?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. LEWIS: I would think, much to a lot of people's chagrin, they are. Emails are still coming out. There are updates constantly about what's happening, which is great, so it gives you a chance to update, as well as the blogosphere can respond with critique. And you get a chance for new innovations, right? What are people thinking? What are the technologies we use to connect with the American public? So, they have done a good job in the past, and I look forward to them updating their strategy as his presidency unfolds.
COX: Let me thank both of you for coming on. Having bloggers talk about blogging is always fascinating. We appreciate it very much. Thank you.
Ms. ANDERSON: Thank you.
Dr. LEWIS: Thank you.
COX: We have been talking with L'Heureux Lewis, assistant professor of sociology and black studies at the City College of New York - his blog is uptownnotes.com - and citizen journalist and public-policy consultant Faye Anderson. Her wiki, Tracking Change, launches later this month. Both were at our New York studios. Now, you can find their links to their blogs and to ours at nprnewsandnotes.org. And the conversation doesn't stop there. Our online series, Speak Your Mind, gives you a chance to sound off on the issues that you care about. To find out how, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org, and click on Speak Your Mind.
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