Black America Under A Black President The historic election of an African-American man to the office of president triggered celebrations in the streets and jubilant exclamations of "only in America." But for black America, Election Day also triggered a lot of soul searching.
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Black America Under A Black President

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Black America Under A Black President

Black America Under A Black President

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. President-elect Barack Obama continues to form the financial team that he hopes will lead the United States out of its economic downturn. Tomorrow he's expected to introduce Timothy F. Geithner as his nominee for Treasury secretary and Harvard economist Lawrence Summers as director of the National Economic Council. Mr. Obama wants his team to put together a stimulus package that would save or create two and a half million jobs in the next two years.

There are high expectations for the incoming president. His election on November 4 was a historic moment in American history that triggered celebrations in the streets and jubilant exclamations of "Only in America." But for black America, November 4 also triggered a lot of soul searching. To talk about that, we've invited author and political analyst Jonetta Rose Barras and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page into our Washington studio. Welcome to both of you. Clarence, it's nice to see you again.

Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Columnist, The Chicago Tribune): Thank you, Liane.

Ms. JONETTA ROSE BARRAS (Political Analyst; Author): Thank you. It's good to be here.

HANSEN: Jonetta, I want to start with you. You wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post about race relations in America, and you described the election of Barack Obama as the beginning of a - and I'll put this in quotation marks - "post-racial America." What do you mean by that?

Ms. BARRAS: Well, I think that we have actually been coming to this place incrementally, I would say, since the 1990s, when you saw a new generation of young people who had actually come of age in an integrated America. And while they appreciated the history of their parents and their grandparents, they certainly were not burdened by it, were not imprisoned by all of the racial stuff that many of us went through.

So now we see that these young people, and some older people too, are interacting in a way that is not burdened by the past. I think that we will see more and more of this kind of interaction at a real genuine human level, and not a level that is colored by class and race.

HANSEN: Clarence, I wanted to hear what you had to say. Do you agree with it?

Mr. PAGE: Well, first of all, I love what Jonetta had to say in her article. I'm troubled by the term "post-racial," I prefer multiracial. There's no question we are a more multiracial country, and Barack Obama's election now raises our baseline of presumptions. We used to say, you know, can we put a man on the moon? Well, we put a man on the moon, and it changed our language. Then we said, well, if we can put a man on the moon, then we can do - fill in the blank. Now we can say, well, if we can put a black man in the White House - fill in the blank.

HANSEN: There are issues that affect all of us, and some issues affect some people more than others.

Mr. PAGE: Yes.

HANSEN: Are there expectations from black America about that?

Mr. PAGE: You know, black folks have not been honest about our discussion either. We have tended too often to blame everything on race. And that tends to help us to hide what I call overlook the underclass.

HANSEN: Jonetta, what's your take on the expectations?

Ms. BARRAS: I think that there are African-Americans who are not happy with a Barack Obama as the symbol of a black politician coming to the White House. They would have much rather preferred someone who is much more tied to identity confrontational politics of the Black Power movement.

My take, though, is that there are many of us who appreciate having a Barack Obama because he is emblematic of a community of African-Americans who, for some reason, we forgot about and thought they never existed. And all we thought about were the radicals that came along in the '60s and the '70s and the '80s. And so I think that you have kind of an expectation in the black community from two different perspectives.

HANSEN: How do you think the election of Barack Obama may change, or already has changed, black America's image of itself?

Ms. BARRAS: Well now, I think that it has not necessarily changed black America's image of itself, but I think black Americans now are able to see that that image that they had of themselves as upstanding people is now on the world stage. And so you don't evaluate us against Ludacris or 50 Cent, but you evaluate the entire community.

HANSEN: What do you think of the names that have leaked out so far for appointees to Barack Obama's Cabinet?

Mr. PAGE: My friends on the left are livid that there are names of people with experience. Can you imagine that?

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. PAGE: I mean, all these Clinton names, what are they doing? You know, I say, well, maybe Obama wants to avoid the problems that both Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter ran into when they first came to Washington.

HANSEN: Jonetta, what do you think of the names so far?

Ms. BARRAS: You are going to hear some of the black nationalists complaining about the fact that there are not enough young African-Americans that he has so far named, and, of course, our friends on the left who wanted to see a much more liberal administration. I think what we need to do is sit back, relax, and kind of let him build that base first, and then begin to evaluate.

HANSEN: What would you like to say to one another about the conversation that's going on now in the black community about this election?

Mr. PAGE: The fact that Barack Obama won, playing by the rules, and America met him halfway, shows the American dream is still alive. And my question would be, you know, how do we keep it alive? How do we make it mean something for all those kids left behind out there for the next generation? How do we make hope a reality for them? I mean, because this is where I'd like to see the discussion move.

Ms. BARRAS: I think, especially African-Americans have to reevaluate, sort of, where are you now? And that's the conversation I think I would like to see come to the public square.

Mr. PAGE: May I add one more thing? Dr. King, after the Civil Rights Act was passed and the Voting Rights Act was passed - and he moved on from race to economics, fighting poverty - white America responded, well, now you done stopped preaching and gone on to meddling, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: White America has never been comfortable talking about class. Can black America be comfortable talking about class? That's really where I want to see that discussion move.

Ms. BARRAS: Well - and I think that, Clarence, it's so interesting that we find ourselves in this economic crisis because this creates the moment for that conversation about class. So we're at a really great time, I think, in America to sort of begin to really break down these boundaries and borders permanently, or at least for a significant period of time.

Mr. PAGE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Jonetta Rose Barras is an author and political analyst. Clarence Page is a columnist for The Chicago Tribune. And they both came into our studio in Washington. Thanks a lot, both of you.

Mr. PAGE: Thank you, Liane.

Ms. BARRAS: Thank you.

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