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A good article about the essentialist take on the Democratic candidates and how they're so often broadly distinguished by their race and gender. Just as with the election of the conservative South Asian American, Bobby Jindal, as the governor of Louisiana, it's an important consideration whether a single person can claim to "represent" a community merely on the basis of her/his race or sex.

(Grace Lee Boggs is a Barnard alum, longtime activist, writer, intellectual, and Asian American Movement O.G. She was once a colleague of the black radical intellectual C.L.R. James, and she's been involved with Detroit community struggles for decades, along with her late husband, James Boggs. Her autobiography is titled Living For Change, and she's the recipient of many awards.)

from the Michigan Citizen, Dec.30-Jan.6 , 2008

This is a good question because it challenges us to stop glossing over the huge changes that have taken place, both positively and negatively, in black leadership over the last 50 years.

In the 50s and 60s we may not have called it "black leadership" but there was no doubt what we had in mind. We were talking about "the movement." Southern blacks, rising out of obscurity, determined to rid their communities and this country of Jim Crow, risking their lives by sitting in front seats on buses, sitting down at lunch counters, registering to vote. Small groups of deeply-committed and highly-disciplined individuals engaging in non-violent actions that forced millions of white Americans to look at themselves and recognize the crimes that have made possible the rapid economic development of this country. SNCC students transforming themselves and humanizing this country by simple acts that raised the fundamental question of what it means to be a human being, thereby inspiring women, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans to challenge patriarchy and racism.

In the North men like Malcolm challenged us to look into the mirror by transforming themselves from hustlers into community leaders and searching for new ideas when those which had initially inspired their transformation tuned out to be too narrow. Students inspired us by walking out of schools demanding black history and black administrators.

Between 1965 (the year Malcolm was killed) and 1968 (the year Martin was gunned down) black leadership was taken to a new level by King. Agonizing over the twin crises of the Vietnam war and the urban rebellions, he called for a radical revolution in values, not only against racism but against materialism and militarism. Warning against integration into the "burning house" of U.S. capitalism, he emphasized the need for two-sided transformation by and of Americans, both of ourselves AND our institutions, a transformation that would take us and the world beyond both traditional capitalism and communism.

King was killed before he could put this new revolutionary/evolutionary transformational vision of revolution into practice and make it widely known to the world.

After his death civil rights leaders, ignoring King's warning, seized upon the opportunities that had been opened up by "the movement" to enter the "burning house" of U. S. capitalism. Instead of calling upon the American people to confront our consumerism and militarism, instead of challenging corporate globalism, these opportunists became a part of the system, evaluating black progress by how much they and other blacks were catching up with whites.

In 1977, with the support of the civil rights establishment, Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first black mayor, used scabs to break the garbage workers strike. In the late 70s civil rights leaders turned blacks into a special interest group inside the Democratic Party, just as the Democrats were becoming indistinguishable from Republicans in their dependence on corporations for campaign funds.

As a result, the word "black" has lost all its movement meaning. So Bill Clinton, the man who sponsored NAFTA, who got rid of Aid to Dependent Children, who bombed Iraq, and who now suggests that Hillary's first act as president would be to send him and George W's father around the world, can be called this country's "first black president"!

Meanwhile capitalism has morphed into corporate globalization, the materialism of the American people has skyrocketed, inequality is mushrooming inside the United States and between the global north and the global south, violence continues to escalate both at home and abroad, and the planetary crisis is reaching the point of no return.

Had it not been for the movements of the 50s and 60s, Obama and Hillary would not be front runners in the presidential race today.

But neither Obama's ethnicity or Hillary's gender is enough to earn my support. Neither is calling on the American people to confront our materialism and militarism or challenging and proposing alternatives to corporate globalization. At this critical period in human history that is what we should be requiring of ourselves and of any presidential candidate, whatever their race, gender or religion.

Fortunately new leadership is emerging out of obscurity, at the grassroots level, building community instead of running for office.



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