I've been meaning to get to this video for a while now, because it's been passing the rounds as a way to get two ideas across to the wider public:

1. Black political heterogeneity. Blacks don't all think the same politically. The fact that black people tend to vote democratic when they vote is more of a testimony of how limited our political system is than it is a testimony about black people.

2. Black thinkers are torn over Obama. Even as black thinkers in general believe racism to be a fundamental component of American life, they don't necessarily agree on a wide range of other things. Furthermore even as black thinkers in general believe the current manifestation of the Republican Party to be deeply racist, they haven't quite come to consensus on Obama.

I am agnostic about the first project. It isn't that I have problems with the idea of black political heterogeneity. It's that I don't find it necessary to "prove" black political heterogeneity. I grew up taking this for granted. I do believe it important to trace the contours of various disagreements as well as to assess their causes/consequences, I'm not the one for showing a non-black public "we don't all think alike."

I think the second project is important to examine though, because it gets us from the general "we don't all think alike" thing to a much more specific question. How should we assess the first black president's presidency? Such a debate, particularly when handled correctly, can expand democratic possibilities in black communities by at least exposing blacks to ideas about governance and democracy they might not have been exposed to before, ideas that can potentially make them amenable to participate in movement building at local, state, or federal levels.

With this said, below is a video between two black left-leaning intellectuals–Michael Eric Dyson, and Glen Ford.


If it goes too long for you, check out the transcript here.

I find two components about this debate deeply problematic:

1. Dyson compares the presidential election to a basketball game (to the NBA Finals no less). Perhaps this is better than the horse-race approach most pundits use, if for no other reason than the fact people don't really go to horse races anymore (the triple crown races notwithstanding). But it obscures what real stakes there may be, not just in this election, but in general. President Obama is NOT Lebron James. Drafting an executive order that makes drone warfare possible is not the same as putting the Heat on your back to defeat the Boston Celtics. Treating them as equivalents represents a sign of poor preparation, of disrespect for the audience, or both.

2. Ford makes the claim that Obama represents the more effective evil. Ok. I consider myself to be an Obama critic. And believe that a public option would be far better than Obamacare. But as the parent of a first year college student, who very well may need to stay on my health insurance after she graduates, I think Obamacare to better than the alternative. There are other examples of concrete ways that policies Obama supports have helped me–even as I have been victimized by the neoliberal turn in a number of ways. I don't see Ford wrestling with this at all. African Americans live in the world. Our lives are directly shaped by the policy decisions the President makes, and we often find ourselves having to make incredibly tough choices in order to navigate the world we live in, rather than the world we WANT to live in. Ford doesn't appear to get this distinction.

Boiling these components down debaters ignore the substance of politics and of political decisions. I wish Amy Goodman could've found other interlocutors.