Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Noel Pearson and Barack Obama

Below is a copy of a post that I made on the Australian opinion and blog site Lavartus Prodeo in response to a discussion about an article that appeared in the Australian print publication The Monthly (see original article here)

I haven’t seen the Noel Pearson article, as The Monthly has a subscription-only policy for its online edition, but it would sound like he would be arguing that Barack Obama should be running as a Republican rather than as a Democrat. There is a well-established Black Republican and black conservative tradition in the U.S. that tends to define itself in opposition to the ‘identity politics’ agenda associated with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and (yes, him again!) Rev. Jeremiah Wright, emphasising instead individual responsibility, being tough on urban crime, and patriotism.

Writing from the U.S., this would seem to be the second attempt by Australian news media to understand the Barack Obama phenomenon here that has got it completely wrong. Chris Masters’ ABC Four Corners story missed the whole issue because (1) he went to the wrong city (New York rather than Chicago); and (2) he insisted on seeing the whole thing through the prism of the 60s civil rights struggle. As a result the show had endless and irrelevant waffle about white girls in Harlem bars and black people profiting from the gentrification of Harlem. I’m surprised that he didn’t find out that rappers own big houses and that white Americans watch Oprah!

For The Monthly, the question is why - aside from skin colour - would you assume that Noel Pearson would be an authority on Barack Obama. A much better starting point would have been to find someone who was knowledgeable about Jesse Jackson’s campaign in the Democratic Party primaries of 1984 and 1988 (and Jackson got 29% of the popular vote and the Democrat delegates in 1988), and consider how Obama’s campaign has differed from that of Jackson, and indeed how he is different to the better known black Democrats in the U.S., such as Jackson. This article in The New York Times is one place to start.

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