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Black Politics in the Age of Obama

Huffington Post

This is the first interview in the Black History Month series "Perspectives on Black Politics in the Age of Obama." It has been selectively edited for print, but the full audio will be available at It is being published as a joint HuffPost Politics and Black Voices project.

Tricia Rose is Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. She is most well known for her groundbreaking book on the emergence of hip hop culture, Black Noise, which was ranked among the top 25 books of 1995 by the Village Voice, and in 1999 was listed by Black Issues in Higher Education as one of its "Top Books of the Twentieth Century."
She is currently at work on a new project on African-American artists and musicians who have offered powerful visions to help us imagine -- and thus perhaps create -- just and resourceful communities.
Rakim Brooks (RB): Michael Dawson, the acclaimed University of Chicago Political Scientist, regards black politics as the ability for black people to "mobilize, to influence policy, to demand accountability from public officials and elites, and to impact public debate." I'd like to take that as our starting point for this discussion. Where is black politics by these measures?
Professor Tricia Rose (PTR): Professor Dawson is an acclaimed political scientist. This definition of politics though is a very institutionally traditional one. It's talking about black political participation in the political structure of society as it stands...not about community activism or transforming the territory entirely or refusing to participate in the structure of society. It's about making the system work.
[With that in mind,] this question of mobilization is very complicated. For the first time in this era of Obama, we have in a sense two kinds of mobilization that can take place. One, a mobilization that can take place on behalf of the black president, who is generally a liberal and in some cases progressive, but whose agenda may [not] line up automatically with the best interests of [the second mobilization, which is in support of] a black, collective, political, progressive project.
So what happens when you have these two options for mobilization?
You can mobilize for Obama, which right now looks to me like the only game in town. After looking at these Republicans, I'm going to truly be mobilizing for Obama. I mean, they will keep you correct, in a minute. A little bit of Newt Gingrich will straighten you out.
But there is an important distinction, not to collapse mobilization on behalf of Obama with mobilization for issues that automatically are representative of what's important for the black community. Incarceration, homelessness, joblessness, chronic levels of unemployment, terrible education, these are national issues, but they are very specific in the ways they impact black people. I'm not sure that [Obama's] necessarily capable of addressing that distinction or that we should expect that he represents the best answers to those problems.