Former Mayor Harold Washington was a powerful force in Chicago politics to say the least. His ability to break down barriers and navigate through the City's hostile racial politics helped to pave the way for other Black political figures across the Country. Indeed many Black political figures today operate in the shadow of Harold Washington. Washington's mayoral run helped to motivate Barack Obama to move to Chicago and enter grassroots politics back in the 1980's. Washington's efforts to end Chicago's history of dividing the races is something that is echoed today in many of Barack Obama's speeches.
I recently heard an interesting radio documentary about Harold Washington's mayoral career, and the racial politics of Chicago during the 1980's. The Program, produced and presented by Chicago Public Radio, was aired for the 20th Anniversary of Washington's passing. I didn't realize that Chicago's politics were so raw. Many of the things mentioned in the program reminded me of similar situations in my hometown of St. Louis- one of the most racially stratified communities in the nation. The program examines the question of how far Chicago and the nation have come, in terms of race and politics, over the last two decades. How big of a part does race still play in American politics? Can a Barack Obama really become President of the United States today?
I believe that the Country has come a very long way from the racial politics of Harold Washington's time. But "a long way" for me means perhaps 13 miles of a 26 mile Marathon. There is still a very long way to go and I don't believe that the Country will get to where it needs to be anytime soon. All one has to do is turn on the news or read the newspaper or the blogs (especially Blogs by African Americans) and they will see story after story of race related incidents across the nation. The same kinds of racial divides still exist today, although they manifest in different forms. And in many ways the nation has probably gone backwards when it comes to the relationship between race and politics.
Barack Obama has had to deal with some of the same ignorance that Harold Washington faced two decades ago in Chicago. All of the death threats that Obama has received, and all of the ignorant fear mongering by the White power structure and its corporate media, especially regarding Barack being a terrorist, is the same sickness that Harold Washington had to face. I recall, from the audio documentary, an incident experienced by Washington where a caller to a program that he was on asked him whether he planned to replace all of the elevators in Chicago with vines (a racist reference). That segment of the documentary actually sparked by memory...because I now vaguely remember that controversy. Obama is now getting similar treatment, albeit more nuanced in most cases. But it's basically the same racist nonsense all over again.
So have we come a long way as a nation? Sure. But I don't believe that this Country has grown up enough to actually elect a Black candidate for President. I just don't believe that a Black candidate will be elected in my lifetime. Some may say i'm wrong... and I may be...but I am one of those people who, in this particular case, has to see it to believe it.
Listen To The Documentary
*The Woman being interviewed at the end of the program has a Joe Biden moment. It's one of those things that makes me wonder if White Americans really do get it.
P.S. Mirror On America Blogger Rikyrah is a volunteer worker with the Obama Campaign.