We all know that since the passage of the Civil Rights Laws in the 60's and the Republican Southern Strategy, African Americans have been the most loyal base of the Democratic Party. And I'd suggest that since that base was responsible for one of the most successful movements for change in this country, white progressives on the left have - for decades now - assumed that African Americans generally align with their political views (notice that word "assumed" - its always the basis of privilege).
And so, when an African American gets the Democratic nomination for president, the left wing of that party naturally assumes that he will align himself with their cause.
Whoops! Not so fast. If those white progressives had ever taken the time to learn about what black people in their communities actually believe, they might have been spared all this "disappointment" in President Obama. And they might have better understood why African Americans have remained so loyal.
I'll give you an example that I've noticed for a while now but haven't talked about here because it is a contentious issue that I don't (yet?) have a firm position about. If there's anything that's clear when you talk to African Americans, its that their number one issue right now is what is happening to their young people - on the streets, in school, and in the juvenile justice system.
In my professional work in this community I've noticed for some time now that many African Americans don't align themselves with a large portion of the left on their views about education. With a healthy skepticism about the intentions of Republicans, many of them have embraced the idea of alternatives to our public schools (ie, charters and private schools). That's because it is THEIR children who are failing and they don't necessarily have the time or patience to deal with the politics associated with teacher's unions in the public schools.
Most Democrats want to avoid this controversy because it pits one part of our coalition against another. But from the early days, progressives have been critical of President Obama's education reforms.
I noticed this also when I was rather surprised by the strong backlash from many progressives to Cory Booker's Senate campaign. It was interesting for me to see folks who hadn't weighed in on electoral politics in some time get so vehement in their opposition to Booker. I think that rather than simply an overt showing of racism in going after one of the few African Americans to run for Senate, it was more of a privileged ignorance about his positions. Matt Yglesias does a good job of explaining how that happened with respect to education reform.
So there's a lot at stake in painting Booker not as a fairly conventional Democrat who (like Barack Obama and lots of other Democrats) happens to disagree with teachers unions about K-12 issues. Instead, they want to paint Booker as an across-the-board demonic corporate sellout figure who disagrees with teachers unions as part of a general agenda of overclass madness.The truth is that African Americans are often as divergent in their political positions as white Americans are - with the exception of things like voting rights. But there are strains within the community that part ways very strongly with progressives, not just on issues like education reform but on things like the value of military service and the role of religion in politics (another one where both President Obama and Booker have come under fire from progressives).
Recently there was a lot of talk about how Republicans need to reach out to minority communities if they are going to survive in this new America. I'm beginning to understand that white progressives are going to need to do the same thing in order to avoid alienating themselves with their privileged assumptions.