Thursday, April 10, 2014

The children of 1969

Today in his speech on the LBJ civil rights legacy, President Obama said this:
In a time when cynicism is too often passed off as wisdom, it's perhaps easy to conclude that there are limits to change, that we are trapped by our own history, and politics is a fool's errand, and we'd be better off if we rolled back big chunks of LBJ's legacy, or at least if we don't put too much of our hope, invest too much of our hope in our government.

I reject such thinking, not just because Medicare and Medicaid have lifted millions from suffering, not just because the poverty rate in this nation would be far worse without food stamps and Head Start and all the Great Society programs that survive to this day. I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ's efforts, because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts, because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts, because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us.

Because of the civil rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody, not all at once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos and Asians and Native Americans and gay Americans and Americans with a disability.

They swung open for you and they swung open for me. And that's why I'm standing here today, because of those efforts, because of that legacy. And that means we've got a debt to pay. That means we can't afford to be cynical.
That inspired me to re-post part of something that I wrote over at Daily Kos back in 2009. 

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Sorry DFH if you opened this one up expecting that this diary would be about you...its not.

There was, however, something that happened that year that seems to be a big contributor to the myriad of discussions we are having these days about race. What might that be? Helen Cooper, writing in the NYT this week, gave us a clue. As she points out, 1969 was...
the year that America’s most prestigious universities began aggressively recruiting blacks and Latinos to their nearly all-white campuses.
Just like the passage of Title IX in 1972 has been seen by many as the groundbreaker that led to things like the US Women's Soccer Team winning the 1999 World Cup, the affirmative action of Ivy League schools has given us many of the new power elite in this country today. And these folks are shaking up the status quo. Here are just a few examples.

  • Barack Obama - President of the United States and graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law School
  • Michelle Obama - First Lady of the United States and graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School
  • Eric Holder - United States Attorney General and graduate of Columbia and Columbia Law School
  • Sonya Sotomayor - Nominee to the Supreme Court and graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School
  • Deval Patrick - Governor of Massachusetts and graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School
  • Cory Booker - Mayor of Newark, NJ and graduate of Stanford (and Oxford) and Yale Law School
  • Van Jones - White House Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and graduate of Yale Law School

These are just the few obvious ones that I thought of from the political arena.

We might react to all of this by decrying the hold that these elite institution have on the power base of this country. That would certainly be a worthy discussion. But Cooper, in her article, explains some interesting ways that this shift is impacting our politics.
But the children of 1969 dwell in a complex world. They retain an ethnic identity that includes its own complement of cultural, historical and psychological issues and considerations. This emerged at Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. And it emerged again last week, when Mr. Obama joked in the White House East Room that if he ran afoul of the police, “I’d get shot.” In saying this, he seemed to draw on the fears of black men across the United States, including those within the new power elite.

What Mr. Obama seemed to be demonstrating was what Mr. Lemann of Columbia calls a “double consciousness” that allows the children of 1969 to flow more easily between the world which their skin color bequeathed them and the world which their college degree opened up for them...

On Friday Mr. Obama said he hoped Mr. Gates’s incident might become a “teachable moment.” It is a daunting task for the children of 1969: finding out whether the double consciousness they honed in the Ivy League can actually get this country to listen — and react — to race in a different way.
So what we've been seeing lately is the former white male power base in this country being infiltrated by people with a "double consciousness" and the resulting fireworks. I'd suggest that the journey we started by electing our first Black POTUS is just beginning and that the clash between these two worlds will only intensify.

2 comments:

  1. Clarence Thomas also benefited from Affirmative Action, from getting into law school to getting on the bench. Too bad he turned his back on it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Things are looking up. You can't call anyone on that list a token. Looks like you can add the next Governor of Maryland to the list in the near future.

    Vic78

    ReplyDelete