Professor Kevin Gaines, Director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies and Professor of History at the University of Michigan discussed "Barack Obama and African American politics".
Barack Obama's historic election to the US presidency represents a triumph of the modern civil rights movement and its struggle for full citizenship and voting rights for African Americans. Yet against the backdrop of the history of African American electoral politics, this landmark victory has a paradoxical significance.
Traditionally, black elected officials have been modeled after “race men” whose electoral constituencies are predominantly African American and who have an image as staunch champions of black interests. President Obama represents a sharp departure from this traditional model of African American leadership, de-emphasizing issues of race, and distancing himself from an African American constituency. Although Obama succeeded in building on an African American electoral base to attract white voters, the challenges he faces in governing recall the difficulties of the first generation of African American big city mayors in the 1960s and 1970s whose landmark electoral success was followed by racial polarization and political gridlock.
Whether Obama can meet the challenges of governing a divided country as resourcefully as his campaign overcame the historical racial conflicts remains to be seen. Does Obama's victory represent, as some have claimed, the "end of black politics," and the arrival of a "post-racial" America?