Dear Bush Beat . . .
Don in AZ writes:
If Harkavy wasn't so busy trashing Bush and employed a little more than the Michael Moore School of Research, he would know that Edward Brooke from the People's Republic of Massachusetts was indeed the first black U.S. senator.
Thank you for reading. Yes, Don, you're right, as are several other readers who wrote in to point out my mistake. How could I have forgotten about the moderate Republican Brooke when I said in my Friday item that Barack Obama was in line to become the first black male senator since Reconstruction? Brooke was elected in 1966. Only this summer, Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Brooke, along with such luminaries as Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, Doris Day, Estee Lauder, and Rita Moreno.
While we're at it, take a look at history professor William Jelani Cobb's essay on black senators, on Africana.com. Brooke was a centrist Republican, and he had little lasting impact on legislation emerging from Congress, but no black senator ever has. Cobb makes the intriguing point that Obama, the likely new senator from Illinois, will be tested if he tries to stay in the middle of the road in today's fragmented Democratic Party:
The racial realities of America often come down to either/or predicaments, and standing in the middle of the road is the best way to assure that one is hit by traffic from both directions.
Obama's approach is not that of Jesse Jackson's or Al Sharpton's, but that doesn't mean the smooth young lawyer can go mainstream and still be effective by always being calm and cool in this America.
(Sometimes you've just got to be more Dave Chappelle than Wayne Brady. For a fuller explanation, consult Negrodamus, who famously opined, "White people love Wayne Brady because Wayne Brady makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X.")
As Cobb puts it:
As long as there are outrageous racial offenses, as long as African Americans find themselves unfairly targeted, harassed, and even killed by policein short, as long as there is overt racismthere will be a niche for a Negro with a bullhorn. The question is whether or not Obamaor any figure like himcan maintain black support in the midst of a political arena that is often split along racial lines (it should be recalled, for instance, that the majority of white residents of New York City did not believe that the police who shot Amadou Diallo 19 times should be brought up on charges.)
In short, our ancient problems will still confront even new black leadership.
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