Black Politicians Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1583 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: American History

Black Politicians: Racial, Cultural and Situational Realities and Challenges few years back, the black female novelist Toni Morrison, the first African-American writer ever to win the Nobel Prize for literature, wrote an essay describing "Clinton as the first black president" (New Yorker, October 1998). Morrison's reasons for describing then-President Bill Clinton in this way included the following:

Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food- loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced [sic] sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched [sic],... The message was clear "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved.

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Morrison has a powerful and relevant point; black (and/or quasi-black) politicians are seldom if ever scions of the predominantly white power elite, e.g., an Al Gore; George W. Bush; Evan Bayh, Lincoln Chafee; or a Kennedy son, daughter or grandchild -at least not in America. So, as Toni Morrison also implies within her 1998 essay, a black politician in America is seldom if ever "anointed" to office in the way that all too many white ones have been historically (think Adams; Taft; Roosevelt Kennedy), and continue to be nowadays. The two most recent examples of successful white politicians whose fathers (after whom they each, moreover, is named, thereby even increasing, even more, voters' connection of this name to that of (most of the time, anyway) a powerful (white) Washington insider whose son (or sometimes daughter) has simply decided that now is the time to enter the "family business."

Term Paper on Black Politicians Assignment

In order to become viable for election to local; state, regional, or national office, black politicians in general, yesterday and today must still run not only against an actual human opponent or opponents, but also must face the reality of being black in a society that still holds plenty of prejudice against African-Americans, stemming from the days of Southern slavery. In fact, it was only in 1865, with ratification of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery in the United States that all American blacks began to be considered free and equal citizens under the law ("Thirteenth Amendment"), and it was only after the 15th Amendment became law in 1870 that all blacks, including ex-slaves could vote (see "Fifteenth Amendment."

After all, a nation whose 1776 Constitution, at least as first written and ratified, stated then that all men [meaning just that back then, since women had far fewer rights and no vote] were 'created equal' [except blacks, who were then counted as being only 3/5 of a person (U.S. Constitution). As a nation that once kept blacks as slaves and still retains plenty of prejudice springing from that ignoble period, we are still very far from being colorblind, especially when it comes to granting power, elected or otherwise, to any given person or group.

Therefore it is not surprising that when Illinois state legislator Barak Obama was elected by a landslide to the U.S. Senate in 2004 (see "Barak Obama") he was just the fifth African-American in our 200+ year history ever to have been elected to that august body (Klein).

Moreover, the U.S. House of Representatives, especially considering its size and the fact that a Congressional candidate and/or incumbent runs for election or re-election every two years, Senate candidates and/or incumbents need run only six years, has done little better in terms of its history of black membership. According to the article "African-Americans in the United States Congress" (December 10, 2006):

Since 1868, there have been 118 African-American members of the United

States Congress. This figure includes one member that was elected, but was never seated in Congress and five non-voting members of the House of Representatives, representing the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin

Islands [emphasis not added].

Clearly, then, African-American politicians face unique racial challenges while running for office, and even once elected, serving can sometimes (based, again, on race) be less than a picnic, especially as compared to equivalent experiences (or non-experiences) of whites holding equivalent or similar offices. An example of an unfortunate experience, arguably based on race, happened to African-American Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) in March 2006. According to the article "Cynthia McKinney" (December 10, 2006):

McKinney entered the Longworth House Office Building's southeast entrance and proceeded past the check point, walking around the metal detector. Members of Congress have identifying lapel pins and are not required to pass through metal detectors. The officers present failed to recognize her as a Member of Congress because she was not wearing the appropriate identification. She proceeded westward down the ground floor hallway, and about half way down the hallway was grabbed by United States

Capitol Police officer Paul McKenna, who states that he had been calling after her "Ma'am, Ma'am!" McKinney responded by hitting the police officer.

This incident and its circus-like aftermath, especially the protracted national media coverage that followed its occurrence, underscores, perhaps more than any other single occurrence involving a black politician in recent years, various situational conundrums inherent within the facts of being black and serving in an elite national elected body like the U.S. House of Representatives. For example, since there are so few blacks in Congress, the Capitol Police (and others) are not used to seeing them there. Added to that, women are still a relatively small minority in Congress, compared to men, so a black woman representative is especially rare. Added to that, Ms. McKinney was not wearing her Congressional pin that day, which would have identified her right away as a member of Congress. However, according to the article "Capital Living" (The Hill, July 5, 2006):

There are a range of reasons why some members choose to wear pins and others do not, yet there is no discernable pattern. For some, it's automatic.

They don't want to be stopped at the door,... For others, it's a privilege...

I think it's a matter of preference," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

But] Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)... said "I've never worn one,"... "I have enough trouble combing my hair in the morning... " (Rothstein)

Clearly, then, many members of Congress do not wear their pins, just as Ms. McKinney did not that day, but not all, or even most, are stopped. The implication here is clear (and racially-tinged, whatever the rhetoric, or by whom: some members of Congress (a good guess is that this is white males, since they still dominate Congress) need to be the least worried about not wearing their pins when they get to the police and the metal detector. They have the "look" of belonging where they are headed, while other, especially non-white and/or female members, e.g., Ms. McKinney, may not, especially when not wearing their pins In addition, McKinney was apparently seen by most of her voting constituents afterward as a scofflaw for protesting her own treatment during the incident and implying that it was race-based. Also, subsequent to this well-publicized occurrence: "McKinney was defeated in the 2006 Democratic primary, losing her Congressional seat for the second time" ("Cynthia McKinney").

Black politicians, because they are black in a still-prejudiced; still white-dominated America, face unique challenges, from the moment they first decide to run for office to the day when (if elected) they move on or retire from elected public life. Much like the "first black President" of Toni Morrison's, description, Bill Clinton, most (genuinely) black politicians tend not to have been born into wealth and privilege, or to grow up in a household where their futures as elected officials are made… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Black Politicians" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Black Politicians.  (2006, December 10).  Retrieved September 18, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Black Politicians."  10 December 2006.  Web.  18 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Black Politicians."  December 10, 2006.  Accessed September 18, 2020.