[Megan] Also at The Economist this week, we've got John McWhorter guestblogging on Democracy in America, our American politics blog. His first two posts are great. On Al Sharpton:
Just where anyone gets the idea that any significant segment of black America takes its cue from Mr Sharpton as to how to vote is unclear. Mr Sharpton always implies that he has some kind of power in this vein a la old-time city bosses, but given that he has no raft of patronage of the kind that those guys did, and given that neither black leaders nor ordinary folk are given to mentioning Mr Sharpton as their bellwether for who to pull the lever for, it would appear that everybody including Mr Sharpton is playing a kind of game for the cameras.
I suppose Mr Sharpton does have a kind of power in the negative sense, in that if Mrs Clinton, in particular, did not go through the motions of kissing Mr Sharpton’s feet, in certain quarters the question would be raised as to whether she were a racist or not. I’m not ecstatic over the idea of measuring one’s feelings about black people according to whether one is a fan of the particular black person known as Reverend Al, but I understand that Senator Clinton doesn’t have time to split hairs.
Mr McWhorter also has a great bit on the "Stop snitching" movement:
Ecce the “stop snitching” Zeitgeist, in which it has become a shibboleth of being “down with” your people in poor black neighborhoods to refuse to give the police information about a black-on-black homicide, even if you witnessed it. This version of black identity has become so entrenched over the past few years that it is making it ever harder for investigators to crack murder cases.
Notracing this to “racism” doesn’t work. Police brutality was much worse in the past, and the War on Drugs is old news. The current "stop snitching" notion is the latest fashion amidst a larger phenomenon: a sense among black and brown teens and twenty-somethings that to be in aggressive opposition is the soul of being authentic. There has been an element of this in the black community since the sixties. But these days, it is so deeply felt that it is tacitly approved to place anti-authoritarian sentiment over black lives.
What planted the seeds for this new black identity to develop and set in is, ironically, the eclipse of open racism and segregation. When all black people had to make the best of the worst, there was no room for callisthenic acting up. Recordings like Cam’ron’s "Come Home With Me", celebrating gunplay and drug peddling and depicting women as unclean tramps worthy of physical abuse, would have been unthinkable.
But the reason people like Cam’ron have elevated this attitude into an entire sense of place in the world is because the Civil Rights movement freed blacks into an America that had just made the upturned middle finger into an icon of higher awareness.
He'll be blogging for us all week, so please stop by.