Panel Discusses Black History

During a panel discussion yesterday, speakers at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government argued that the election of President Obama has not translated into a post-racial society.

Speakers at the panel titled “Bending the Arc of Justice: Black History and the American Radical Tradition,” said the election of Obama, while a major victory for black community, has distracted the public from many social issues that still exist within minority communities.

“I see it as a distraction from the challenges that marginalized communities have historically faced and will continue to face in the future,” said Panelist Monique W. Morris, vice president for research and advocacy at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The success of one individual was important in altering the narrative of America, but as a result we are less inclined to focus on the quest for justice.”

If society focuses on issues of mass incarceration, residential segregation, and educational disparity through the lens of one man’s success, the public will lose sight of many of the ongoing injustices that disproportionately affect blacks, Morris said.

“African Americans are the people most likely to be incarcerated within the world,” she added.

Yesterday’s panel—moderated by Timothy P. McCarthy, director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Kennedy School—was organized in honor of Black History Month to discuss the history of black political movements and their continuing effects on modern day politics.

Some of yesterday’s speakers also argued that many misinterpreted the grassroots support for Obama’s presidential campaign.

“The problem with the social movement that got him [elected to office] was that they couldn’t agree on anything else,” Peniel E. Joseph, a professor at Tufts University who spoke at the event.

Joseph argued that the campaign was mobilized by a number of disparate social advocacy groups that grew disaffected after the Obama administration failed to directly address the wide range of his supporters’ concerns.

“We confused this campaign with a movement,” McCarthy added.

Joseph and the other panelists said that it is vital that Americans not allow the so-called “era of post-racial politics”  breed political complacency.

“To quote Congressman [John R.] Lewis, ‘Barack Obama is what we get at the end of that bridge to Selma, but we can’t forget that there are still many bridges to cross,’” said Joseph.

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