African-Americans Have Made Great Political Progress, But Still Have Far to Go

Blacks must leverage their political power to achieve greater gains.

Posted: 04/13/2011 01:10 PM EDT
Filed Under Barack Obama

African Americans and Progress

Political strategist Donna Brazile has pretty much seen it all. She grew up in the segregated Deep South and has witnessed significant political progress, including the election of the nation’s first Black governor, Douglas Wilder; the first African-American woman senator, Carol Moseley Braun; the presidential campaigns of Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-New York) and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.; the first African-American to lead a major political party, the late Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown; and, of course, the election of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama.

“If we look at all of these things in totality, I think we’d say, ‘Oh my God, we’ve made enormous progress,' and in my political opinion, we have come a long way since 1965 when this country enacted the Voting Rights Act. We’ve seen the political empowerment of African-Americans. We’ve seen African-Americans more engaged in the political electorate and clearly after the 2008 historic campaign season we’ve seen African-Americans use their political leverage to help elect our nation’s first Black president,” Brazile said at a symposium this week hosted by the Aspen Institute, which examined the state of race in various aspects of African-American life. Her panel, which focused on politics, included state Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-South Carolina); former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele; and Jane Junn, a political science professor at the University of Southern California.

 “We still have enormous steps to take as a country to move beyond the old racial problems, the issue of racial identity and of course of how race plays a role in our politics,” Brazile said.

But as she also observed, the nation hasn’t achieved that post-racial panacea it imagined the Obama presidency would achieve. And even though he put together an unprecedentedly diverse base, it will be a challenge to replicate that in 2012, given changing demographics. Moreover, Brazile said, the Republican Party also has taken note of the changing nature of the electorate and will seek to attract those voters.

“We have a lot of steps to take before we finally can proclaim that we’re post-racial. But we’ve made significant progress. I think we’re at that mountain-top moment,” she said. “We know what the future looks like, but getting to that next phase of our political development will require significant leadership on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities in this country. At a time when our numbers are increasing, we need to make sure that our voices and our messaging are increasing.”

To view all of the panel discussions, click here.


(Photo: Reuters /Landov)