The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley wrote an interesting piece this weekend about the impending presidential election. Unfortunately, like many pieces written for financial publications, Riley’s latest accounted for numbers while simultaneously neglecting to discuss human emotion.
In the piece, “For Blacks, the Pyrrhic Victory of the Obama Era,” Riley argues that it would be beneficial for African Americans to focus on bettering themselves economically and educationally rather than on supporting Black politicians like Barack Obama. He writes:
“Long after the passage of landmark civil-rights legislation, black leaders have continued to focus on integrating political institutions to redress social and economic problems. … But the historical reality for other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. is that political success has not been necessary for economic advancement.”
Riley points out that Jews, while not initially politically influential when they first arrived in the United States, have since become both financially stable and politically strong. Asians, he says, established themselves in a similar way: by focusing on education and building wealth and not political strength.
Today, Asian-Americans are the nation's best-educated and highest-earning racial group. According to a Pew study released earlier this year, 49% of Asians age 25 and older hold bachelor's degrees, compared with 31% of whites and 18% of blacks. The median household income for Asians is $66,000, which is $12,000 more than white households and double that of black households. As with other groups, political clout has not been a precondition of Asian socioeconomic advancement.
There are a handful of prominent Asian-American politicians today, including Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, but Asians have tended to avoid politics compared with other groups. Between 1990 and 2000, for example, the number of elected officials grew by 23% for blacks but only by 4% for Asians.
Riley’s piece seems like a tidy enough explanation: Blacks focusing on obtaining political power has been a pointless exercise as other groups less interested in winning high office have surpassed them in other, more important realms.
But beware whenever an explanation sounds too simple.
Riley ignores the cultural and historical reasons why Asians, Jews and African Americans might have different successes in the United States, presuming, ostensibly, that Blacks lagging has to do with too much time spent focusing on political victories. He also ignores the thought that maybe the reason many Jews didn’t run for office decades ago wasn’t because they didn’t want to, but because anti-Semitic strains in the U.S. would have kept them out of the race regardless.
More egregious, however, is that Riley seems to write off Obama and other Blacks who win office as ineffectual and unnecessary. Having a Black president wasn’t a panacea for African American woes.
But what that viewpoint doesn’t take into account — besides the fact that Obama arguably did far more for the Black community than a white president in his position would have — is the emotional resonance Obama’s presidency has had for Black adults and children.
Seeing a Black man in the Oval Office may not mean anything to Riley and the rest of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. But the fact remains that that image probably has a lasting impact on millions of Black Americans who need some hope in their lives as they continue fighting for better educational and financial opportunities.
These views do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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