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Obama's election is changing the politics of race

Many black leaders are rejecting the old tactics of protest and rhetoric of inequality. 'You can't use 50-year-old ideas in a new political era,' one pastor says.

January 06, 2009|Peter Wallsten

Obama is "just one African American person, even if he is the president of the United States," said the Rev. Stephen Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America and pastor of the Chicago church where Rush and others honored Burris on Sunday. "He doesn't decide for the rest of the country that we should not seek to have African Americans in local political positions, statewide political positions or even national political positions."

The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, who heads a large black congregation in Baltimore, said the Democrats risk alienating blacks and others who may view the leadership's opposition to Burris as "old-style politics." He expressed concern that the Burris controversy was taking place at the same time that Obama had selected Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is white, as the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

"If you look at the major appointments that are going on in the Democratic Party, and Mr. Burris' appointment is one of those key appointments, it doesn't look good right now," Reid said.

Some black leaders said their frustration was fueled by reports that Harry Reid had called Blagojevich and recommended two white women for Obama's seat, allegedly saying that several potential candidates who are black might face longer odds of winning election once the appointment period was over.

Reid has disputed that account. "This is part of Blagojevich's cloud. He is making all this up. . . . I didn't tell him who not to appoint," the Senate majority leader said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Burris on Monday sought to avoid questions focusing on race, saying in a Chicago airport news conference before his flight to Washington that race "has never been a concern of mine."

But black leaders said Monday that the outcome of Burris' quest would speak volumes about the state of black power in the age of Obama.

Sharpton, even as he treads lightly around the Burris episode, said the Obama administration will not be immune from vocal protests if such a response is needed.

"Grievance politics will exist as long as there are grievances," he said, adding a reference to the historic day of Obama's election: "And grievances did not evaporate on Nov. 4."


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