Jesse Jackson, Jr. has signed a plea deal. With all his father’s clout and his own long time political service, the former Congressman is said to be facing considerable jail time. His wife, Sandi, has resigned from the Chicago City Council and is being investigated. A potential African American political dynasty crushed in its nascent stages.
African Americans pols don’t even come to close to epic political chicanery. We often go down for such small, petty crimes. However, the litany of political failure (Kwame Kilpatrick, Monica Conyers, Mike Espy, and some hapless members of the Congressional Black Caucus including Rep. Charlie Rangel) affects the public consciousness disproportionately. It calls black competence and integrity – always in a fragile state – into further and deeper question. And the constituents continue to suffer. For all of the political skill of now President Obama and the Jackson clan, it’s hard to imagine Chicago in a worse state. Not for all blacks in all respects certainly, but still.
It’s reasonable to feel more ambivalence about figures like former mayors Marion Barry or Omar Bradley. After all, the Peter Principle of politicians failing upwards is a long established tradition. It’s easy to see why African Americans would want to have the same chance.
But the painful process of Blacks coming of age politically — drone and whistle blower convo with respect to President Obama, anyone? – in many ways couldn’t be coming at a worse time. The collapse of manufacturing and the 2008 melt down has created a devastation that’s not just economic. It’s about more than unemployment and underemployment, although our unemployment figures are shockingly and shamefully high. The devastation of the housing sector means that home — the place where you could go when times were bad — literally no longer exists for a lot of people. And with that went the chance to go to college, start a business or a family with some sense of a solid foundation. A terrific analysis can be found in the new book, Detroit: An American Autopsy.
At the same time, the African American population is becoming numerically less significant. In California, Latino(a)s will soon capture the plurality. The Asian population of 13% will be literally triple the African American population of 4%. All of this was easily predictable. Hello decline of marriage, rise of HIV/AIDS. Can some African Americans represent non African American districts? Certainly. Will that be the norm? Surely not.
This doesn’t bode well for African American politics. And those who don’t like politics or only want to focus on economic or spiritual solutions are badly misinformed. There is a reason why Mormons advertise their faith, Catholics vigorously advocate for issues and money gushes into the political system.
Where are our political dynasties? What will be left for future generations to build on? Today, I’m feeling like the picture is pretty bleak.