Tufts professor revisits 50s Black Power Movement

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse | 10/27/2010, 5:42 a.m.
“Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama,” by Peniel Joseph. Basic Civitas Books, 2010. $26.00

 But “the interesting part of Obama,” he continued, is how people have interpreted his actions so differently — while the Tea Party movement has decried the president for being too liberal, many progressives say he hasn’t gone far enough. Although Obama has passed the biggest re-distributive legislation since 1965, Joseph said, “his base wanted the biggest since the New Deal.”

In his book, Joseph also discusses the difficulties of an Obama presidency to African Americans. “Obama’s presidency presents the black community with very real challenges, ones that, his critics correctly point out, necessitates more vigilance — not less,” he says.

 Although African Americans have “a lot of pride” in Obama, he explained in the interview, “absolutely they should criticize him.”

 “Some criticism is gratuitous,” he qualified, but “the worst thing they could do” is to refrain from substantive criticism of the president. For example, mass incarceration, Joseph said, is a “crisis” for African Americans, and Obama “doesn’t want to address it” — but blacks need to hold him accountable.

 Although some have called Obama’s election the end of black politics, Joseph insists it is just another stage in its long evolution. As for the direction of black politics in a post-Obama age, and whether the Obama model can be replicated, Joseph said, “We still have to see.” All he is certain of is that America’s search for racial and economic justice remains “unfinished . . . even as Obama’s historic election offers bittersweet hope for a more just future.”