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    The Sound, Fury and Future of Blackness in American Politics

    By Andrea Shorter–

    It is Black History Month, and the politics of the politics of identity politics couldn’t be more intriguing, puzzling, absurd and predictable. Debates about how black is black enough for a presidential candidate to be an authentic representative of the African American experience suggest that the politics of race and power continue as the fifth rail in political discourse.

    If we’ve learned anything at all in these troubling post-Obama years, we are nowhere near a once declared “post-racial” America. Post-racialism remains a wishful, childish and offensive dismissal mainly by those who don’t want to deal with the gravity and implications of race and power. For African American candidates in the 2020 race (so far) for president, the question of authentic enough blackness has expectedly come to the fore.

    The birther-ism cause was meant to derail and delegitimize the meteoric rise of candidate and eventual President Barack Obama—the biracial son of a white mother from Kansas and a black Kenyan father. Birther-ism was purposefully replete with nativist, xenophobic code for “other.” Oddly, black litmus testing functions as a similar type of codification.

    There is no one or officially sanctioned way to be black in America, no more than there is an official way to be LGBT. So, what is “black enough”? Black enough for whom? Is there a measure for a “too black” to be president? Does black enough mean regularly listening to hip-hop? Is it having marched for civil rights? Do we really want to go there? Maybe we don’t really want to go there, but we might have to, yet again, to keep moving forward.

    The issue of a candidate’s contemporary blackness is something of a fallacy. At heart is whether or not a candidate is perceived and accepted by black folks to relate to, and authentically to represent, the complexities of the predominate African American journey: the ascension of those descendant from slavery.

    The real uneasy question at play is: can a person of African descent, but not a descendant of American slavery, truly represent, advocate for and employ the powers of their office to help forge a progressive path forward for African Americans? History shows that we have had, in fact, many towering and able representatives in the halls of Congress of African and Afro-Caribbean descent, including the late Shirley Chisholm.

    The next question is, will a voter majority ever elect a person who is a descendant of American slavery into the White House? Are black identified candidates sans the descendant heritage of American slavery perceived and accepted as some sort of fair compromise? Are such queries fair to black identified candidates themselves, no matter how qualified, capable, prepared and dedicated they might be to serve as president for all Americans?

    Perhaps the answers lie in the not so distant future as our national demographics evolve into a majority minority populace, and the meaning of this historical heritage evolves along that platonic shift.

    The particular journey of descendants of American slavery is a deep and tightly intertwined strand in the American fabric. There is no running away from a not so distant history that all Americans are rooted in, share and continue to reap benefit from in one way or another. The strand is strong, and cannot be easily unraveled by any singular candidate, election cycle, legislation or administration.

    African Americans have every right to expect that our elected black leaders will do their utmost to represent and address their interests, issues and challenges at every level of office. African American voters are not looking for a messiah, no more than they will vote for someone simply because he or she is black. For many, it’s clearly a start. Still, African American voters are as dimensional in their determinations as are many other voters. Records and platforms do count.

    The quest for black authenticity in political leadership is the want for affirmation, and trusted representation against any attempts to dismiss, erase or forget the African American journey against political expediency. Ultimately, everyone has to determine for themselves if, how and why these queries really matter. Perhaps by next Black History Month, we will have it all figured out.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.