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Thursday
Oct 23rd

WHY WE NEED A NEGRO PRESIDENT IN 1980

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From Look Magazine, May 1970

I ran for mayor of New York City a few years ago, and the headline in the New York Herald Tribune the day after I introduced my running mates was: "Buckley Has A Balanced Ticket: Markey, Mrs. Gunning -- All Irish." The professionals rocked with mirth when I subsequently announced that I hadn't known that Mrs. Rosemary Gunning was Irish, and hadn't even known that she was Catholic. I ran for mayor of New York City a few years ago, and the headline in the New York Herald Tribune the day after I introduced my running mates was: "Buckley Has A Balanced Ticket: Markey, Mrs. Gunning – All Irish." The professionals rocked with mirth when I subsequently announced that I hadn't known that Mrs. Rosemary Gunning was Irish, and hadn't even known that she was Catholic. I was stung by the criticism of my naiveté and tried to turn it to my advantage later in the campaign by observing that those who sought a religiously balanced ticket or an ethnically balanced ticket were, after all, the ethnically self-conscious and hence using the opportunities of discord and of totemic political practices. And I was right – am right – but I am talking out-of-this-world where, ideally, politics has nothing to do with this world. It is different – especially different, in my judgment, where the Negro is concerned, for reasons that in so far as they are obviously painful to relate, yet relevant to the objective at hand, which is the election of a Negro (no, not any Negro) as President of the United States in 1980 (or thereabouts).

High political office in America (and in most other places) tends, after all, to carry social distinction, and it is for this reason that some Americans who might have been otherwise inclined if purely political considerations had been consulted, voted for John Kennedy in 1960. Not merely Catholics, but others also who wished to see broken a religious barrier that they believed generically unhealthy and (in some cases) practically inconvenient. For instance, the Jews. It seems to me that the election of Kennedy did have this reassuring general effect. And of course, what happens when people are reassured is that they tend to become less ambitious in that particular direction. One senses that the accomplishments of the Jew in America are so pronounced that he no longer needs the Presidency, not because the Presidency is small potatoes, but because the achievement of it is unlikely to add anything to the sense the American Jew now has of being in. Such a certification – election to the Presidency – would now strike most American Jews as a redundant affirmation of their importance, of their qualifications to serve.

It isn't so with the American Negro. He has not won a dozen Noble Prizes, or crowded Groton graduates out of Harvard, or coached us in the mysteries of atom splitting. The debate will continue on the question of whether his gifts are genetically other than those of Caucasian, or only apparently other for reasons of training or environment. I do not myself believe that the final scientific adjudication of that debate will prove to be particularly important, except perhaps in a narrow pedagogical sense. George Washington was less "intelligent" than Einstein, an obvious way of making a point that is nonetheless subtle. But the American Negro needs the kind of reassurance that Einstein did not need. It is the reassurance that he can move into the reaches of reservations from which he has grown up thinking that Americans whose skins are black are permanently excluded.

There are reasons for urging that final achievement (the black President) that are more important then merely buying the reassurance of American Negroes. They are a form not exactly of white expiation, though I would not dismiss this as a factor in any corporate effort to elect a black President. They are a form of self-assurance. The outstanding charge against America is hypocrisy. It is greatly exaggerated beyond even the exaggeration that always marks the distance between national practice and national ideal. But where the Negroes are concerned, the practice of inequality directly belies the vision of equality of opportunity, so that the election of Negro public officia
 

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