Just Did It: Gwen Ifill’s “The Breakthrough”

I was moved to pick up Gwen Ifill’s The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, after her intelligent and honest keynote speech at the CARE National Conference last May.  (Don’t even get me started on how opposite of that the other keynoter — Wolf Blizter — was, but let’s leave that discussion for another time.)

ft_ifill

My first reaction was to recall all the hubbub surrounding the book’s publication, which was right around the time Ifill was scheduled to moderate one of the Presidential Debates.  The charge?  Ifill’s book was a paean to Obama and all his glory and, therefore, she was an unfit and biased moderator.  Now I know those charges are a bunch of baloney.  The Breakthrough compares prominent black politicians during the Civil Rights era and today and how their roles and approaches have evolved over the years – leading to the first of many examples in the book of sandpaper politics.  It begs the question: does Obama’s election signify the end of race-based politics, or is just “the latest step in a political evolution that has yet to fully unfold?”

The chapter I found most fascinating dealt with “The Politics of Identity” and the ridiculous question that people debated time and time again:  “Is he [Obama] black enough?”  I laughed out loud when the poet Bomani Armah said:  “What do you expect the first black president to be? A dashiki-wearing, Afro-with-a-pick, fist-waving, ex-Black Panther?”  Obama, himself, admits that he’s just different…even for black people.  “If I were watching FOX News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right?  Because the way I’m portrayed 24/7 is as a freak!  I’m the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal.”  

I’ll admit I learned about many black political leaders that I hadn’t heard of before, but after a while the name/position/personal story format became repetitive and I’m not sure how many of them I’ll remember.  What I did walk away with was Ifill’s sense of optimism.  She shares a story about a friend who swore he’d leave the country if Obama lost because no other African American would get an opportunity like this for at least 100 years.  After working on the book, however, Ifill was reminded that “the bench is deep — crammed elbow to elbow with mayors, state lawmakers and other rising stars poised to grab at the next brass ring.”  

I need to read a similar book about Latinos, women and other underrepresented minorities to understand just how deep that bench truly is.  I agree with The White House Project’s Marie Wilson who said:  “Diversity in people translates into diversity of thought and perspective – the launching pad for innovation, ingenuity, and the foundation of democracy.”

Posted by: Mariela

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