“Something Happened In Iowa” by Ralph Remington

Something happened in Iowa.

I stood with my wife in front of a stage in Des Moines after two days of door knocking, where a man of African descent delivered a magnificent speech after winning the Iowa caucus.

There was a mostly white crowd, made up of lots of young people. All of them were screaming for change.

Something happened in Iowa.

We have all lived through eight years of national pain and we have a visceral need to ameliorate our stress. For that reason, this presidential election is more important than most.

The level of enthusiasm around the candidacy of Barack Obama is palpable. It’s very exciting. I support Barack wholeheartedly and enthusiastically and I have from the beginning. But I must say that it’s all very easy to feel all kumbayah and we are the world about this. And speaking as a black elected official who represents an 80% white ward, Barack’s candidacy and white embrace by civilians and elected officials is very encouraging. However, I will warn that it may be very warm and fuzzy for a white elected official to support a “trendy” black candidate at the national level because it’s relatively risk free. But it’s a much more difficult and dangerous venture to support black candidates at the local level who will represent large white majorities.

Local politics are frequently a messy, dirty and bloody affair where issues of race and class are often tangled up as if in a ball of twine. In national politics it’s easier to sidestep issues of race and class and unfortunately it’s almost necessary for black candidates to sidestep these issues if they in any way want to be successful. The reverse is true in local politics, particularly if you are a black candidate hoping to represent a large constituency of color.

Issues such as affordable housing, crime, homelessness, environmental injustice, police misconduct and many others often carry race as a subtext and we’ve grown used to coded language, employed by white elected officials to politely discuss the matter at hand. Saying it but not saying it.

National politicians don’t necessarily have to get their hands that dirty in the trenches of third rail infighting.

But something happened in Iowa.

In order for Barack Obama to become successful, he will have to refrain from giving black folks red meat. As much as black people need to hear their issues addressed (affirmative action, reparations, welfare, rebuilding the urban core, police brutality, etc.) we will have to wait. The reason is clear. Unfortunately, the more black issues are discussed without universal appeal, such as health care, the less white mainstream individuals will trust him.

But once he becomes the president, it changes everything. A presidential win for Obama will finally give white folks permission to vote for black candidates en masse. That means more black governors and U.S. senators. And perhaps our community can start to leave the politics of victimization behind while embracing the politics of a progressive multiracial pluralist democracy.

Something happened in Iowa.

And maybe just maybe, more white elected officials will start recruiting and endorsing more black elected candidates at the local level. Perhaps they’ll find their way to be just as energetic about black local elected officials who in many cases have to hold those same whites accountable, while at the same time dealing with the dirtiest aspects of governing our cosmopolitan environments.

Something happened in Iowa.

We may finally be ready to turn the page on the past and fully welcome the possibility of a post racial culture.

Are we bold enough to try?

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