The Future of Black Politics

WED, MAR 7, 2012 (1:03:57)

"Professors Michael Dawson and William Julius Wilson and the Reverend Eugene Rivers discuss The Future of Black Politics, the subject of Boston Review's current issue.

How has the field of black politics changed in recent decades? Are the issues facing impoverished African American communities today best addressed by race-based or class-based initiatives? What has President Obama done to specifically help African American communities? Why does their seem to be a lack of African American politicians who are willing to champion African American causes? These are some of the questions explored in this panel discussion.

Michael Dawson's most recent book is Not in Our Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, polls revealed that only 20 percent of African Americans believed that racial equality for blacks would be achieved in their lifetime. But following the election of Barack Obama, that number leaped to more than half. Did that dramatic shift in opinion really reflect a change in the vitality of black politics'and hope for improvement in the lives of African Americans? Or was it a onetime surge brought on by the euphoria of an extraordinary election? Dawson shows that it is the latter: for all the talk about a new post-racial America, the fundamental realities of American racism'and the problems facing black political movements'have not changed.

With More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City, William Julius Wilson explains a new framework for understanding racial inequality, challenging both conservative and liberal dogma. Wilson analyzes the persistence of the inner-city ghetto, the plight of low-skilled black males, and the fragmentation of the African American family. Though the discussion of racial inequality is typically ideologically polarized, Wilson considers both institutional and cultural factors as causes of the persistence of racial inequality."

+ BIO: Michael Dawson

Michael C. Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science and the College at the University of Chicago. He has also taught at the University of Michigan and Harvard University. Dawson received his BA with high honors from Berkeley in 1982 and doctorate degree from Harvard University in 1986. Professor Dawson was co-principal investigator of the 1988 National Black Election Study and was principal investigator with Ronald Brown of the 1993-1994 National Black Politics Study.

His research interests have included the development of quantitative models of African American political behavior, identity, and public opinion, the political effects of urban poverty, and African American political ideology. This work also includes delineating the differences in African American public opinion from those of white Americans. More recently he has combined his quantitative work with work in political theory.

His previous two books, Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African-American Politics (Princeton 1994) and Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies (Chicago 2001), won multiple awards, including Black Visions winning the prestigious Ralph Bunche Award from the American Political Science Association. Dawson has also published numerous journal articles, book chapters and opinion pieces. Dawson's strong interest in the impact of the information technology revolution on society and politics, as well as his research on race are both fueled in part from his time spent as an activist while studying and working in Silicon Valley for several years. Dawson is currently finishing an edited volume, Fragmented Rainbow, on race and civil society in the United States as well as a solo volume, Black Politics in the Early 21st Century.

+ BIO: William Julius Wilson

William Julius Wilson is the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University. Wilson received a Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1966. He then taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, before joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1972. In 1990 he was appointed the Lucy Flower University Professor and director of the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Urban Inequality.

Joining the faculty at Harvard in 1996, Wilson studies race and urban inequalities. His most recent work is When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. Wilson is the recipient of numerous awards, including 41 honorary degrees and the National Medal of Science.

+ BIO: Eugene F. Rivers III

Youth activist Reverend Eugene Franklin Rivers, III was born on April 9, 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts. Rivers spent his early years in Chicago where his parents, Mildred Bell Rivers and Eugene F. Rivers, Jr. were members of the Nation of Islam. His father, as Eugene 3X, designed the masthead for Muhammad Speaks.

Mentored by Reverend Benjamin Smith of Philadelphia's Deliverance Evangelistic Temple, Rivers graduated from Dobbins Vocational High School in 1968. He studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, while becoming active in street level organizing and black church politics. In 1970, Rivers was a part of the Black Economic Development Conference working with Muhammad Kenyatta. He joined Lucius Walker and James Forman in the Reparations Movement. He attended Yale as an unregistered activist from 1973 to 1976. Officially admitted to Harvard University in 1976, Rivers was mentored by Dr. Martin Kilson.

Recognized as one of the most effective crusaders against gang violence, Rivers founded Azusa Christian Community in 1984 in the Four Corners section of Boston's inner city Dorchester neighborhood. As President of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation, he is working to build new grassroots leadership in forty of the worst inner city neighborhoods in inner city America. Rivers has appeared on CNN's Hardball, NBC's Meet the Press, PBS's Charlie Rose, BET's Lead Story, and National Public Radio, among other programs. He has been featured or provided commentary for publications such as Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Herald, and the Boston Globe, as well as periodicals such as the Boston Review, Sojourners, Christianity Today, and Books and Culture.

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