(FinalCall.com) – At 30-years-old, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is a member of a growing body of Black hip-hop intellectuals. Dr. Hill is an assistant professor of urban education and American studies at Temple University
whose work covers topics such as hip-hop culture, politics, education and religion. You may have seen him engaging in ideological warfare against the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as a political contributor on Fox News Channel. Dr. Hill sat down with Final Call Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad to discuss some of the racial and political challenges faced by President Barack Obama’s incoming administration.
Final Call Newspaper (FC) Before her death, Benazir Bhutto achieved political prominence politically in Pakistan, however, it didn’t mean the end of sexism there. There have been female political leaders in Great Britain and Israel, however, sexism and patriarchy still exists in those places. Likewise Barack Obama’s ascending to the presidency doesn’t mean that racism in America has now ended. What are the implications of his victory, especially since there are those who say that since a Black man has become president of the United States, racism is no longer a problem?
Marc Lamont Hill (MLH): I think that you are absolutely right. The ascendance of an individual Black person is not the measure of our collective progress, it never has been. We sent Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) to the U.S. Senate 52-years-ago, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and others have achieved political prominence since then. There have always been prominent Blacks who have risen to the top. One person can always make it. We need to create a structure where everybody can make it. The price of his ascendance so far has been the reiteration of this idea that we are in a post-racial moment. That race–or color blindness–pretending that we don’t see color, and color muteness meaning, we are not allowed to talk about race, this has been seen as the pathway to social success. If we act like racism doesn’t exist, and if we don’t talk about race, everything will be o.k.
FC: So what you are saying is that ironically, though symbolizing the ultimate progress, his victory quite possibly could make it more difficult to even raise the issue?
MLH: It’s the wicked irony. Anyone can make it, the problem is everyone can’t. Particularly with Black folks, one person’s success is often on the backs of everyone else. I am not trying to offer a narrative of despair because we have seen extraordinary progress. There is no way even 20-years-ago that White folks would vote for a Black person to represent their interests. But the more fundamental part or problem for me is that we are selecting someone who represents White interests and that is what we need to get beyond. We need to get beyond the symbolism of a Black President. We need to ask the question do we want a new driver or do we want a new direction?
FC: With the success of President-elect Barack Obama, the margin and manner of his victory–with support from all races including Whites–many have called this the advent of “post-racial Black politics.” Black politicians such as Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, even Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., all are being viewed as members of this emerging Black neo-political class. How do you see this?
MLH: It’s fine as long as we don’t confuse the traditions. Barack Obama comes from a particular tradition. There is a place for Barack Obama in our struggle as long as we don’t ever confuse that with revolutionary action, Black politics or activism–that is not what he is. The reality is that we have made some progress, but the real work remains on the ground and it can’t be resolved in Washington, D.C. It can’t be addressed in Washington, D.C. I don’t see it as a regressive act to have more Black folks in office; I see it as a pregnant moment but it’s up to us to determine what the outcome is.
FC: What about his message of personal responsibility? How will that impact the Black community? Many people have said–or are hoping–that Obama’s rise will have an effect on Black men who will stand up straighter and…
MLH: Responsibility has never been absent from our public conversations. The first thing you talked about is cleaning up the Black man. That has been the mission of Black revolutionaries and Black nationalists since we’ve been here. Marcus Garvey talked about cleaning us up. The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Master Fard Muhammad talked about cleaning us up, Malcolm X talked about cleaning us up, the way we dress, the way we think, what we consume. The Black Panthers, W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, every credible movement has always talked about responsibility and structural reformation. But the problem is, people want to talk about one at the expense of the other. You can be as well behaved as you want, but if you don’t have food, clothing or shelter, you are going to have some problems. You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t know how to act and you replicate the mythology of White folk, you are going to have the same problems. So it can’t be either or, it’s both and we have always understood that. So I don’t have a problem with Barack’s message of responsibility but let’s not use it in such a way that the enemy can then take that up and use that as an excuse not to provide us with what we need.
FC: You mean no handouts, but still governmental responsibility.
MLH: Black folks haven’t gotten this far by being trifling. That’s why it resonates. When he says, “be a better father and take care of your children,” that resonates with us–that’s who we are. But we also know that you can’t be home with your kids if you are working three jobs, so it’s that sense of balance that I am worried about. And so what happens is the Whites say, “Even Barack Obama says you all can’t be good fathers.” “Even Barack Obama says something is wrong with you all.” And then we lose our authority–not our moral authority–but our political authority to demand more resources from the government that owes it to us.
FC: As an educator, what do you see as the primary barriers preventing the proper education of our Black children?
MLH: I am finishing a book right now on Black education and why schools are failing our children. Too often, we talk about why our children are failing in school. For me the question is why are schools failing our children?
FC: Okay, we will look for that. Five years from now where do you see yourself?
MLH: Hopefully, even more engaged in the Black freedom struggle. I don’t want anymore attention, I don’t want anymore money, but honestly I just want to get my hands dirty in the fields, working with the people, organizing. Hopefully in five years we will be working on a health care initiative, we will be building more of our schools. Hopefully we will have just celebrated the 5th year anniversary of a major media company, owned by Black folks–that is where I would like to be. But most importantly I would like to be in the basement. In some cold room with a space heater and 50 other Black folks building political education and trying to work. That is the work I am doing now, that is the work that has energized me and that is the work that I think matters the most.
FC: Thank you.
(You can learn more about Marc Lamont Hill, and read his blog at http://www.marclamonthill.com.)