In Massachusetts, there is a new Saint Patrick. Up in New Hampshire, curious people recently treated Barack Obama like a saint. It is uncertain if a black person in the bully pulpit means the pews are open to all.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled program, "The Black Savior," to bring you this special denouncement. The possible presidential run of Illinois Senator Obama and the election of Deval Patrick as governor means nothing in American race relations if the acceptance of an individual does not inspire acceptance of black America.
Patrick made history as the second elected African-American governor in the nation's history. But he was elected in an era no one thought we would be in a half century after the civil rights movement went into full swing.
Patrick negotiated his way from the South Side of Chicago to Milton Academy, Harvard, the Clinton administration, and Coca-Cola to the governor's chair. The bulk of black America is still scaling up sheer walls, out of canyons carved out by this nation's discriminatory past. There are millions of would-be Patricks whose dreams are being swallowed up by achievement gaps, health disparities, and subtle job discrimination. There is no sign that America is truly ready to deal with that.
Evidence of this is right here, right on time for Patrick's inauguration. This week a major statewide diversity survey was released by UMass-Boston's McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies , its Institute for Asian American Studies , Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development, and the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture.
While 4.8 percent of white residents said the quality of race relations was "very good" and 35.6 percent said they were "good," for a total of 40.4 percent, not a single black resident said race relations were "very good" and only 22 percent said they were good. While just 8.5 percent of white residents thought race relations were "poor," 24 percent of black residents thought so.
What presents a particular challenge to the meaning Patrick's election are the survey's responses on policy issues, based on race. African-Americans mentioned crime, education, and jobs as by far their top three priorities. The top three for Latinos were education, crime, and jobs, followed closely by immigration. The top three for Asian-Americans were education, jobs, and healthcare.
But for white residents, the top three were education, taxes, and health care.
The showstopper is taxes.
"Taxes" has become a code word for "we got ours, forget the rest of you all." "Taxes" avoids real discussion of white privilege. "Taxes" avoid s how old-line white families were able to transfer wealth and property during slavery. "Taxes" avoid s recognizing how white families, whether old-line or new immigrants, were able to experience a 20th century of upward mobility through home ownership and quality public education while black people needed, but did not get federal protections from voting, housing, and job discrimination until the 1960s. And after only a brief moment in historical terms, remedies such as affirmative action, even voluntary affirmative action, are about to become history.
Money is not everything in upward mobility, but "taxes" is a code word for saying that collectively, white America has no intention of really paying for quality schools so the next generation of Deval Patricks do not have to leave the South Side of Chicago or flee out of Boston to Metco for education. "Taxes" is code for saying that we will not really fund law enforcement either to reduce crime or to fight discrimination. It is code for saying we really will not fund equitable health care.
McCormack School Dean Steve Crosby and Asian-American Institute Director Paul Watanabe said the election of Patrick and the current popularity of Obama, when juxtaposed against the gulfs in their survey, leave many questions. There is hope they said, in the notion that white voters are more and more expressing their hopes and current frustrations with government through black faces. Perhaps this is because deep down, voters know that no other group has been as frustrated with government as African-Americans.
"Everyone is feeling disenfranchised," Crosby said, "from the war in Iraq to cynicism here over Romney. Everyone is sick of polarization, and people like Obama and Patrick have gotten where they are by navigating treacherous polarized waters. That may be why people are giving them a chance."
The big question is whether giving Patrick a chance means giving black people a chance.
© 2006 The Boston Globe