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Hip-Hop Generation’s “Independence” Is Very Obama-Like

By Don HazenAlterNet. Posted October 31, 2008.

The hip-hop generation was all about becoming more independent from the Democratic Party — until Obama came along.

Keli Goff, a seasoned political operative and emerging pundit, penned a book last year, Party Crashing: How the Hip Hop Generation Declared Political Independence (Basic Books). The book made the case that not only was the emerging hip-hop demographic an increasingly influential force, but it was more independent than its parent “civil rights” generation, which gave its overwhelming loyalty to the Democrats, and particularly Bill Clinton, who some bitterly recall was dubbed “the first black president” by Toni Morrison. The point was that a new generation of black voters was in theory challenging the notion that a person’s skin color should color their politics, and that the label of “black voter” should be synonymous with Democrat.

But Party Crashing was slightly before the Barack Obama phenomenon, in which instead of having a faux black president, voters can have a real one, if all goes as they hope on Tuesday. So did the Obama candidacy reinforce the notion that the black vote was even more Democrat than ever? Or is Obama really an “independent” who just happens to be a Democrat?

AlterNet sat down with Goff and pursued this question: What does the Obama phenomenon mean for the theory that the hip-hop generation is not in lockstep with the Democratic Party — or not nearly as much as their parents where?

Don Hazen: Isn’t this an extraordinary moment? Obama’s overwhelming effectiveness and success, and strong possibilities of getting elected, weren’t expected even a year ago. What has happened?

Keli Goff: The main thing that happened is that the political establishment and media completely underestimated (or as President Bush might say, “misunderestimated”) the strength of some key constituencies that Barack Obama did not (underestimate) — namely younger voters as well as black voters. I sometimes joke that I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Obama first confided to his advisers that he believed he had a viable path to the White House — and that path was on the shoulders of younger voters and black voters. My guess is that some of his advisers either laughed or told Michelle he needed a checkup. But here we are, and yes, it is extraordinary.

DH: And race, although we won’t know for sure until Nov. 4, doesn’t seem to be the huge issue that many expected. Are we entering a new level of consciousness about race in America?

KG: With each passing year, race — at least race as we know it — and all of the historical baggage and conflict it entails recedes further and further from the foreground of our political conscious. This is not to say it has disappeared completely, but it no longer defines the entire conversation the way it did when my mother and others of her generation were coming up and were struggling just to have the right to vote. For one thing, each new generation in America is more multicultural and multiracial than the previous one. Generation Y has grown up in a world in which kids with Barack Obama’s unique racial and ethnic makeup really aren’t so unique anymore. As I noted in Party Crashing a few years ago, the modeling industry actually began making a point of using ethnically ambiguous models (remember the successful United Colors of Benetton ad campaign?) to appeal to young consumers whose own familial and social circles and thereby worldview — from their classmates to the music they listen to — was ethnically diverse or ambiguous, if you will.

DH: Tell us in an overview way: What is the thesis of your book? Provide some examples of how the hip-hop generation — and younger African American voters — are not like their older brethren and go about politics in a different way.

KG: With Party Crashing, I really set out to explore the generational divide among older black Americans of the civil rights generation and their children and grandchildren, known collectively as the hip-hop generation; more specifically, how this generational divide is impacting the American political landscape. The key difference between the two groups is really the role that race plays in shaping their political outlook. If you grew up during the civil rights era, then race was essentially the issue you voted first, second and third when you walked into the voting booth. It had to be, or quite frankly, you may not have the chance to vote again, and that type of thinking was not being dramatic, but being a realist. Today race may still color your outlook, but it is now one issue among many you may factor in when stepping into the voting booth. Ultimately deciding whether to vote for — or against — someone who does not support affirmative action at public universities is still a very different choice to make than whether to vote for someone who doesn’t believe you should be allowed to attend a public school at all. As a result, younger black Americans in general don’t feel the type of inherent connection to the Democratic Party that older black Americans have. According to our survey for the book, 35 percent of younger black Americans ages 18 to 24 are registered Independents.


November 3, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment