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Think. Discuss. Act. African American Culture

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Review: The New Black Caucus

Defner, J. (2000, April). The New Black Caucus. The American Prospect, pp. 16-19.

Summary

(Download New Black Caucus overview as a PDF)

As black congressmen represent multiracial constituencies, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is more like the rest of America.

Before the 1992 elections that sent 17 black freshman to Congress-most of them from newly majority-minority districts in the South-the caucus drew almost all of its membership from big cities. Now, the CBC is nearly twice the size, almost half southern and half female, and significantly rural and suburban. In addition, many members are younger and have learned their politics in the post-civil rights era.

The CBC today is quite different from the caucus of 10 years ago. For years, its primary focus was its alternative budget, ignored by the rest of Congress. But with 37 members, the caucus is no longer isolated from power.

According to Defner, the changing political style of the CBC reflects a number of distinct developments including:

  • Generational turnover.
  • The increasingly moderate turn of the Democratic Party.
  • The larger size of the caucus.

More than ever, black representatives are being pulled in different directions by numerous interest groups. A central element in the changing political dynamics is the increasing importance of biracial politics and political coalitions. Many new members must appeal to a significant white constituency. As a result, the CBC is far less tightly knit than it once was.

The question arises as to whether this change is for better or for worse. Some argue that biracial politics will keep the CBC from leading on issues that affect African Americans. Others say that by working within the system, with a broader constituency the CBC will be on more successful ground. In this article, Defner sides with the assimilators:

But for better or worse, the Congressional Black Caucus today is emblematic of a more integrated America. And wasn’t that the point?

Questions for Reflections and Discussion

  1. Do you think that the changes within the Congressional Black Caucus are good or bad?
  2. What effect might these changes have on the communities where you reach people?
  3. Is assimilation or segregation the best strategy for success in black America?

Implications

  1. The political climate in America is changing, as more doors are opened for black Americans to be part of the political scene. However, these changes are often based upon the support of white Americans, making some wonder whether the political agenda for black Americans will become diluted and eventually ineffective.
  2. Black Americans need to decide for themselves if the time is right for going “mainstream” or whether there is still a need for solidarity along political lines.

Karen Cummings
© 2017 CYS

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