Artur Davis and the Meaning of Blackness

Artur Davis and the Meaning of Blackness


The heated health care debate has created deep divisions within the black community and opened up a question about what constitutes blackness.  Last November during a Congressional Black Caucus meeting, the Rev. Jesse Jackson questioned Alabama Congressman Artur Davis’ racial solidarity because of his opposition to Obama’s health care plan.

“You can’t vote against health care and call yourself a black man,” said Rev. Jackson.

Davis, who is running for governor in his state, represents a district with one of the largest numbers of African-Americans and low income communities in the country, which also has massive health disparities.  He said he is against “an approach that could cause numerous Alabama employers to reduce their payroll or walk away from offering coverage to their employees.”

Many analysts say that Davis is taking a more hard-line, conservative position on health care and other issues to win over more white votes in the upcoming gubernatorial election.  Davis is not the only black public official to come under fire for their stance against health reform, but generally the criticism is directed toward black conservatives and Republicans.

RNC chairman Michael Steele has compared President Obama’s health reform plan to socialism, while conservative author Shelby Steele (no relation) sees the President as “Roosevelt to the tenth degree.”

“Nothing makes my point better about Barack Obama’s emptiness than the whole health care fiasco,” said Shelby Steele.  “He says he wants health care and to this day, he’s never told us what he wants or why he wants it.”

Could this resistance by a small number of black people point to a larger issue that not all blacks think the same way but are generally categorized into one monolithic voice?  Recent examples of blacks going against the racial grain is becoming more common, and President Obama himself has not been able to escape criticism for not having a “black agenda” to oversee issues that directly impact African-Americans.

Not always taking the “black side” could also be an example of what post racial looks like, as both Davis and Obama are trying to position themselves as addressing issues that affect all Americans, and not just those with certain skin tones.