Science & Tech

Exploring black political thought, now and then

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Professor of government seeks to understand political visions and behavior of African Americans

Professor Michael Dawson’s most recent book, “Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African American Mass Political Ideologies” (University of Chicago Press, 2001), brings a historical perspective to black political ideologies. “The work tries to assess, using public opinion materials as well as other types of archival materials, to what degree do some of the historically important political ideologies within the black community still have influence on contemporary black public opinion,” he says. The answer, he says, is uneven, fluctuating from era to era. “We don’t want to look at public opinion as being static, because these traditions change over time,” he says. During his college days in the 1970s, for instance, many ideologies competed to capture the black political agenda. Joining black liberalism were black Marxism, the powerful force of black nationalism, the early rumblings of black feminism, and even a small but growing black conservative movement. “You had extremely active, on-the-ground organizations of almost all ideological stripes competing 30 years ago,” he says. Today, he says, the ideological picture is more monochromatic and less grassroots. Black liberalism remains dominant but less attached to community organizing. “There’s an organizational vacuum now that did not exist 30 years ago,” says Dawson.