Mar 22, 2009

Gwen Ifill's Closing Speech: Part 1

Gwen Ifill said she's been telling the story of the "breakthrough generation" of African-Americans in American politics throughout her whole career.

Finally, she's turned it into a book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

In one of her first internships, where her coworkers had "never seen an educated black woman before," she once found a note that said, "Nigger go home."

Her boss was horrified and knew who had written the note--but didn't want to fire him. To smooth over the incident, she was promised a job working for The Boston Herald if she ever wanted one.

Her first reaction, she said, was that she would never work for those racists. Not much later, she realized, the offer of any job sounded pretty good.

Ifill went on to cover the crisis over school desegregation in Boston and the presidential candidacy of Rev. Jesse Jackson early in her career,

"The solution for all the breakthrough candidates I've covered over the years was finding that sameness," what connected them to voters, Ifill said.

But they also realized they didn't wait for someone to summon them--they had to go and grab what they wanted. Many of the breakthrough African-American politicians had their racial authenticity questioned, and most of them lost their first political race.

"Every single one of them was told, 'It's not your turn yet,'" Ifill said.

The reason people kept asking of Barack Obama, is he black enough? Is he too black? was really because they were asking

"What they were asking were, are you representing me? Are you on my side? ...Will you speak for me?" Ifill said.

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