The story of each great ethnic group in America has been remarkably similar. It starts with oblivion, continues to alarm and discrimination, then to ethnic power politics and pride, then arrival, and finally assimilation.
African Americans have traveled this road in full Technicolor, for they arrived in North America not as indentured servants but as slaves. There were not mere scuffles about them, but an outright civil war. Like the Irish, blacks have chosen the path of ethnic pride, expressed in monolithing voting and corrupt political machines. Like the Irish, blacks have finally elected one of their own as president.
Martin Luther King famously looked forward to the day when Americans would be judged on the content of their character, not on the color of their skin. Everybody interpreted that as an appeal to whites to judge blacks by their behavior not their race.
But there is another side to this, the question of how blacks judge their own kind by the content of their character.
In the climb from egregious discrimination ethnic groups tend to exhibit a strong sense of solidarity. They support their own kind, no matter what, in the battle for survival. But there comes a time when they obtain real power and are no longer the weaker group in the battle of political power. There comes a point where the group gets to go through the equivalent of the Temptation of Christ. They have the power to rule the world, but will they have the character to say: get thee behind me, Satan.
In the famous trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his dead wife's lover, a black-majority jury in Los Angeles County in 1995 voted to acquit the famous football player. But in a black majority congressional district in New Orleans in 2008 the voters threw out their Representative accused of corruption, William J. Jefferson (D), the first black to represent the district since Reconstruction.
Now we have the case of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), convicted by the House ethics panel of corruption on November 16, 2010. Will the House vote to expel Charlie, as they would a white congressman? Will the black voters of Harlem vote Charlie out of office as the voters of any white suburban district would already have done?
Because when the day comes that blacks routinely judge their own leaders on the content of their character then blacks will truly have arrived as One Hundred Percent Americans.
Compared to that, the election of a black president is mere bagatelle.