There is both hope and peril in the success of black politicians who cross the color line in search of high office. Seeing blacks achieve what for so long had been for whites only is indeed a proud moment. At the same time, this enthusiasm must be tempered by the fact that their triumph at the polls comes at the expense of some measure of cultural integrity. Nonetheless, the political reality of the 1990s dictates that crossover appeal to white voters is a necessary requirement for sustained black participation in the electoral process. The election of David Dinkins as mayor of New York City and L. Douglas Wilder as governor of Virginia are two perfect examples.
Race and racism were major factors in both the New York and Virginia campaigns. The unexpected closeness of both races led some experts to suggest that many white voters lied in polls about their voting for a black candidate. In Virginia, Wilder's pro-choice stance gave him the edge he needed to win. But even if both men lost their respective elections, that they ran as credible candidates symbolizes the maturation of political pragmatism in the black community.
Neither Dinkins nor Wilder qualify as activists. These two are establishment politicos who have paid their dues and believe that the best way to work for change is within the system. The fact that neither man could have won office without such a perspective will have a profound impact upon the nation and the wider black community. How much of an impact remains to be seen.
While still the premiere black politician in the nation, Rev. Jesse Jackson's role and influence on the national scene will certainly be challenged. Jackson has been extremely successful at inspiring people and bringing different marginalized groups together. Unfortunately, the energy that helped create the Rainbow Coalition has not been enough to rival the Democratic Party; instead, it has been relegated to the liberal wing of the party.