Friday, January 19, 2007

Black like who, exactly?

A story is emerging about Barack Obama’s popularity with white voters vs. black voters that I predict is going to get a whole lot more play in the upcoming year.

The press is loving the angle that black voters have their doubts about Obama. And their doubts, if the data is to be believed, are based on their apparently collective opinion that although Obama is without a doubt an African-American, he’s just not “black” enough for some blacks.

Or as Stanley Crouch of the NY Daily News puts it:

Why then do we still have such a simple-minded conception of black and white - and how does it color the way we see Obama? The naive ideas coming out of Pan-Africanism are at the root of the confusion. When Pan-African ideas began to take shape in the 19th century, all black people, regardless of where in the world they lived, suffered and shared a common body of injustices. Europe, after all, had colonized much of the black world, and the United States had enslaved people of African descent for nearly 250 years.

Suffice it to say: This is no longer the case.

So when black Americans refer to Obama as "one of us," I do not know what they are talking about. In his new book, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama makes it clear that, while he has experienced some light versions of typical racial stereotypes, he cannot claim those problems as his own - nor has he lived the life of a black American.

Excuse me Stanley, but HUH?

I’m willing to believe that a black man can live in America but not “live the life of a black American.” I mean, well, OJ springs to mind, of course. But I’m really not sure on what basis Crouch is saying Obama has not lived like a black American, or that he’s experienced only “stereotyping lite.” But then, I haven’t read Obama’s book. Perhaps if some of my readers have, they could pipe up about how they feel about that assertion.

He goes on to say "If we then end up with him as our first black President, he will have come into the White House through a side door - which might, at this point, be the only one that's open.”

So Obama’s blackness constitutes a “side door?”

Once again: HUH?

But okay, I get it. He’s not black, he’s “multicultural.” His mom was white. His dad was African, not African-American. But it really makes me uncomfortable when things like Obama’s middle-class upbringing and his Harvard education are discussed as factors that lessen his blackness. I mean, I didn’t grow up with anyone who went to Harvard either. I grew up with a bunch of rednecks who now mostly work retail and factory jobs. And so I understand why those rednecks might have a sort of knee-jerk hostility toward a John Kerry type, but 1) one cannot excuse voters who are unable to see through appearances and recognize their own best interests, and 2) no one ever says that one’s level of education in any way diminishes their whiteness.

And then there’s comments like these, which just make me feel sort of sick inside:

"There's a feeling that if white folks like him so much he must not be good for us. For some blacks it's a turn-off," said [radio show host George] Wilson.

Look, I’m not going to speak for white people. But certainly there are white voters who would never vote for a black man for the office of president of the United States. We don’t know how many. Certainly there are also white voters who WOULD vote for a black man for president, as long as he isn’t



or fuckin' crazy.


kiki said...

he looks pretty black to me.

i have to say, someone who has 'lived the life of an african american', are they fit to be president?
i am pretty sure someone with a harvard education is going to do a better overall job than someone who doesn't have much education at all

please, correct me if i'm wrong

CiscoKid said...

There are always loudmouths that have an opinion as to why someone should not be "their" candidate. Now that H. Clinton is going to announce her candidacy, the flood gates will open. This should be one of the most interesting campaigns ever.
Get Ready!

Anon. Blogger said...

My former mentor in the Corporate world might pass their 'blackness' test: An African-American (dark black) that grew up (paraphrased) "across the street from the projects, so we felt lucky", who became a top executive in a fortune 50 company, then earned his Harvard MBA, then became a business consultant.

Yet, I would bet that even with all the diverse background and experience there would be someone that would argue that he 'sold out' or even worse, that because of racial quotas he didn't really earn it.

Women have the same problem as candidates. There isn't solidarity over what represents the group, which diminishes their strength as a group.

The power of the white male role in our society comes from generations of accepted norms associated with them as a group, both inside and outside the group. Other groups (women, minorities) have evolving roles in society (thank God), resulting in ambiguity, which weakens the group's solidarity. (i.e., what is black enough, or what is feminine enough, to represent me? What is "white enough" or "male enough" certainly isn't questioned as much, at least not directly.

Obama's answer to the 'black enough' issue should be, "Hey, do we want the power or not? We can argue over what it means to be black, or we can agree that we (blacks) should have some power."

too long, sorry.

dad said...

I have a hard time thinking of our junior senator as a black man. Because he has color I can't think of him as a white man. He grew up in Hawaii and attended the same prep school as my wife, Punahoe. This was a multi cultural community of native Hawaiians, Asian Americans, and "whites".

He carries none of the burdens of being a red-neck or a home boy. He is unique along the same line as is Tiger Woods who imbraces his multi-ethnic heritage.

He is eloquent and thinks in terms of uniting Americans to come together to solve problems, respecting differences.

His entry upon the American political scence is a real opportunity for people to learn to shun stereotypes.

Got are the days when one drop of black blood defined your status in life.

Johnny Yen said...

I for one, am exhausted with "identity" politics. Todd Gitlin, in his book "The Sixties: Days of Rage, Years of Hope" points to the beginning of the splintering of the New Left for the politics of identity as the day the New Left started dying. It's allowed the right to divide and conquer us for decades now.

It's absurd to think that someone has to be of the same ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality, etc. to safeguard the interests of an ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality, etc. In fact, quite the reverse can happen. Look at Maggie Thatcher-- she was a total Trojan Horse-- a woman who worked against the interests of the working class. Recent history is full of these people.

Larry Jones said...

None of the possible Democratic candidates have backgrounds similar to the average American voter of any race. Crouch was just trying to find an angle for his story, and he chose race. Hey, there are racists in all races, but I suspect the black vote will go to the Dems, as it usually does, even if the candidate is Obama. I hope so, because the country cannot afford another eight years of Republican rule.

Grant Miller said...

I happen to enjoy Alan Keyes' level of fucking craziness. It's pretty entertaining.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Kiki: I think that our current brand of American racism is such that the speechifying preacher model is an ineffective foe against it. Calling for a boycott of Seinfeld DVDs because Michael Richards let loose a racist tirade in public, for example, is just fucking absurd, and it angers me that guys like Jackson and Sharpton are considered by many, and certainly by the press, to be the authorities in the fight against racism, because they're such clueless, corrupt assholes. So if they are the litmus test that a black liberal candidate must pass, then those that have a stake in that fight better hope that no one ever passes.

Cisco: Well, the press has always been able to sell papers by pointing to a particular candidate and saying shit like "Will white voters continue to trust a man who has shaken hands with Jesse Jackson??" Or in this case, the opposite: "Can blacks trust a man that is liked by whites?" It's the press that invents and feeds these notions, and then they turn around and call it news.

AnonBlog: Of course there are representatives of many groups in our governemnt that work against what we would perceive to be the interests of that group. As Clarence Thomas has proven, black skin is not enough.

Dad: I agree that Obama is an opportunity for the Democratic party to redefine what a "black candidate" is, and that's a good thing. By the way, there is a really excellent documentary called "Street Fight" that shows two black mayoral candidates duking it out, largely over who gets to be "the black candidate."

JohnnyY: I agree, that I think identity politics are obsolete and are in the process of erroding. I think people like Stanley Crouch are resisting this change.

Larry: Well, it's not really about the size of the shack you were born into, although being born in a shack makes a fucking great story, and American voters LOVE LOVE LOVE a great story. But I believe that Bobby Kennedy would have been one of the greatest advocates for poor people ever to hold the office of president, because he obviously just so got that issue. He just fucking got it, and it was inexplicable that he would, but he did.

Grant: It would have been really entertaining if he'd actually gotten elected. Entertaining for us, I mean. For you, not so much.