June 25, 2008

Obama's advantage over other black Democrats

In the comments a reader makes an excellent point:

Among the innumerable interesting things about Obama's candidacy is the lie that it puts to some of the most tired myths about black/white relations in America.

In particular, the myth that the historical marginalization of blacks has given them particular insight into the dominant (i.e., white) culture. This may have had some truth when black women frequently worked as "domestics" for upper-crusty whites and had to look the other way at the wife's pill-popping and junior's porn collection, but no more.

Obama has spent much of his adult life establishing his black bona fides in the armpit of South Side radicalism, but he's successful as a candidate because he was raised by and around whites and has developed a very keen instinct for Stuff White People Like. Your typical inner city ward heeler, however, has no idea. With the atomization of popular culture, poor, inner city blacks are probably more insulated today from nonblack culture than they ever have been in history.

For example, interviews with inner city American blacks now frequently need to be subtitled on TV - unthinkable 20 years ago, unless it was someone born in the 1800s and had lived his whole life on the Delta (white speech, as far as I can tell, hasn't changed much - so I don't think that's it).

I always figured the first black Presidential nominee would be a Republican or quite conservative Democrat, probably from a military background, or perhaps a sports background (or both, e.g., former Naval officer and basketball hall of famer David Robinson). I assume Colin Powell could have won the GOP nomination fairly handily in 1996 as a war-winning general, if only he'd wanted it.

In contrast, white Democrats haven't seemed to like black candidates much. They've looked down upon non-racialist pragmatic black politicians like former LA mayor Tom Bradley as Uncle Toms, yet also looked down upon racialist politicians popular with blacks like Rev. Jesse and Rev. Al as buffoons. So, Obama is the unexpected answer to their fantasies. A black candidate who has worked hard to establish a career for himself as a South Side racialist, but who is really a lit fic novel reading white man in a semi-black skin.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

16 comments:

roarin1 said...

In the comments a reader makes an excellent point:


'Among the innumerable interesting things about Obama's candidacy is the lie that it puts to some of the most tired myths about black/white relations in America.'



I totally agree.

Anarchocapitalist said...

White speech has changed a good amount.

travis said...

Bill Clinton made a similiar point that Obama's success is based on his appeal to "upscale cultural liberals" aka whit-er people.

There's a part of Obama's book that's worth quoting, where he admits his own alienation from the black youths who live on the Southside:

I'm thinking that while these boys may be weaker or stronger than I was at their age, the only difference that matters is this: The world in which I spent those difficult times was far more forgiving. These boys have no margin for error; if they carry guns, those guns will offer them no protection from that truth. And it is that truth, a truth that they surely sense but can't admit and, in fact, must refuse if they are to wake up tomorrow, that has forced them, or others like them, eventually to shut off access to any empathy they may once have felt. Their unruly maleness will not be contained, as mine finally was, by a sense of sadness at an older man's injured pride. Their anger won't be checked by the intimation of danger that would come upon me whenever I split another boy's lip or raced down a highway with gin clouding my head. As I stand there, I find myself thinking that somewhere down the line both guilt and empathy speak to our own buried sense that an order of some sort is required, not the social order that exists, necessarily, but something more fundamental and more demanding; a sense, further, that one has a stake in this order, a wish that, no matter how fluid this order sometimes appears, it will not drain out of the universe. I suspect that these boys will have to search long and hard for that order -- indeed any order that includes them as more than objects of fear or derision. And that suspicion terrifies me, for I now have a place in the world, a job, a schedule to follow. As much as I might tell myself otherwise, we are breaking apart, these boys and me, into different tribes, speaking a different tongue, living by a different code.

Dreams from My Father (270-271)

testing99 said...

Not particularly Anarcho.

Listen to FDR, Truman, JFK, and Nixon. They all have distinct voices/accents, but sound very intelligible. Same for guys like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, to say, George Clooney or Owen Wilson.

Word choice and vocabulary may change, speech be slightly slower or faster, but it's pretty much the same since sound recordings were widespread. About the biggest change is cadence and formality, people don't talk like FDR, more like Truman and Nixon.

Heck you could drop Truman's diction into any small midwestern town today and it would sound perfectly normal.

Anonymous said...

that would come upon me whenever I split another boy's lip or raced down a highway with gin clouding my head.

Obama admits here to drunk driving. Whoa.

Tino said...

“Obama is the unexpected answer to their fantasies.”

The main character in the novel Primary Colors is quite similar to Obama, in being culturally white and Ivy League educated (he also has black credentials, although in his case through ancestry, not activism).

So at least one white liberal wished for an Obama-type messiah a decade or so ago.

Especially read the part in the book where he has a meeting with Jesse Jackson, and where they discuss this ‘third generation’ of black politician that could finally win.

Steve Sailer said...

Tino,

Thanks. Now I remember that I thought the narrator was the most interesting character in Joe Klein's Primary Colors. He's kind of the George Stephanopolous character, the mild-mannered staffer. But, he's also the grandson of the Martin Luther King figure in the novel. The narrator's mom is white and his black radical father ran off to Africa.

The Jesse Jackson character treats the narrator with contempt, calling into question his blackness and his manhood.

But I don't think anybody is interested in Obama's literary antecedents (other than, perhaps, Obama himself). Obama's parents are straight out of John Updike's 1978 bestseller The Coup -- meet at an American college during the Eisenhower era, but the African student already has a wife at home in Africa, the details go on and on linking up carefully. Updike has an African son-in-law and an African daughter-in-law so he understands this (besides being John Updike).

But, basically, nobody care about getting any insights into Obama because they'd rather nurture their little fantasies.

dearieme said...

travis: this bit is a stunner-
"I suspect that these boys will have to search long and hard for ... any order that includes them as more than objects of fear or derision."

Surely this is unaccustomed frankness from a pol?

The young fogey said...

By George you've got it.

Concerned said...

I don't think blacks would care much for Obama were it not for Michelle. She's his ticket to black credibility. She's the real dream come true: tall, skinny, Ivy-educated and dark-skinned. (And her diction is standard.) A rare commodity indeed.

Saharians said...

"...but who is really a lit fic novel reading white man in a semi-black skin."

White man? Hardly. Sounds as if Steve is trying to sugar-coat this for us. Obama is black. He looks black, sounds black, he identifies as black, and he works (represents)blacks. I don't think there's anyway around it.

jbday said...

Why couldn't the first black President have been Doug Wilder in 1992? He would have been world's better than Bill Clinton, but unfortunately he couldn't inspire the "whiter" crowd.

The young fogey said...

I don't think blacks would care much for Obama were it not for Michelle. She's his ticket to black credibility. She's the real dream come true: tall, skinny, Ivy-educated and dark-skinned. (And her diction is standard.) A rare commodity indeed.

No, it's because she's a real American black. (He isn't.)

robert61 said...

Obama's diction shifts depending on what audience he's speaking to. He'll black it up for an all-black audience. His standard stump diction seems to incorporate smoothed-down southern elements - it's a cleaned-up version of the black English of the northern US. This is presumably an adult overlay on his ordinary diction, which would have come chiefly from his Midwestern white mother and grandparents and his Punahou classmates. I wonder if he "whites it up" when talking to a small group of white intimates. Has anyone heard him do so?

The young fogey said...

You definitely can hear a black twang but not an overpowering one in Obama's speech: 'smoothed-down Southern elements - it's a cleaned-up version of the black English of the northern US' is a good description.

I've always thought it must be put on or at least he acquired it as an adult, part of his black self-invention in Chicago. He wants to sound like a middle-class black person and does.

I don't know what if any accent Hawaiians (people in Hawaii, not necessarily Polynesians) have; I imagine it's the same neutral transplanted Mid-Western sound as California and probably Washington state (where his grandparents settled) as well.

(White Chicago and white Milwaukee - working-class and middle-class voices - are harsher, flatter versions of this accent. 'Block' sounds to English ears like 'black' for example. The 'o' isn't just not rounded; it's completely flattened.)

So his original or real voice probably sounds like the grandparents who raised him: a lot like Harry Truman.

That's probably as far as he whites it up, if he does that. If the light black accent is put on (and by now it might not be), naturally he probably speaks newscaster American, which is Mid-Western with a touch of Ivy League polish (but not the quasi-Englishness of FDR; that's long gone from the American soundscape). Jackie Robinson talked like that: blindfolded you couldn't tell him apart from a white American.

amateur linguist said...

"If the light black accent is put on (and by now it might not be), naturally he probably speaks newscaster American, which is Mid-Western with a touch of Ivy League polish (but not the quasi-Englishness of FDR; that's long gone from the American soundscape). Jackie Robinson talked like that: blindfolded you couldn't tell him apart from a white American."

You know I hadn't really thought about the elements of Obama's accent which I hate b/c it is harsh sounding to southern ears. Listening to the Rev. Wright is almost like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Frankly, I'd prefer the cadences of a black speaking with a southern black accent to what Obama has evolved for his everyday speech.

Interesting to me also, is that Americans (and possibly Brits) can't distinguish blacks from whites when listening to a black who has been raised in the UK. I know there are some dialects that can also identify the speaker as black but not so much b/c the speakers sound black but b/c few if any whites speak that dialect.

I'm surprised blacks accept Obama's accent as authentic, though it does seem that he deliberately and artificially peppers his speech with black variations like "wit" for "with". Hillary, however, should never have attempted to speak like her audience. I still cringe every time I recall that line about being tired.