July 15, 2007

The double standard on the "Is Obama Black Enough" question

A long article in Newsweek enthusiastically explains that Obama has repeatedly been challenged and repeatedly passed with flying colors on the "Is Barack Black Enough?" question. This won't come as a surprise to readers of my "Obama's Identity Crisis," where I pointed out that the predominant theme of his autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Tale of Race and Inheritance, is his struggle to overcome these doubts and to make himself black enough.

Across the Divide

Cornel West was on fire. Bobbing in his chair, his hands sweeping across the stage, the brilliant and bombastic scholar was lambasting Barack Obama's campaign. Before a black audience, at an event outside Atlanta called the State of the Black Union, West was questioning why Obama was 600 miles away, announcing his bid for the White House in Springfield, Ill. Did he really care about black voters? What did that say about his willingness to stand up for what he believes?

"He's got large numbers of white brothers and sisters who have fears and anxieties and concerns, and he's got to speak to them in such a way that he holds us at arm's length," West said, pushing his hand out for emphasis. "So he's walking this tightrope." West challenged the candidate to answer a stark set of questions: "I want to know how deep is your love for the people, what kind of courage have you manifested in the stances that you have and what are you willing to sacrifice for. That's the fundamental question. I don't care what color you are. You see, you can't take black people for granted just 'cause you're black."

A few days later, West was sitting in his Princeton office after class when the phone rang. It was Barack Obama. "I want to clarify some things," the candidate calmly told the professor of religion and African-American studies. Over the next two hours, Obama explained his Illinois state Senate record on criminal justice and affordable health care. West asked Obama how he understood the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and interrogated him about a single phrase in Obama's 2004 Democratic-convention speech: that America was "a magical place" for his Kenyan father. "That's a Christopher Columbus experience," West said. "It's hard for someone who came out of slavery and Jim Crow to call it a magical place. You have to be true to yourself, but I have to be true to myself as well." A few weeks later, the two men met in a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel to chat about Obama's campaign staff. Just a month after ripping into him onstage, West endorsed Obama and signed up as an unpaid adviser.

Terrific! He's convinced Cornel West that he's black enough. Well, I'm reassured!

West may have come around, but he raised one of the most potent—and controversial—questions facing the candidate: is he black enough? It's one that has long dogged Barack Obama's career, though he says he settled his own struggle with racial identity (as the son of an African father and white, Kansan mother) in his late teens. ...

Obama himself dismisses the idea. At the end of a NEWSWEEK interview in his Senate office, Obama offered an unprompted statement about "post-racial" politics: "That term I reject because it implies that somehow my campaign represents an easy shortcut to racial reconciliation. I just want to be very clear on this so there's no confusion. We're going to have a lot of work to do to overcome the long legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. It can't be purchased on the cheap." Obama was dismayed by the Supreme Court's recent decision against public schools that pursue diversity by taking account of students' race.

The preppie from paradise had to prove to his future wife that he was ideologically black enough to get her to marry him:

When the two first met at the law firm, Michelle was his reluctant mentor for the summer. She remembers rave reports that circulated around the office before she joined him for lunch the first time. "Yeah, he's probably a black guy who can talk straight," she recalls saying to herself. "This is a black guy who's biracial who grew up in Hawaii? He's got to be weird." Afterward, she realized she may have misjudged Obama. But it was only later that summer, when he took her to a church basement on the South Side, that she fell for him. He gave an inspiring speech about "the world as it is, and the world as it should be." Three years later, they married. Michelle had to work through her early misperceptions about him; now, she says, the nation needs to do the same. " ...

A black legislator in Springfield challenged Obama:

"He was questioning Senator Obama's toughness and, frankly, his blackness, as to whether Barack really understood what it was like to be a teenage African-American standing on a street corner in Chicago and being harassed by police officers," recalls Dillard. Obama stood his ground, evoking his childhood in tough neighborhoods of Honolulu ..."

No comment.

"Sometimes, the middle ground doesn't hold between black and white, and Obama's innate sense of caution and compromise can look like weakness. Just before his big announcement outside the old state capitol in Springfield—where Lincoln delivered his "house divided" speech—Obama abruptly changed plans and asked his pastor not to deliver the invocation prayer. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is the man who gave Obama not just spiritual direction, but also his signature phrase, which became the title of one of his books, "The Audacity of Hope." But in the days before Obama officially launched his campaign, Wright was also caricatured as a "radical" for his Afrocentrism and his focus on black issues—a strange criticism, perhaps, of a preacher on the South Side. (The Reverend Wright is considered mainstream among African-American church leaders; Ebony magazine once named him one of the top 15 black preachers in America.)"

The Rev. Wright may be considered mainstream among African-American church leaders, but he's not mainstream among Americans. As he said recently, "When [Obama's] enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli [in Libya]" to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Mr. Wright recalled, "with [Black Muslim leader Louis] Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell."

It's a commonplace in history for somebody of a mixed or marginal ethnic background to try to be more ethnocentric than thou, whether out of compensation or genuine enthusiasm: Napoleon, Eamon de Valera, and Stalin (from 1941 onward) are obvious examples. Similarly, Obama wrote a 442 page book about how his not being all that African-American by heredity and upbringing made him self-obsessed with being black.

To the Man from Mars, this article would make sense if Obama was running to succeed Jesse Jackson as the Uncrowned King of Black America. But, last I checked, he's running to be President of the United States. To the average American voter, the news that Obama has relentlessly managed to prove to black activists such as Dr. West, the Rev. Wright, and Mrs. Obama that he's black enough for them via his staunch political commitment to their cause might not be as reassuring as the article assumes.

But you won't see that in Newsweek.

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


Frank said...

Whoever is questioning Barack Obama's blackness is either a sell-out like the legislator from SC that collected a cool $200K, a product of the slash and burn who has peaked in their own political career and therefore was jealous of the rising star, or simple armchair self-anointed leaders like Al Sharpton who couldn't win a simple mayoral election (Sharpton should contest for the mayor of NYC if he thinks that he's that relevant to American electorates).

Obama does not need to prove his blackness to anybody because the last time I checked, Barack Obama is as black as any black man; and better still, he's a strict disciple of MLK. Analyze his life, how he took advantage of the cheap community college system to get a cheap education, went to Columbia to contend with the best of the bests, and attended Harvard as an adult student - working and borrowing to pay his way through.

Better still, he has officially inherited the mantle of MLK as the most authentic black leader. It happened in Selma, when the "Joshua Generation" officially took over from the "Moses Generation".

Although some of the members of the "Moses Generation" are reluctant to vacate the stage, they should borrow a leaf from the most respected black leader after MLK, Jesse Jackson, who unofficially stepped back and just offered his support to the "Joshua Generation" to which his son, Jesse Jackson Jr. is a worthy leader.

One group of the Joshua generation obeyed the command of MLK to go down to the battlefields and contest elections to be governors, senators, congressmen, assemblymen, mayors, aldermen, etc., the other group obeyed Dr. King’s commandment to go down the battlefields of colleges and corporations, worked-through or borrowed to acquire high-yield assets such as human capital, intellectual capital, physical capital, and moral capital.

When you look closely, you will find the true disciples of Dr. King at the helms of the U.S. Army, State Department, Merrill Lynch, Time Warner, American Express, Symantec, Darden Restaurants, Radio One, Aetna, etc..

These authentic disciples of MLK like Michelle & Barack Obama are the true evidence of the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream. I would even bet that right there in Heaven, Dr. King is most proud of these individuals that bought his vision and fought to gain those freedom for which he died fighting on their behalf.

Black people should and must ignore the “old prophets” who are questioning Ford, Rice, Powell, O’Neal, and Obama’s blackness or whiteness because the old-prophet’s time is past. Black people should follow these Joshua generation leaders who having obeyed the Moses of their time (MLK) are the ones that currently have the mandate to lead God’s people to the Promised Land.

Barack Obama is black enough and more than that, he and the other Joshua generation leaders are the authentic believer and follower Dr. King and his vision.

ricpic said...

Was his wife right? Is he wierd? Or is he nothing? What used to be called, other directed. Whatever you want him to be, while he's standing in front of you. Then, what the other guy wants him to be, while he's standing in front of the other guy.

Steve Sailer said...

"Analyze his life, how he took advantage of the cheap community college system to get a cheap education"

Huh? Obama spent two years at Occidental College in LA, a private liberal arts college founded in 1887. Its current comprehensive fee is $42,686 annually.

onetwothree said...

The black experience in the US is a sharp warning to all people to at least moderate whatever "racist" feelings you might have. They are racist to the point of clinical obsession. "Are you black enough?"

That the question, "Are you black enough?" (Best answer: NO!) is considered worth struggling/fighting/fussing for can only make intellectual life a wasteland for them.

Anonymous said...

Barack Obama will not go farther than he has for one simple reason: Identity Politics.

Identity Politics creates winners and losers within the Identity Politics spoils system. For Blacks who were fairly well organized politically, the spoils (Affirmative Action, handcuffed criminal justice system and policing) have made them winners within that system. Losers: Whites. Who lose out on contracting, employment, education, and crime deterrence.

Obama is playing his Identity Politics (as Hillary is the Feminist Identity Politics). Both are losing strategies on the National Stage. While locally IP gets a small but loyal cadre (think fans of a cult TV show) it doesn't play well nationally where white voters still dominate and Feminist IP run up against mothers with sons. Men lose in Feminist IP just like Whites lose in Black IP.

The only winning strategy is to either gain a majority of middle-working class white voters (GOP) or enough of them plus ethnic and feminist IP groups (Dem). What's notable in the post-1968 Dem politics is how IP along with social mobility and the "sneering disdain" of upper-class liberal Dem voters has prevented mostly enough of working-middle class whites from being enticed into the coalition to win.

It's usually a combination of off-putting Elitism (Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry) in the candidates personalities, and the pandering to Identity Politics interest groups (Blacks, Hispanics, Feminists) that produce clearly identifiable losers among working-middle class Whites (so called Reagan Democrats).

When Dems win (Carter over weak/elitist Ford post-Nixon), Clinton (weak elitist Bush 1 and Dole) it's because they deliberately set themselves apart from IP interest groups: the Sistah Soljah moment. And present themselves as being populist working-middle class whites.

Of Hillary and Obama, I don't see either able to set themselves as working-middle class whites culturally. Their appeal lies to elitist snobbery ala Dukakis and Kerry. Nor do I see Obama in particular capable of a Sistah Soljah moment where he verbally smacks down someone like Cornell West to reassure nervous working-middle class whites they will not be IP losers under his administration.

Obama's big weakness intellectually as a politician is that unlike King (who understood his appeal was to wrap himself in the flag and Bible as solidly middle class) he thinks IP will be a winner with those most likely to lose.

Josh said...

I love the comedy of Obama speechifyin' to his audience about life on the tough streets of Honolulu! "Did you watch Hawaii Five-O? Man,I LIVED it!" :D I am SO not voting for this dolt!

Steve said...

"It's a commonplace in history for somebody of a mixed or marginal ethnic background to try to be more ethnocentric than thou, whether out of compensation or genuine enthusiasm: Napoleon, Eamon de Valera, and Stalin (from 1941 onward) are obvious examples."

Then there's Hitler ...

Anonymous said...

I trhink Barack is not basically worried about being "black enough." He probably needs to worry a lot about being "white enough" because, won't the blacks vote for him anyway?

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes, the middle ground doesn't hold between black and white."

Used to be called "common ground." Obsolete? Why would Whites vote for their enemy?

Anonymous said...

Re. Hitler: at least one theory is that his grandfather was jewish. Look up "Schicklgruber," and don't forget to page Freud.

Anonymous said...

"Then Theres Hitler"...Didnt this win 1st prize at the Worst Sitcom Premise Contest?

tommy said...

Re. Hitler: at least one theory is that his grandfather was jewish. Look up "Schicklgruber," and don't forget to page Freud.

Hitler's grandfather was almost certainly not Jewish. Read The Straight Dope column on this matter.

I should note that I have heard there was one exception to the rule that Graz had no Jews. Apparently, at a certain time of the year, traveling Jewish salesmen were permitted to sell their wares in Graz. Unless Hitler's grandmother was knocked up by a traveling salesman, however, it is unlikely that Hitler's grandfather was Jewish.

cm said...

I believe the idea that Hitler had some Jewish ancestry has anothing to do with Grasz. Rather, his paternal grandmother worked in the home of Solomon Rothschild, known for affairs with young chambermaids. Hitler's grandmother gave birth to Hitler's father shortly after she left employment there. This child was illegitimate.
This is the basis, I think, for the rumors of "Jewishness." Even if true, the percentage would only be 1/8.

Anonymous said...

"Common ground," as used in leftist circles, now means "common ground among the proletariat - against the baddies.

The proletariat = blacks, jews, women, queers (their word!), the disabled, "First Nations" people (aka Indians), the retarded. Even if individuals in some of these groups are quite wealthy.

The baddies = white males (even if some are handicapped and poor).

So "common ground" just means "us vs. them," again.