Saturday, March 22, 2008

The debate on race continues

If Obama Wasn’t Black Before, He Sure Is Now
John McWhorter and Glen Loury on Blogging Heads talks about Obama's speech on race and its implications.

After the Speech

A Thinking Man's Speech
-Peggy Noonan
Most significantly, Mr. Obama asserted that race in America has become a generational story. The original sin of slavery is a fact, but the progress we have lived through the past 50 years means each generation experiences race differently. Older blacks, like Mr. Wright, remember Jim Crow and were left misshapen by it. Some rose anyway, some did not; of the latter, a "legacy of defeat" went on to misshape another generation. The result: destructive anger that is at times "exploited by politicians" and that can keep African-Americans "from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition." But "a similar anger exists within segments of the white community." He speaks of working- and middle-class whites whose "experience is the immigrant experience," who started with nothing. "As far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they've built it from scratch." "So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town," when they hear of someone receiving preferences they never received, and "when they're told their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced," they feel anger too.

Obama's speech
- Thomas Sowell
Someone once said that a con man's job is not to convince skeptics but to enable people to continue to believe what they already want to believe.

Accordingly, Obama's Philadelphia speech — a theatrical masterpiece — will probably reassure most Democrats and some other Obama supporters. They will undoubtedly say that we should now "move on," even though many Democrats have still not yet moved on from George W. Bush's 2000 election victory.

Like the Soviet show trials during their 1930s purges, Obama's speech was not supposed to convince critics but to reassure supporters and fellow-travelers, in order to keep the "useful idiots" useful.

Best-selling author Shelby Steele's recent book on Barack Obama ("A Bound Man") has valuable insights into both the man and the circumstances facing many other blacks — especially those who were never part of the black ghetto culture but who feel a need to identify with it for either personal, political or financial reasons.

Like religious converts who become more Catholic than the Pope, such people often become blacker-than-thou. For whatever reason, Barack Obama chose a black extremist church decades ago — even though there was no shortage of very different churches, both black and white — in Chicago.

Some say that he was trying to earn credibility on the ghetto streets, to facilitate his work as a community activist or for his political career. We may never know why.

But now that Barack Obama is running for a presidential nomination, he is doing so on a radically different basis, as a post-racial candidate uniquely prepared to bring us all together.

Yet the past continues to follow him, despite his attempts to bury it and the mainstream media's attempts to ignore it or apologize for it.

Shelby Steele depicts Barack Obama as a man without real convictions, "an iconic figure who neglected to become himself."

Senator Obama has been at his best as an icon, able with his command of words to meet other people's psychic needs, including a need to dispel white guilt by supporting his candidacy.

But President of the United States, in a time of national danger, under a looming threat of nuclear terrorism? No.

The Obama Bargain-SHELBY STEELE
The novelty of Barack Obama is more his cross-racial appeal than his talent. Jesse Jackson displayed considerable political talent in his presidential runs back in the 1980s. But there was a distinct limit to his white support. Mr. Obama's broad appeal to whites makes him the first plausible black presidential candidate in American history. And it was Mr. Obama's genius to understand this. Though he likes to claim that his race was a liability to be overcome, he also surely knew that his race could give him just the edge he needed -- an edge that would never be available to a white, not even a white woman.

How to turn one's blackness to advantage?

The answer is that one "bargains." Bargaining is a mask that blacks can wear in the American mainstream, one that enables them to put whites at their ease. This mask diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being white in a multiracial society. Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America's history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer's race against him. And whites love this bargain -- and feel affection for the bargainer -- because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist. So the bargainer presents himself as an opportunity for whites to experience racial innocence...

But bargainers have an Achilles heel. They succeed as conduits of white innocence only as long as they are largely invisible as complex human beings. They hope to become icons that can be identified with rather than seen, and their individual complexity gets in the way of this. So bargainers are always laboring to stay invisible. (We don't know the real politics or convictions of Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey, bargainers all.) Mr. Obama has said of himself, "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views . . ." And so, human visibility is Mr. Obama's Achilles heel. If we see the real man, his contradictions and bents of character, he will be ruined as an icon, as a "blank screen."

Thus, nothing could be more dangerous to Mr. Obama's political aspirations than the revelation that he, the son of a white woman, sat Sunday after Sunday -- for 20 years -- in an Afrocentric, black nationalist church in which his own mother, not to mention other whites, could never feel comfortable. His pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is a challenger who goes far past Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in his anti-American outrage ("God damn America").

How does one "transcend" race in this church? The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?

What could he have been thinking? Of course he wasn't thinking. He was driven by insecurity, by a need to "be black" despite his biracial background. And so fellow-traveling with a little race hatred seemed a small price to pay for a more secure racial identity. And anyway, wasn't this hatred more rhetorical than real?

But now the floodlight of a presidential campaign has trained on this usually hidden corner of contemporary black life: a mindless indulgence in a rhetorical anti-Americanism as a way of bonding and of asserting one's blackness. Yet Jeremiah Wright, splashed across America's television screens, has shown us that there is no real difference between rhetorical hatred and real hatred.

No matter his ultimate political fate, there is already enough pathos in Barack Obama to make him a cautionary tale. His public persona thrives on a manipulation of whites (bargaining), and his private sense of racial identity demands both self-betrayal and duplicity. His is the story of a man who flew so high, yet neglected to become himself.

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