Thursday, February 15, 2007

When is black Black?

The Daily Curmudgeon wrote yesterday about the electability of Barak Obama and rightly mentioned that a hidden streak of bigotry would make his success unlikely -- and that of course, is because he is a black man, or at least his father was a black man and an African. Of course that streak of bigotry doesn't always reside behind a white face and the discussion of whether Obama is really black or African or half white or half black or African-American or an American of partial black African descent has, in my opinion at least a trace of that odor that clings to Senator Biden's now famous condescending evaluation. "He ain't like them other colored boys, is he?" is how one blogger on The Reaction heard it.

The debate amongst many people however, isn't whether Senator Obama is or isn't like some stereotype, but whether he can be further pidgeon-holed or categorized or deconstructed or reconstructed, obstructed, embraced or dismissed according to some arcane formula found deep in a forest of nuance and innuendo I dare not enter. Much about Obama's ability to understand the experience of Americans who descend from those once enslaved in the continental United States (but not elsewhere) depends, it seems, on these fine distinctions: as though his dark complexion had not exposed him to the prejudice and stereotyping by a society that in most cases doesn't care where great great great grandpa came from as long as you look black. Is it any different than saying that a black man couldn't represent a white society well?

To my way of thinking, the insistence by some African American writers that only a man whose ancestry is politically correct can represent or hope to find support from African Americans, is as demeaning as any white senator's suggestion that a black man who has confidence, poise, a command of English, a brilliant mind and a superior education somehow doesn't represent them either.

It smells funny in those woods; it smells like prejudice, but perhaps a trace of it clings to us all, even though some of us wish the Senator from Illinois could be judged on his record, his ability and his character and not what some people would make of his ancestry.

1 comment:

d.K. said...

Mine was the exact same reaction to the debate outlined in much of the press lately. I'm very surprised by it, but it's no secret in Washington, DC., that there is enormous friction between the traditional African American community in this largely black city, and the more newly arrived Ethiopians, and others.