Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Friday, May 25, 2007

How Far We've (Not) Come

From the Chicago Tribune, an article by Kayce T. Ataiyero entitled "Blacks Debate Impact of Obama's Race on Campaign."

At lunch counters and cocktail parties, in living rooms and grocery lines, black America is having its own private conversation about Obama's candidacy that is less about the man and more about the racial reality he seems to belie.

At the core of that dialogue is the struggle to reconcile the face of America in the crowd at an Obama rally with the everyday America that still struggles with racial segregation, discrimination and bigotry. It's about understanding how the same culture that gave rise to Don Imus can make Obama a political rock star. It's even about fears that Obama could be assassinated.

The basic question is whether society has made enough progress on race to elect a black person to lead it. In a country where a black man still can have a hard time catching a cab, can he be president of the United States?

Opinions within the black community are mixed. In some circles there is a reluctance to believe that white people will vote for Obama. While some blacks question whether he is black enough, others think that in the end he will prove to be, in effect, too black. They say they are resigned to the notion that he is doomed, not by black ambivalence but by white prejudice.

Quite a contrast with the David Ehrenstein's infamous LA Times piece from March, "Obama the 'Magic Negro'."

...It's clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination — the "Magic Negro."

The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. "He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist," reads the description on Wikipedia .

He's there to assuage white "guilt" (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.

It's unbelievably frustrating when even liberals and likely Democratic voters can't get past the man's race to discuss issues. It seems like every conversation about Obama's candidacy, and as an extension his value to society as a human being, has to begin with race, end with race, and remind you in the middle of race. His race, whether he should be considered "black" or "mixed," what whites think of his race, what blacks think of his race, what hispanics think of his race, speculation about whites who think he's too black, quotes from blacks who think he's too white, and on and on.

Here's a challenge, blog-readers: Without using a search engine or newspaper, name three things in Barack Obama's platform. "Clean," "bright," and "artictulate" don't count.

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  • At 5/25/2007 10:35 AM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    1) End to the War in Iraq (Which, like other waffling dems, he supports, but won't cut the funds for)

    2)Universal single-payer healthcare.

    3)Education reform.

    He's a great guy, a little too eager to please everyone and be all things to all people. he also has the questionable ability to hide behind being 'against' the war without having to actually vote for it. (And each time he votes yes on a spending bill he re-authorizes the war all over again) The infantile way we discuss race regarding his candidacy is frustrating. I'll have to read those articles you posted. I really like the guy, but he's never really been tested. I love the hopeful Kennedy-esque aura and stuff like that. but there's more to being president than that.

  • At 5/25/2007 11:17 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    I admire his ability to put up with everyone talking about his race.

    I can't image how fustrating it must be to be in a serious run for the presidency and every time you turn around, all people are talking about is your race.

  • At 5/26/2007 9:08 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Cheers to Scott. Then again, he's hardly the average reader...

    One wonders if the constant barrage of commentary on his color isn't at least in part to disguise the fact that he's to the left of most of the Democratic field. He's being painted in the national press as quite moderate, which he really isn't.

    This may be a lame comparison, but he reminds me a bit of Jackie Robinson in his ability to publicly disregard the discussion of his race. I wonder what it's like behind closed doors, though of course I have no right to know...

    If he loses in the primary to Hillary Clinton (which I think he will), I think it will be because of his lack of experience, not his race. If he loses in the general election, part of the blame could fall on "I ain't votin' fer no blacks" pinheads. Then again, Hillary's going to have to beat "I ain't votin' fer no wimmens" pinheads as well.

  • At 5/26/2007 9:09 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    And, not to diminish the answer, but is there a candidate who isn't for "Education Reform?"

  • At 5/26/2007 1:04 PM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    Yeah, love to see the candidate who isn't for education reform-- actually, it might be a refreshing change. Someone who says, I think we need "parenting reform," so 1.)kids come to school ready to learn and to pay attention with a respectful attitude and focused on the task of learning (of course, allowing for 'good-natured scamps' and the natural social dramas of adolescence) 2.)Parents get involved with
    the day-to-day progress (or lack thereof) of a kids educational development and 3.)Creating neighborhoods and social networks in the community that allow kids to see clearly the benefits of having a good education and the payoff it can have. More importantly, it creates a framework where kids motivate each other in the same way
    kids tend to rally around negative influences and motivate each other to act out.

    "I'm on the 'parent reform' platform."

    Cool... Let's see how that goes over.

  • At 5/26/2007 7:06 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Big fan of the parenting reform platform.

    Wichmann for Senate!

  • At 5/27/2007 10:23 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Hey, I'm on the "parent reform" bandwagon as well guys, but sadly those who espouse personal responsibility and accountability, such as Cool Coz, ain't considered too cool these days. Of course, Cosby was pointing out the social ills in the black community being attributed largely to the absence of family values primarily due to illegimate childbirth and the overall embrace of victimization by the black community and their leaders.

    Cosby is, of course, right on the mark, but middle-class whites have even LESS excuse for the mediocrity and dumbing-down of our schools and communities than do the blacks. It's a harsh lesson to learn - that if you want something, you should EARN it...that a government entitlement and handout isn't free for ANYONE, and usually costs a lot more in the long run than demanding personal excellence through a work ethic that expects nothing from anyone, least of all from Uncle Sam.

    Until we begin supporting candidates of any color or party who support the notion that less government is more - that charity begins at home - and that the American dream is not a government check, but an opportunity to earn something of your own effort and intiative - we'll keep on getting what we all deserve.

    Hey, can you use food stamps to buy lottery tickets, I wonder?

  • At 5/28/2007 12:59 AM , Blogger Brad said...

    Similarly, whenever there is dicussion of the play "Radio Golf" everyone talks about August Wilson's effect as an African-American playwright, his untimely death, and the "magnitude" of his play cycle. Only last week (over two years since the play was first performed did I ever read ANYTHING about the plot. I hadn't even realized until that moment that I hadn't heard the plot. It actually sounds like it might be pretty stimulating. Shame that's not any article's focus.

  • At 5/28/2007 9:44 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Frank, if you're as big a fan of the Coz as I am, read as many Jason Whitlock columns as you can get your hand on. They're right on the same page.

  • At 5/29/2007 10:48 AM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    I think Mr. Wichmann and his lovely wife need to bring MANY children into the world...and soon!

  • At 5/29/2007 2:58 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Jacquie, that idea frightens me more than a little.

  • At 6/04/2007 3:47 PM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    Yoda voice...You will will be!


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