How Far We've (Not) Come
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro .
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.