Someone sent me a YouTube depiction of a man and woman, both well dressed, gliding up an escalator. Suddenly the escalator stops working. The man and woman stay put, but proceed to holler for help indignantly. There they stand yelping for help on the broken escalator as the video fades. I wasn’t sure what the clip aimed to convey. I asked the sender: “Is this supposed to depict modern-day existential ennui?” The reply drove home how hopelessly naïve my observations about the couple’s learned helplessness had been. I was supposed to notice that she was blond, he black.
I didn’t. I might have missed the debate about Barack Obama’s “racial identity” as well had it not been for his black brethren who say he’s not black enough for them. Salon.com’s Debra J. Dickerson, apparently a black racial theorist of note, “argues that Obama is not black because he is not the descendant of African slaves,” which is how Gary Kamiya, also of Salon.com, renders her “argument.”
To me, Obama has always seemed a reluctant recruit to racial politics; driven more by expediency and fear—fear of his overbearing wife and the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton. Obama’s skepticism of the pigment burden is a theme in Andrew Ferguson’s Weekly Standard review of the Senator’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father.” “Maybe we could afford to give the bad-assed nigger pose a rest. Save it for when we really needed it,” Obama muses. And there’s this rather poignant passage, in which he challenges a friend high on “authentic black rage”:
Our rage at the white world needed no object, he seemed to be telling me, no independent confirmation; it could be switched on and off at our pleasure. Sometimes . . . I would question his judgment, if not his sincerity. We weren’t living in the Jim Crow South, I would remind him. We weren’t consigned to some heatless housing project in Harlem or the Bronx. We were in goddamned Hawaii. We said what we pleased, ate where we pleased; we sat at the front of the proverbial bus. None of our white friends treated us any differently than they treated each other. They loved us, and we loved them back. Shit, seemed like half of ’em wanted to be black themselves—or at least Dr. J
Dickerson, who makes her living theorizing about “blackness,” is not having any of it. The “Homie has some rings to kiss” if he wants “to assure the black powers that be that he won’t dis the politics of blackness,” says she. After all, this “son of a Kenyan goat herder … steps into the benefits of black progress (like Harvard Law School) without having borne any of the burden.” To say nothing of the fact that he isn’t really black—that’s her next bombshell.
For one, Dickerson observes, he doesn’t look right—he looks East African, when he ought to look West African. And horrors, “the handsome Obama” resembles his white mother. But fear not, Dickerson’s commentary is never skin deep. This African Aristotle, beloved of the liberal media, goes on to explain that “‘Black,’ in our political and social reality means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent” are not to be admitted into the Club. (This, of course, is good news for their Designated Oppressors: the tougher the admission criteria into the Club of the Eternally Oppressed, the better.)
There’s more. Blacks would forgive Obama for not being “politically and culturally black,” but only if he “acts black and does us proud.” And that means not going “Tiger Woods on us and get[ting] all race transcendent,” dickers Dickerson. In case you’re unfamiliar with Tiger Woods’ treachery, out of respect and love for his Thai mother, explains commentator Steve Sailer, “Woods turned down Nike’s suggestion” that he “identify himself solely as black,” refusing to capitalize on the popularity of African-American celebrities.
The coolness of being black and the considerable leverage the identity affords those who cultivate it is why the likes of Halle Berry and Alicia Keys have chosen the identity of the parent who abandoned them over their devoted (liberal) white mothers who reared them. Berry, Keys, and Obama have embraced this politicized racial identity, because to do so is smart; because in America, black is beautiful.
It also has its special privileges.
Woe betide the honky who dares to comment on the black experience, a barrier that doesn’t exist for blacks. From dissing Obama, Dickerson moves to the whites “swooning” over him. It hasn’t occurred to her that white liberals like Obama because he is likeable. Whites need absolution, she spits. By embracing this Obama, “with his non-black ass,” whites are not only pitifully expiating for their racial sins, but are committing new ones: they are conflating all blacks—voluntary and involuntary immigrants—erasing “the significance of slavery and continuing racism while giving the appearance of progress.”
That liberal America has embraced a race baiter like Dickerson tells us all we need to know about tolerance in America.
©2007 By Ilana Mercer