Brown Skin, White Mask: Obama's Racial Awakening

The word on the street is black conservatives are flirting with the idea of supporting Senator Obama s campaign for president.  While the media has assumed it’s because of Obama’s race and curb appeal, everyone seems to be overlooking the deeper issue they might actually have in common — each has undergone a racial reawakening that has put them at odds with the mainstream civil rights establishment.

Although Obama is classically liberal on most issues, he has taken the audacious step of moving beyond traditional racial politics in order to inherit the mantle of an American populist.  He has been tried by fire in the national media for his affiliation with racialist political ideologues.  In making a firm choice to disavow the politics of victimization – as difficult as it was for him apparently – Obama now joins the august ranks of those public figures who are often ostracized by the American black establishment.

The son of an African immigrant, Obama does not share the legacy of slavery and oppression in this country with most Americans who happen to be black.  His forefathers never picked cotton in the brutal South, and his grandmother never had to sit on the back of the bus.  He writes of feeling outcast from the circle of black elites he encountered in Ivy League and other elite institutions. Though he shared their skin color, he could not quite share their struggle.  In order to fit in, he went the extra mile. He joined a radical black church in Chicago afte r law school and became, literally, a born-again Negro.  By eschewing the usual high-powered law firm job in favor of community organizing, Obama further solidified his street credentials.  But ultimately, this was not enough.  When asked to take the final, incorrigible step of damning America, he refused to drink the kool-aid.

Obama’s refusal to cast his lot in with that of the eternally tormented black victim has turned him into somewhat of a pariah among the black elite. The black elite feel disempowered by his optimism, much in the same way that they feel discouraged by America’s endorsement of the voices of black conservatives. To wit – Jesse Jackson’s recent remark that he felt Obama was “speaking down to blacks” by urging them to address the issues of absentee fathers within their community. Earlier in the campaign, Jackson accused Obama of “acting like he’s white” because of his measured response to the Jena Six episode. Conservatives who happens20to be black feel Obama’s pain.  Anytime a public figure attempts to blame anything other than race as the cause for b lacks’ woes, he or she is tarred and feathered by the self-appointed guardians of blackness. Except in this type of tarring, the victim is actually bleached.

But whitewashing Obama is a hard sell.  After all, unlike well known critics of victimization like Thomas Sowell and Justice Clarence Thomas, Obama is a card-carrying liberal. The fact of the matter is that urging people of whatever race to embrace personal responsibility and live within moral bounds is neither a liberal nor a conservative prerogative. It is neither a matter of black nor white.  It is simply a matter of common sense.  Jesse Jackson would have us believe that the problems of the black family must be placed within the broader context of blacks’ social and economi c marginalization from the mainstream. Obama’s perspective is that strengthening family values and upholding morality may be the one thing within the black community’s control that can actually reduce their marginalization.  How refreshing it is for once to hear a plan for victory rather than a loser’s excuses coming from liberal politician.

Senator Obama, in his speech on race, laid squarely upon America’s shoulders the responsibility it has to mend its racial divide.  He has not hidden from his African heritage or the sober realities of what it means to be black in this country.  But he, like most thinking people, realizes that not all problems within the black community are caused by racial discrimination.  As he later stated in response to Jackson, advocating personal responsibility it is not an “either/or proposition, but a “both/and proposition.” 

Perhaps more shrewdly, Obama realizes that playing the race card as a Presidential candidate who hopes to represent all of America will kill his chance to win over the broader electorate.  With Americans suffering from slowing economic growth and rising inflation, no one wants to hear the old excuses anymore. No one wants to hear about affirmative action, welfare and protest politics when everyone’s suffering together in this turbulent economy.

People ask what black conservatives and Senator Obama have in common, and it is this: The politics of victimization have to end. A new day has come when people of all races are invited to sit at the American table on equal terms, yet bearing equal responsibility.  Those with something to contribute are welcome with open arms.  Those who want to sit around and complain will be turned away empty-handed.