Is Loyalty Only Skin Deep?

I, and I suppose, many African Americans have been asking myself, lately, if our support and, increasingly, defense of President Barack Obama would be the same if the president were white. I mean, white-skinned. We are, after all, specifically if not exclusively referring to the quality of pigmentation in the man’s epidermis. This insanity, of how tan a person is, has been the basis for centuries of violence, hatred, social unrest and oppression. Having attended primary and secondary schools in a predominately Jewish neighborhood, I—even at my advanced age—still do not completely comprehend racism. At age six, it mattered not to me or to my friends what color a person was. It doesn’t matter to me now. But racism is still very much alive and well in America, the president himself having become a lighting rod and living testament of that fact. Raised by his white mother and white grandparents in Kansas and Hawaii, the president is every bit as American as any middle-American Quaker farmer. This is what makes the racism directed toward Mr. Obama so deeply troubling. It really isn’t about his culture or his policies or maybe he’s blasting rap music or grilling ribs on the White House lawn. The hate flung at this man begins and ends with his skin color. America, in its entirety, denies Obama his Anglo-Saxon legacy—writes it off completely. It is rarely even mentioned. Obama is not black, he is biracial. There’s a huge difference. Biracial people have a completely different and unique life experience than persons of a single race.

If Obama were white—I mean if his skin were Caucasian—would I still be as defensive of the president as I am? I really have given this a lot of thought, and my answer is yes. I consider myself a centrist, maybe even a little right of center, but I can add.

Taking race out of the equation, I see a man with lofty, perhaps naïve goals, and a gang of irrational, extremist nuts out to kill him. I see his friends caving in and turning against him out of cowardice and opportunism. I see people obstructing important and vital legislation, and causing severe further damage to the nation’s economy over the idiotic debt limit fight. I see a man trying to save America and I see people willing to go to any lengths to stop him, up to and including making things worse, provably and demonstratively as a direct result of their single-minded agenda to unseat the president. I see good and I see evil. I support the president, not because he’s black but because any man who can inspire this level of sheer hatred, focused on one man and to the exclusion of serving their nation during a time of national crisis, must be onto something good. He must be a simply amazing individual. Abandoning him for one of the GOP Muppets would be utterly ridiculous.

Have I Been Brainwashed?:: MOOSE-lem-hating bigot Herman Cain.

A Winning Strategy

I don’t know if I’m upset about former pizza magnate Herman Cain’s “brainwashing” remark. I despise the way this country goes after people—any people—by picking apart statements made on the fly. None of us are perfect and none of us give statements which could survive politically correct vetting on the fly. I think Mr. Cain needs to be a little more disciplined about what he says on the fly if only for this reason: as a black man, most everything he says or is asked about will be processed in the context of race. Now, that’s a crappy deal: Mr. Cain should be entitled to play outside of the racial sandbox just like any other third-tier GOP candidate. But, whenever black public figures open their mouths, they are speaking to and for Black America. Nobody expects, when Matt Damon makes a public statement, that he’s speaking for all White Americans. But this is the institutionalized nature of racism: blacks, especially, are, as individuals, representative of and somehow responsible for their entire race.

Had Cain been white and uttered words like, “Black people have been brainwashed…” that would have been it for him. As is, the statement will now proceed to dog him for the remainder of his campaign. It was one of those moments I’m sure Mr. Cain wishes he could take back. It is the kind of things blacks say routinely, every day, around black people. We never, well, so far as I know, say things like that in racially mixed company. There are any number of things I can say in a barber shop that I would not or could not say at a comic book convention. Mr. Cain should understand this. There was a way of expressing that thought without seeming to hate black people. The conservative fringe loves this, a conservative black whipping up on black people.

It is gratifying to see a reasonably credible black candidate for U.S. president taken seriously and outpacing expectations without being sensationalized as was Barack Obama. Cain, however, completely undermines his credibility by denigrating African Americans as “brainwashed” and referring to the president in so disrespectful a tone, “…the guy we got now…” This makes him look like an Uncle Tom, which offends the palette of both blacks and whites. Conservatives hate turncoats even if they turncoat their way. Moderates will find it unseemly and awkward for one black man to speak so disrespectfully of so iconic a figure as Obama, and blacks will desert him in droves. Cain falling in step with the wholly inappropriate and disrespectful tone with which his fellow GOP clowns refer to the president makes him look utterly ridiculous considering, were it not for Obama, he wouldn’t have been standing there.

Is Loyalty Only Skin Deep?:: SNL's Fred Armisen, who is Latino and Asian, as Obama.

The Smiley-West Help Elect Romney Tour

The president himself whipped up on black people last weekend when his pulpit rhetoric got the better of him, telling the Congressional Black Caucasus to “stop crying,” among other things. My favorite part of the president’s tirade, wherein he seemed on the brink of losing that famous cool of his, was the friendly thump he gave the podium as he departed. This was a specifically urban if not exclusively African American gesture, one seen in many churches Sunday mornings. I’m not sure how often, if ever, the president has done this before a predominantly white audience, but it evoked a kind if urban cool, along with his pimp roll past the band, which sat stone-faced, giving Obama no love whatsoever as the president waved to them. Everyone is talking about the words, but I’m betting a lot of blacks picked up on the thump. The thump said I Am Authentically Black. The thump was the underline to his tirade, which seemed to me could have gone on for quite awhile. The president is annoyed, fed up with the whining coming from his base. Who the hell do they think he’s fighting for? How uninformed and gullible is Black America to actually believe this of all presidents has forgotten them? It is a ridiculous and insulting assertion, one which would have ticked me way off and, therefore, I presume President Ice Cube as well.

The president wasn’t actually talking to the CBC. He was talking to Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, whose ill-conceived anti-Obama campaign is an exploitative and self-serving revenge tactic against the president for snubbing Smiley and West on earlier occasions. All of Black America and certainly a good portion of White America read that play. We are left to speculate if the president had intended to go as far as he did, but he seemed to be venting genuine annoyance at this splintering of black support for stupidly self-serving reasons. The “Obama won’t help blacks” yammering is steeped in ignorance and a sad lack of understanding of how things work in Washington.

It would be politically impossible for the president to say, “How could you possibly buy into the notion that I have somehow forgotten you, that I don’t hear you? What community is suffering the most? Therefore, what community will likely benefit the most form an improving economy?” The wheels of political progress, already turning slower than molasses, would grind completely to a halt if White America believed the president was paying special attention to Black America—which many whites likely suspect anyway. I felt the president’s frustration. I’m sure he wanted to say, “Shut the eff up you idiots.” Did he go too far? Maybe. I’m sure many blacks, like myself, feel uncomfortable putting our family business on display for whites. This is family business. We close the door and let each other have it. But, in front of others, we stand united. The fracturing of black support, for which Smiley and West are key proponents, is a violation of that unwritten rule. Neither Smiley nor West are stupid men, but their movement is stupid. It jeopardizes any progress this president might hope to make on their key issues, issues the president is well aware of but simply his mentioning those issues, with specificity to the black community, will erect barriers to progress on their behalf. I believe both Smiley and West intrinsically understand how this plays out in Washington, which makes their I’m Mad At Obama Tour counterintuitive as it will certainly slow any progress towards addressing the very challenges the tour highlights.

Smiley and West make supporting the president entirely and wholly a question of racial dynamics. What Has He Done For The Black Folk Lately. This demeans the president and the black community as well as strips us of our progress in American society—to be seen as Americans first and black Americans second. It is, in its own way, as patently racist as any placard held by the most rabid, mouth-breathing Tea Partier. It is terribly misguided and works against social progress and the desire of all African Americans to be seen, first and foremost, as Americans.

Christopher J. Priest
3 October 2011