Barack Obama, a proxy for racial equality

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Barack Obama is a proxy for some people for the conversation about race that they have no courage or inclination to have.  At best, he is a denatured Negro and political centrist acceptably black and mainstream to the white power structure chiefly because of his moderate Senate record and because he refused to discuss the incendiary, racial polarization games of Bill Clinton. After sweeping 13 states from coast to coast and running up 7,369,798 votes, 41% of white voters, and 48% of white males, some pundits, like Juan Williams, are still calling Obama, “the black candidate,” a charge I find both ludicrous and offensive.  

What’s the matter Juan, Fox News looking to replace you with a more rabid right wing Uncle Tom?  Wasn’t your recent softball interview with Dubya enough to prove your fealty to the dark side? Somebody else got their eyes on your prized perch of televised Negro servitude?   

All last year, I mined the depths of my ambivalence for Barack Obama, and exposed and explored his politically expedient positioning for this White House bid.  I was brutally honest and as fair as I knew how to be.  The crux of my criticisms, in a nutshell, was his departures from the consensus of black opinion regarding slave reparations, voting to confirm Condoleezza Rice, and voting for tort reform and free trade-which seems like slavery to those ensnared by it.   He is most certainly not “the Black Candidate” and Black voters, not known for reading the fine print, know little about that record.

Instead, Black voters support Barack Obama because of the extraordinary marketing campaign being run by his team and the compelling power of surrogates like his wife Michelle and Oprah Winfrey.   It also didn’t hurt that Clinton surrogates tried to smear Obama with a criminal label and the epithet of “Black Candidate” like Bill Clinton and so many others have tried to do. The brotha makes us proud and lets us hold our heads up high for a change.  

Truthfully, this is as good as it gets.  We won’t have a chance like this again for some time-if ever, we know that, and we’ve fallen in line.  The power structure has allowed this brotha to compete as long as he is clear on a few ground rules:  no material changes will be made to the racist global economic order, Africa will not be liberated from its economic dependence on the World Bank and the IMF, and incremental changes in domestic economic institutions like the health care system will be permitted within certain limits.  

Race and the deleterious effects of institutionalized racism are not on the white power structure’s agenda of sanctioned items for the next President because his very election will be misinterpreted to mean that this nation has moved past race.  It will be up to us to put it on the agenda where it belongs until it is properly dealt with.  We’ve got to be realistic as a community.  A candidate who risks political suicide by having a truthful discussion about race will never be the progressive champion we envision without pressure.

While not hostile to black interests per se, Obama will probably be less than helpful in implementing a “black agenda,” as defined by the esteemed Black Agenda Report.  A President Obama will need to be treated like any other president and held to a high standard by the black community.  

Most of us are hopeful that the example of a black man as President will change things and change people in positive ways.    I am sure that it will but I am less sure that the positive change will be lasting or that he will be able to implement a transformative agenda.   Tom Bradley was Mayor of Los Angeles for twenty years, a mentor to good brothas like Tavis Smiley, and still gangs and drugs are prevalent in our community.  

Ten years ago, Gary Orfield, a professor of Education at UCLA, speaking on a panel with Michael Eric Dyson in Dyson’s Book “Debating Race,” said, “There are tremendous inequities in our society today, [measured] by race and by poverty.  They’re growing. We have the most unequal distribution of income and opportunity of any major democracy.  In the mid 1960’s and 70’s we developed a set of policies to try to make that work better.  We’re now dismantling them on a very large scale under the leadership of a Supreme Court that was constructed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.”   

“We do not have an alternate plan.  We think it will just work out automatically, and it won’t.  And we have to face up to that.   We have not cured the problems of our history.  We have not achieved equality for even one day, in terms of outcomes in this society.  We can’t deny that, and we have to try to resolve it.  And we have to resolve it, those of us who are white, before we become the minority, and minority rights become not just a theory but something we have to worry about also.”   

Nothing has changed under this President Bush.  His malevolent agenda has made things even worse than those that came before. This week, speaking to my Grandma, I reminded her to caucus this weekend for Barack Obama.  During the course of the conversation, Mama told me that she went to a mall in my Midwestern hometown to have her blood pressure checked.  An older white man from the Carolinas checked her pressure and then broke down crying asking Mama for her forgiveness for all whites had done to our people.  

I was speechless.   

While confession is good for the soul, I don’t know how good that confession really was for Mama.  She had the conversation about race that I wish we all could have but it lacked any discussion of remuneration. I would have preferred that she’d been paid what she was worth as a nurse for 37 years at a Veterans Administration hospital.  

Mama never did make the top pay grade after all that time, a fact I found out when I worked as a nursing assistant at her hospital during college. She would be getting more in retirement now if she had and could rest a little easier. Rhetoric about hope aside, which we desperately need, we still need to get down to brass tacks about the inequity in this society.    

Progressives are being drowned out by opportunistic handkerchief heads like Juan Williams who know damn better. They undermine the consensus of opinion in the black community and make it difficult for savvy and pragmatic politicians like Barack Obama to advance by pushing a progressive agenda.  I have been clear that I don’t like the accommodations Obama made to get to this point, but I realize that his candidacy would be impossible without them.   

The tragedy of our system is that corporate accommodation is mandatory for political advancement and I remain hopeful that the inspiration Obama provides to young brothas and sistahs will mitigate the damage our plutocracy inflicts on their dreams and aspirations for the future.

39 thoughts on “Barack Obama, a proxy for racial equality

  1. This is a very thoughtful piece, SB, and I can’t disagree with anything you wrote, but then you knew that, because of your frank honesty.

    I don’t expect Obama to save the Black community; we have to save ourselves. I have always had my own reasons for backing Obama, for proposals that he’s made that though, not Black-specific, I believe would help the country overall. I’m sort of hokey that way; in the end, this is the only country that I have, and I choose to be a part of it, and wish for it to be at its best.

    I know that Obama has had to compromise; I’m not naive. But, this IS about as close as we’ll get in a long time, and I see the stars aligning in a way I would have never thought possible even three years ago.

    I am very pleased about the generational divide that I see being fully revealed in this Obama run. Folks seem to be finding their voice during this run of his.

    I couldn’t take her. Whatever our battles will be with Obama, they will be new battles, not rehashed battles.

    I want to feel a part of this world again. I want to not be ashamed to tell folks I’m an American. At the very least, he can do that.

    He’s the ‘First Black’, SB. He’s breaking down barriers for others. He’s taken slings and arrows this year that were meant to break him, and you know it.

    Is this vote for him for us? Or is it for our past and our future? For those who have lived and seen things we never did, and for those yet to come. Barack Obama is for my 80 year-old mother and my not-yet-born great-niece.

    You’ve never failed me yet, and this time is no different. Thank you, SB.

  2. First let me say that your title is dead on. That is exactly how many whites wish to view Barack Obama.

    And if thats what it takes, then so be it. The reality is what it is.

    We live in a stratified capitalist system with long standing white supremacist underpinnings.

    Unless you are willing to take up arms and ride or die with a few million of your closest friends you are going to die in a similar system. That system has evolved over time with technology, globalization and the hearts and minds of people evolving over time.

    The choices remain…evolution from within, or revolution against. One just doesnt seem very viable from where i stand.

    Life is about choices. We can choose to sit on the sidelines and bemoan the lack of an ideal or we can roll our sleeves up and muck around and do whatever can be done. After 7-8 years of working with and in Congress from various angles, and 2 more years of tinkering in Local Texas Politics and community organizing I have a pretty concrete idea of what can and cannot be done under the status quo. I support Obama because he appears to be positioning himself to make as much incremental change as can be accomplished by one movement in a fixed amount of time.

    after recovering from two back to back surgeries, i will accept whatever incremental change I can get a hold of as soon as possible, Cause i literally cant afford to wait for revolution to come round.

  3. rikyrah,

    Grandma and your Mother are peers. Mama will be 79 in April. Mama’s little vignette really had me going and had the wheels turning. I should have written more this week and had intended too. However, this is what came out.

    Thanks for your blessing. I needed it.

  4. cozumelkid

    Everyone is talking about change. If I wanted to talk about and make big changes I certainly wouldn’t refer to Ronald Reagan or any of those other old foggies. They are the reason this country is so messed up now. Ronnie was part of the problems we are having today. Talking about doing things like past presidents seems to be some sort of a side step from the real issues. What ever happened to talking about the real problems. Are these people so out of touch that they don’t even know whats really going on in the USA.

  5. I thought more about it, SB. I thought about Mama and Daddy, both inching towards 50 when I was born. I thought of Mama, permanently attached to an oxygen tank now- it was unthinkable that I wouldn’t be wheeling that tank as I took her on Tuesday to vote. I honestly do believe it’s for her and those like her, and for my great-niece arriving in May.

  6. Zeitgeist9000

    SB,

    I respect and adore your writings! You are brilliant.

    But as a black man who saw how well we as a community prospered under Bill Clinton, I’m wondering how you could not support Hillary. I know Barack seems like an opportunity for advancement we may never see again in life, but I happen to think that if Hillary gets in there, the electorate will become more at ease with people of different stripes being president, i.e. women and minorities. Also, I think the Clintons are a tested commodity. I honestly don’t know if Barack is way liberal (which I’m not comfortable with), if he’s conservative (like Reagan), or if he’s moderate. I just can’t take that gamble.

  7. SB: I don’t get to post much over here in the last few months. But I still check you out, looking for thought provoking commentary from the Skeptical Brotha. You’ve certainly delivered.
    Well written and thoughtful. Thank you.

    Angie

  8. sdg1844

    This is my first post on your site. I’ve been reading your posts over the past several days and your writing is honest, passionate anmd heartfelt. I understand what you are saying about Obama, the political system in this country and America itself.

    I will vote for Obama because I am willing to take a chance even though he will have to compromise and make concessions because of the way this system is constructed. I simply can not support any other alternative.

    Thanks so much for your honesty.

  9. rene

    I’m in between a rock and a hard place on this one. Yes, Barack will have to overlook a planet of issues that are of obvious sequence to us. But, when will this happen again… I mean a Black man with an aggressive campaign and herculean chance of receiving the Dem nomination? The last strong contender for this we had, in my opinion, was Shirley Chisholm- and how long ago was that?

    I already know some things aren’t going to change much, such as the plights in Africa, or Latin America for that fact, or with the fucntions of this country’s financial machinery. But, I would be a fool to not vote for this man -because these political dynasties have got to be interrupted! Enough of the same; verily, doing so and looking for a new result is crazy. I have got to vote for him, given this aspect alone.

    As far as what you mentioned with the “racial” desparity in AmeriKKKa, the healing, once it really starts, will take decades or more. Inert prejudice and hate like we own is layered and cemented over vast quantities of time. A society with inter-generational degradation, serfdom and disdain as it’s cornerstone has to be deconstructed and rebuilt to cure this malady. I agree, alot of people will misread Barack in the White House as us overcoming race. Then again, many more will not. Tempers will ignite, stigmas will emerge- I guarantee it. Conversely, maybe then we will begin the discussion that will lead to knocking down this burning house.

  10. Outstanding and thought-provoking piece of writing, SB. I think we can all agree we want substance over style, but many of us still choose style without even knowing what substance there is underneath the packaging. We have all been guilty of this, mainly because we don’t know any better from living in a consumer-oriented society. Will President Barack Obama make any more than stylistic changes to what is a certain march to oblivion under our non-renewable, environmentally and morally destructive way of life? I’m not so sure after learning that his economic advisors are all solidly Clintonian neo-supply siders who want to have market-based solutions to some very serious social problems. Supply-side solutions to social secrity and health care will spell doom to ours and future generations. The only hope for me is that Hillary and Barack have both said they would support publically financed campaigns. This is the only hope for a meaningful and peaceful revolution in our lives.

  11. What’s the matter Juan, Fox News looking to replace you with a more rabid right wing Uncle Tom?

    Fox News already has that rabid right wing Uncle Tom, and his name is Harold Ford, Jr., aka “The Dark Sith”.

    Apart from that pithy comment, brilliant analysis as usual, SB.

  12. Anon 1

    YOu are misinformed if you think Barack Obama senate record is moderate/centrist. Barack Obama is a far liberal. Almost more liberal than Ted Kenendy. Hillary Clinton votign record suggest she is a centrist/moderate democrat. You are blinded by the white folks who are writing Barack Obama speeches. I was embarassed to lean Obama does not write his own speeches. Just remember MLK spoke from his heart and wrote his own speeches. Barack has not shown any originality in his campaign. All his campaign is doing is copying what other great people have done. Now he is even blatantly trying to hijack Edwards ideas. One day we will all wake up to Obama copy cat speeches of inspiration. There are so many African Americans who have done so much work on behave of all people without paradign around like a Masked Barack.

  13. Rick

    “Barack Obama wants to change the rules of the Super Ds mid way in the race…” anon 1

    @anon 1 – I’m still waiting for that link. Oh, never mind. I’m going to go ahead and say it: You’re a liar!

  14. SB, this is a truly outstanding, courageous piece, capturing much of my own combination of ambivalence and hope surrounding Obama. The compromises he has made, many of which I vigorously criticize, are precisely what have earned him a realistic shot the White House; but progressives are necessarily nagged by the question of exactly where to draw this line. I see no easy answer.

  15. Anon 1

    Rick,

    Here is the link concerning my remarks about Barack Obama change of view on the Super Ds. If all Super Ds were to vote the way of their constituents then Ted Kennedy and Duval Patrick will have to unendorse Obama, since Hillary won Massachusettes. There are more Super Ds in big states. I doubt if he will find a large number of Super Ds in Idaho and Utah. Democrats will never win those states

    http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/02/08/649765.aspx

  16. Ernesto, TPJ,

    Thanks for your effusive praise, I am not worthy. Sometimes I am genuinely surprised. Truth be told, I wasn’t really happy with the writing in this piece but it conveyed a certain truth and so I chose to go with it instead of refining it further.

  17. Joyce in Chicago

    Thank you for this thoughtful commentary. In order to survive in Illinois politics, Senator Obama had to swim with the political sharks in Springfield and Chicago–but he managed to do this without becoming a predator himself. That alone makes me think he is the right candidate to back for president. I appreciate it that you support Senator Obama, despite his imperfections.

  18. Rick

    Anon 1 –

    Thank you. Expressing an opinion about how Super Ds might want to consider voting in the best interests of the party is not the same as advocating “changing the rules”, in my opinion. But I can see how that could be twisted that way.

    But, having new delegate votes count (e.g. Florida), when everyone agreed months ago they would not count, WOULD constitute a rules change — as Hillary Clinton is currently advocating. I’m surprised you didn’t mention that.

  19. Chesapeake

    You are not only “skepticalbrotha” but also astute brother. Your assessment of the “ground rules” is on point. However, those “ground rules” were not all externally imposed upon Obama. He has, to some extent, imposed ground rules upon himself.

    For instance, Obama vociferously pledges to bring unity in government. He has committed to that, and, if elected president, he will work toward making that the hallmark of his presidency. That’s an awesome weight to carry.

    However, looking over the last 20 years, we have had Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. The three of them spoke of change and ability to bridge the aisle of congress. Neither of them succeeded (Bush II flat out lied – he had no intent to). Maybe Obama can do it, but we know that to the extent real “change” occurred, it has occurred by deception, fear (of being labelled “unpatriotic”), and old fashioned mafia bullying techniques.

    A reason for the lack of success is that the political system is, by nature, acrimonious. The impossibility of doing anything bold to affect change in America is evident. Look at what’s happening at CPAC this week. The conservative fringe of the republican party is showing its teeth and threatening a standstill against McCain if he doesn’t come around. They are making demands, already! It’s sick!

    To affect bold change as proposed (“bold change” is still a moving target yet defined), President Obama will have to either: 1.) come around very early in his tenure and become uncharacteristic of his campaign; or 2.) if he wants to be reelected, wait until his second term to try to affect bold change.

    The “ground rules” imposed upon Obama by advisors, drillers, insurers, pharmaceutical producers, donors, and himself will have to be broken. Hopefully, he will develop the “Audacity to Fight” against these interests while in office.

  20. john in california

    Great post, sb. here is an article by Sirota that well describes how Obama must navigate between aspirations and perceptions and the irony of Clinton getting the blue collar vote (though Sirota doesn‘t touch on the racist aspect of that vote). Personally, I think he can afford to tack more in the direction of criticizing the Clinton economic record, regardless of the ‘angry black man’ meme.

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080207_the_democrats_class_war/

  21. ten_a_c_girl

    Well said. And I agree with everything you’ve written. I have to say that the images of obama and his awesome wife, michelle , are inspiring a young generation like nothing I’ve ever seen in my thirty-plus years.

  22. Good to see you come around. It took a year, but often times its the destination that counts and not the starying point.

    I told you Blacks won’t get another chance to get one of our own in the white house for a long time to come. Obama is as good as it gets. We have to support him.

    I can’t believe you didn’t see this so long ago. Too busy being “skeptical.”

    Oh, I am suprised you haven’t posted something about the confusion in the republican party. After all, the main stream conservative media’s canidate has dropped out. I can hear you laughing at Rush and Hannity now.

    Anyway, hope all is well. I haven’t been home in a while, but next time I come down I will swing by to say hello.

  23. YBM,

    I endorsed Obama a month ago, after the Iowa speech. It took a month to come down off that high but I finally did. I am me again. When you come, don’t forget to bring that pretty lady you married.

  24. TripLBee

    SB, I’d like to make two points: one about remuneration and another about Obama’s “blackness.” First and foremost let’s be frank with ourselves. As African-Americans we can make compelling cases for remunerations. But at the end of the day the federal government will never, ever, under any circumstance agree to such a thing. As such, I believe that the whole debate is a waste of time. As Barack so poignantly put it the other day, “we are the change that we are seeking.” That is to say, let’s focus on the things over which we have control. Let’s turn off that damn TV. Let’s stop supporting musicians who denigrate us. For the love of God, let’s read more. Let’s write more. Let’s value education in an authentic way. Let’s stop drinking. For our sake let’s stop using violent language towards each other. Let’s hug and kiss and love our children. My goodness, the best remuneration we can offer is to offer ourselves love.

    Also, have you been listening to Barack’s speeches? In no way does he run from his “blackness.” He incessantly alludes to the harshness and injustice of being poor and black. But he also, authentically, ties the struggles of poor African-Americans, to the struggles of poor and working class whites and Latinos. He cares about the down and out and it shows. I think it’s beautiful. He has my vote.

    Finally, Barack is not perfect. He has cast well over 5,000 votes in his 11 year political career. Anyone can mine those votes to find something which they oppose. But he is not a centrist. He is a progressive. His record on everything from social justice to foreign policy to domestic issues, is far more compelling than even John Edwards, the so called progressive candidate. His record is far superior to the “Republican light” strategy of Hillary Clinton.

    For the love of God people what do we want?

  25. TripLBee,

    I don’t agree that Obama is progressive, but he’s as progressive as we’ll get and so I’ll support him because I sincerely want and yearn for a black man to be given the chance to lead our nation.

  26. TripLBee

    skepticalbrotha,

    Obama is not a radical. He is a progressive however. And while I also am captivated by the notion of a black person leading our nation, his ability to honor his blackness but build a wider tent is even more compelling. I have never seen anything like it.

  27. Marla K.

    TripLBee, thank you for so eloquently expressing my sentiments regarding this once in a lifetime opprtunity I never imagined would come, a chance to vote for a true progressive for President of the United States of America, and an African American.

    I really enjoy your perspective SB, and love your creative expression. You entertain us and challenge us to think through important issues and provide an open and democratic forum where we can freely express our opinions.

    We need you so very much, given so much main stream media is so slanted in it’s point of view. Thank you. I look forward to your every post!!

  28. Couple of things give me pause about Obama, that 5.3 million bucks from Merril Lynch being one. The predation by such Wall Street entities on the poor innocent suckers trying to live the American Dream is nothing short of tragic and infuriating. I could not, would not, ever take a penny from those vultures if I were trying to become president for the right reasons. The other thing is this strategy of injecting feel good platitudes in place of addressing hard truths, like this “new economy” that being imposed neoliberal policies espoused by both political parties. What good is democracy when we get no choice on these life or death issues? How are we expected to enthusiastically vote for someone who doesn’t have the courage to piss people off by saying what needs to be said? I’m reminded of that classic sermon in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”:

    “Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation. Yea, woe to him who, as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway!”

  29. tabt

    Skeptical,

    Very intelligent, insightful post, but you have spoiled me to the point where I just kind of expect that from you.

    I am from Chicago, South Side born and raised. You seem to know a lot about Real Chicago Politics and I respect that. Are you aware that Michelle Obama is the daughter of a Chicago Precinct Captain? To me this means that she has been politically plugged in since birth. She has always known where some of the (political) bodies were buried. When she left Sidley Austin, she went to work for Richie Daley and I’m sure found out where more bodies were buried. Here this kind of knowlege equals power or as we say “clout”.

    I am not trying to detract in any way from Michelle Obama’s own, considerable accomplishments. However, I do believe that she has always been the actual political decision maker. She decided that her husband should move from community organizer to political candidate. She calls the shots. This “I’m a working mom just trying to do what’s best for my family, juggle career etc.” is not the real story. It’s a lie, but hey it’s Chicago. Michelle has the power, the clout and the hard reality political know how. She’s the one. He’s just the candidate. And that’s o.k.

    I have been watching for months now to see if the Hispanic sister of an Alderman would beat out the African American daughter of a precinct captain for the backing of the Daley Machine. When I saw that Bill Daley, totally connected to the Clintons, had very quietly signed on as an “advisor” to Obama, I knew that Michelle had won. For now.

    You may hate the Daley Machine, but those people do know how to win elections. The Chicago Machine has been putting people in office for 100 years. Who do you think was instrumental in making Bill Clinton President?

    I believe that the Democratic nominee will be determined by traditional, hardcore, down and dirty, political deal making. Trade for trade, favor for favor, big money changing hands. In that kind of game, Michelle Obama and the Daley Machine are the ones you want on your side. Much is made of the Clinton Machine, and they are pretty down and dirty, but “Slick Willie” is no more. I’m betting on the Daley Machine to win when things get really ugly, sleazy and lucrative.

    Call me a hopeless romantic.

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