Monday, February 12, 2007

Obama: A Responsive Remark

In my view Senator Obama is more interesting right now because of who he is and our reaction to him, than who he might be as President. My cynicism has left me feeling that the layer of lobbyists and special interest groups has effectively disconnected the interests of the common voting public from the actions of elected officials. The idea that we ought to wait and see with Obama holds little weight with me. Wait and see what? He has already aptly demonstrated that he is not simple-minded and gives reasoned response to the complexity and nuances of many issues facing the country. That, and his obvious concern for the common, the poor and the disposed, is enough to distinguish him from President Bush and the ideologues fashioned in his image. Obama’s actions, therefore, will be determined by the balance of his convictions against the cumulative weight of powerful and often conflicting interests. That is the same for all of the candidates. With that line of thinking, Obama, is only marginally different from Biden, H. Clinton, Edwards and even Kerry for that matter. Bill Clinton is arguably the most loved American president by black people since Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy. It was under his watch, however, that he sided with Chiquita at the World Trade Organization and destroyed the Caribbean banana industry. It was also under his watch that he held American influence in check while nearly 800,000 Rwandans were killed. I supported Clinton and still do, but I do not profess to know what forces force the hand of leaders, even those who purportedly support interests that I hold dear. As such, I am not sure what I would be waiting to see with Obama that he has not already demonstrated.

As a result, Obama’s lineage and our collective reaction to him is more interesting to me. The discussion of “the black vote”, my categorization of “blacks being cool” with him imply that there is an understanding of the meaning of being black in America; that we can be discussed as a monolithic group. Of course, I do not think that implication is correct. Who is an African American? Clearly the answer varies. I am in the “dirty south” which is a different world than the Bay Area, for example, or Brooklyn where I am from. Obama’s interesting and timely arrival has forced us to consider an evolving definition of black in America. The host of Ethiopians in Oakland and D.C., the innumerable West Indians in New York, the increasing numbers of displaced north and central Africans in Minnesota, for example, are all significant components of a new collective identity. Forging this new identity is both timely and difficult. It is obviously coming at a time when significant portions of the country would like to demonize illegal immigrants personified by Mexican workers. It comes at a time when Americans increasingly tend to see Muslims as simply terrorists or potential terrorists. It comes at a time when anything counter to American interests is pitted as evil. Essentially it is coming at a time when nuance is under siege and sympathetic consideration is seen as a weakness.

This is therefore a time to recreate. It is an opportunity for black people in America to utilize the humanity born of the suffering that we all share to demonstrate how a cultural identity can transform itself. Embracing Obama, and criticizing him, based on his blackness can be a healthy cultural exercise. It can help us to identify what we mean by being black; what is its cultural foundation and which parts of that foundation are most important? In so doing we will be forced to measure the outcome of our choices against a universal human standard. Doing that can be an enormous contribution not only to ourselves, but to the country.


1 comment:

GopherPT said...

I find it disappointing in that "the black vote" matters so much more in states where the representative portion of blacks is smaller than it is in the south, where Republicans have become the dominant party. Politicians only care about competitive states, based on polls, ignoring those of us in less competitive states, no matter what our race or ideas are.

It's long been an overt tactic of politicians to divide and conquer...can you imagine the voting power of the smokers in this country? (if they were all single-issue voters). I read that 21% of American adults still smoke.

I saw the Obama book, hardback, at B&N today for 30% off list. I didn't get it, but am curious to find someone I know who can recommend it. Can you?