Black Like Barack

More and more I’m hearing grumbling from the black community that Obama isn’t doing enough to help us out. From not appointing a black woman to the Supreme Court (and I do agree, it’s high time that bridge gets crossed), to taking too long to give black farmers their settlement money, Obama is looking like, well, any other president. As much as I would like for him to be the Great Black Hope and focus on lifting up the black community, I recognize his reality — his political opponents are all too eager to claim he’s playing the race card or offering preferential treatment to black people because of his race. I mean, these are people who expect apologies when they get called racist for calling a black person a nigger.

Let me take a second here to explain something. I feel kind of a kinship with Obama. We are both half white, both raised by a white mother and grandparent (his grandmother, my grandfather), both grew up with little to no contact with our black fathers, and both struggled with defining ourselves in a world that wants to put you in a neat little box. When all the drama around his radical black pastor, Reverend Wright, started during the campaign, I understood why Obama would attend a church led by an ideologue like Rev. Wright. And I understood why Rev. Wright was an ideologue. Because when you’re a light skinned black person, or half white, or in any way do not fit into the mold of what people think a black person is supposed to be, you feel like you have to prove yourself. You have to fight to be black. So, many go the militant route. I speak from experience, because I became intensely interested in African-American and African history partly in response to criticism I faced from other black folks that I wasn’t “black enough”. It became my mission to learn as much as possible about our history, culture, and current situation in the world. I’m glad I did, because it enabled me to be a much better advocate for equal rights, and a much more informed opponent of racism. I just wish the impetus for my enlightenment wasn’t me trying to defend my place in the black continuum. I think Obama may have faced down the same issues I did, so I can see the position he’s coming from.

Since Obama was elected, many white people seem to think race is no longer an issue and are annoyed when PoC point out that it still is. Barack is in a delicate situation. On the one hand, he full well knows that there are serious, systemic inequities between the races that need to be addressed. But on the other, any time he focuses on race, he’s accused of, well, focusing on race. To most white people, the objective is to be “colorblind”. Just don’t talk about race and it will go away. Unfortunately, things don’t work like that. We don’t need to deny that there are differences between races. We just need to recognize that those differences don’t mean that PoC should be discriminated against, and we need to fight for equality across the board. Sometimes that entails things that white people label “reverse racism”, like affirmative action. Sometimes diversity does need to be enforced because white people aren’t going to change on their own if they don’t have to. But since we apparently now live in a “post-racial” world, in white folks’ eyes, that is tantamount to racism towards white people. It’s an unfortunate truth that most white people don’t understand institutionalized racism. They see racism as simply a one-on-one reality. If they personally don’t hate PoC, they aren’t racist. If they personally don’t discriminate against PoC, racism doesn’t exist. If there’s a black president, we’ve made all the gains we need to to have equality between the races. Being white is a very self-centered identity.

So Obama must walk the tightrope between the actual realities of race dynamics and what white people think those realities are. Whereas our white presidents consistently focused on improving the situations of the members of their race, it was not seen that way by white people, because white is the default. If Obama spent his time focusing on issues that affect only black people or other PoC, he would be seen as being “racist” towards white people, or a militant ideologue. It doesn’t matter how small the issue is. To avoid that labeling, he must avoid race for the most part. He is constantly reminded that he has to govern for all citizens, and in America the majority of the citizens are white.

I want Obama to be bold and deal with racial issues head on. I want him to focus on creating equality between the races. But the fact is, he’s a politician. His job depends on keeping white people placated. So I don’t expect much different from him as far as racial issues than I would from any other President. Am I disappointed? Of course. Surprised? No.

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10 Responses to Black Like Barack

  1. Xeginy May 20, 2010 at 8:13 am #

    I feel conflicted on this, because on the one hand, it's disappointing that Obama hasn't been the magical "hope-change" president he said he was going to be. On the other hand, I don't want an idealogue in office. I want someone who can figure out a way to compromise with both parties (I really wish there was a third party) so that politicians can actually get things done instead of just arguing all the time.

    However, the fact that Obama has been called "racist against white people" just goes to show how far we haven't come as a country. But I'm hopeful, too, because as redlami said, I like to see this as a first step. What I'm afraid of, though, is that Obama is/will be used as a "token," so we (white people) can say "Look, look, we had a black president! See, we're not racist!!" And then continue the fine tradition of white male presidents for the next fifty years. I wonder what will happen.

  2. A Random Claire May 20, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Every time I hear/see a white person complain about racism against white people, I want to punch them in the face. Repeatedly. Luckily for me, I am white, so I can do it without being called racist.

    • Kelly May 29, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

      I relate! And I had to laugh at your last line!

  3. Dawn. May 20, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    I really relate to this. As a very light-skinned black woman, I felt a similar kinship with Obama. I also delved into African-American history and culture (partially) as a defense of my place in our community. I'm thrilled that I am "a more informed opponent of racism," as a result, but I do think it's sad that a defensive position against white people's and other PoC's claims that I'm not "black enough" led me to the knowledge I now possess.

    I want Obama to be bold and deal with racial issues head on. I want him to focus on creating equality between the races. But the fact is, he’s a politician. His job depends on keeping white people placated. So I don’t expect much different from him as far as racial issues than I would from any other President. Am I disappointed? Of course. Surprised? No.

    This is exactly my predicament. It actually makes me angry that I'm not surprised, because that makes it even more obvious how much work we have to do as a country.

    A Random Claire: I feel the same way. That shit makes me so mad. Racism against white people??? Really??? I just wanna punch them in the face, then give them a stack of books and a thoroughly long lecture.

  4. Diana May 20, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    I really appreciate you posting this. I'm a half black half white mix as wee but I look Latina or Middle Eastern and I've found that straddling the racial divide even if you aren't in the public eye is one hell of an undertaking. I can't imagine the number of possibly racially charged things he and his staff have to work to avoid. It seems to me that if people would stop being so racist (often in support of themselves) and selfish and look at the big picture, it would give Mr. Obama more opportunity to actually get stuff done.

  5. Leah May 20, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    I agree with you 100%. I'm not black or mixed race, so I am not saying that I can IDENTIFY with him and his unique struggle — but I do recognize it. Also, I'm not even American… but I was naively celebrating progress along with everyone else when he was voted in. I get frustrated, scared and horrified by the vitriol and hatred behind the criticism he receives and recognize that he has to maintain a ridiculously precarious balance and be more things than one person should have to be. More things than even a president has ever had to be.

    It is a frustrating place to be in where you realize just how much further the world needs to come, and you realize that you may not see that in your life time. I have had arguments recently where people seem to believe that there is somehow magically a post-racist (& post-patriarchal) world. Everyone wants to hold up their "I'm not racist" card, when real change would come about if people weren't afraid to own up to or even RECOGNIZE their own actual racism and actually do something about it.

    I grew up thinking that my community wasn't racist, my family wasn't racist and certainly I could never possibly be racist, but it's only been with a lot of reading, critical thinking, and uncomfortable examining that I realize that this is absolutely 100% not true.

  6. Elizabeth May 20, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

    Love this article, it resonated with me on so many levels! A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I (he is white and I am black) ended up having an argument about, of all things, affirmative action at our school. He essentially espouses most of the beliefs you wrote about in the third paragraph. When I tried to explain ideas to him like privilege and institutionalized racism he looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language, and we never did resolve the argument. I was shocked that someone as intelligent as him could believe that just because they themselves are not racist must mean that racism is dead and now everything is just sunshine and equal and wonderful. I wish I could have shown him this article because it is so clear, so beautifully written, and says everything I would have liked to have said in that situation. Thank you so much for this blog.

    • Tasha Fierce May 20, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

      Show him the article now! Seriously, don't let him keep thinking he's right. I mean I know it's your deal and all, but I have a white husband and in the beginning I constantly had to be schooling him on this type of shit. Luckily we've been together long enough he knows better now, but every once in a while it's back to class. I love the white people in my life but sometimes it's just too much.

  7. chriso May 25, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    What I find so irritating about people complaining about Obama not being a Christ-like miracle worker of a president is that he is in the same situation that any president who came before him has been: you may make a lot of promises in your campaign and mean every damn word of them. But once you land in the White House you have SO many other people to answer to besides yourself and your ideas for the country and a lot of those promises get left by the wayside for a long, long time. Is this good? Not at all. But is it uncommon? Not at all. I just feel like because he's black people want to jump on him and call him a failure when he is falling into a lot of the same situations many white presidents who came before him have.

  8. Kelly May 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    Good article, and the third paragraph is brilliant. Sending it to my most-beloved family member who still, deep down, doesn't get the difference between prejudice and racism. Thanks.

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