April 29, 2008
St. Sanctimony himself finally bothered to read what all the hullabaloo was about regarding Rev. Wright. Andrew Sullivan was saddened. He’s sad because (yet again) his “man crush” is not what he appeared to be, and Sullivan must admit that he has been giving Obama too much credit. He thought Obama was this transformative figure who would yield a post-racial politics, but he forget that Obama is more concerned with getting the right sort of votes than winning the election in general.
After the Wright story broke, Obama gave a speech that greatly reassured NPR liberals and liberal blacks of his eloquence, but his fork-tongued discussions of Rev. Wright did little to reassure ethnic whites and other swing voters put off by Wright’s extremism. He’s still stuck in this rut. He won’t give the speech Sullivan wants, because he’s worried his black supporters will turn on him, and this is a fear that goes to the core of his identity. He’d rather lose this election than be labeled an Uncle Tom. This is a perennial charge that he’s probably been dealing with ever since he moved in among poor black people on Chicago’s South Side in his young adulthood.
For Obama, to reject black nationalism would occasion the same kind of guilt he felt during his brief stint at a financial services company in NYC. He rejected this, after all, to become a “community organizer” of blacks in Chicago. His black identity has always been a fragile one, and he’s obviously very insecure about it. For starters, he looks quite different from the typical black American. He is half white, after all, and he grew up on the mean streets of Hawaii, raised by “typical white people.” He even attended Ivy League schools. He wrote an entire book about it. He wants to be typically black and the American president, but voters are turned off by his fealty to mainstream urban blacks’ extremism.
As evidenced by his long association with Rev. Wright, Obama is willing to tolerate gross expressions of race hatred from his black associates. The otherwise affable Obama’s tolerance for such hatred suggests that his promise of racial healing may be a chimera. But in his own mind, I think, he can reconcile these contradictions. Though he knows both communities well and has succeeded in both, his implicit solution to the various racial conflicts America faces are prefigured in his own identity. Americans must become more like Obama himself, rejecting the white heritage in favor of the black, the poor, and the oppressed.
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