Is Obama Black Enough?

It turns out that Barack Obama is black enough to be President after all.

For a while there it looked like he wasn’t, at least among African Americans who said that he didn’t share their heritage of American slavery, and therefore couldn’t understand The Experience.

Many of these same African-Americans, however, called a white man — Bill Clinton — the “first black President” because he understood The Experience, even though he didn’t actually live it. That sentiment apparently had rubbed off on Hilary Rodham Clinton who, by extension, presumably was the first black First Lady and looked like she would inherit the black vote in her presidential quest.

But wait. Polling last week is showing that Obama is cutting into her popularity among black voters. A Zogby poll last Wednesday showed that Obama actually leads Clinton among black Democratic voters, 44% to 30%, compared with a January poll having her ahead of Obama 60% to 20%. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last Tuesday picked up the same trend, showing Obama closing in on Clinton.

This, of course, confounds certain black elites (activists and commentators) who obliquely questioned Obama’s racial authenticity. They explained that blacks would stay with Clinton because here’s a white person (Clinton) who has a better understanding of The Experience than a black person (Obama) who hasn’t had The Experience. This may be a good thing, because it shows that the race of the person is not as important as how the person votes on race. At least that’s what passes for progress these days.

Not that any of this conforms to reality or the rules of logic.

This whole thing about testing a candidate’s racial credentials is in the same category as debating whether Obama is unsuited to be President because he is not white enough. It is raw, inexcusable racism.

But Obama’s racial qualifications are exactly what have been discussed quite openly and unashamedly, as if it were a legitimate issue, since he declared his candidacy a few weeks ago. No doubt some of it was political envy because Obama had not apprenticed in traditional “black channels” of minister or activist (think Rev. Jesse Jackson).

But the details of the not-black-enough argument are more intricate. Basically, the difference is that his heritage is east African, not west African, from where most American slaves were kidnapped.

Hauling a hefty load of this racist ooze is one Debra J. Dickerson, in her Jan. 22 Slate piece, “Colorblind.” She writes: “‘Black,’ in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics.”

When she finally gets around to it, her point is that the degree of Obama’s blackness is really about white racism, wouldn’t you know it. “He signals to whites,” she writes, “that the racial turmoil and stalemate of the last generation are past and that with [Obama] comes a new day in politics when whites needn’t hold back for fear of being thought racist.” In other words, whites still hate “real” blacks.

Well, you could have fooled me. I didn’t know that whites went around asking blacks if they were descended from east or west Africa before denying whether to deny them the use of the wash room. The back of the Montgomery bus didn’t say, “West African blacks who have lived The Experience must sit in the back. Other blacks can pick their own seats”

As hard it is for Dickerson to believe, we don’t get up every morning contemplating how we can make life tougher for African-Americans. Yes, we can’t help noticing Obama’s skin color, as we notice that green is the color of the lawn. This will not go down easy in many corners, among folks who “just know” that whites harbor fantasies of reinstating Jim Crow. Those folks who must keep the fires of racial animosity going to access riches, power or prestige, or simply, as with too many commentators, just to have something to say.

How else can you explain it, other than that the only folks who seem to be harping on Obama’s degree of blackness aren’t racist whites but racist blacks? They, more than others, cling to the anachronism that a “black can’t be elected,” while, according to polls, a majority and growing number of whites believe a black can. They’ll assert that Jackson’s failed presidential quest — of ___ years ago — is evidence of racism on a national scale, ignoring the possibility that some voters just may not have liked his imperious self all that much. Why isn’t Jackson’s failed try just old news?

Yes, we know how the argument goes: Sure, you whites claim racial progress in this country. But buried deep within the white psyche bubbles unremitting racism. Or it resides just under the surface, a pox ready, upon incitement, to raise visible, festering boils. There’s no arguing against such assertions, because to argue against them is “proof” of their truth.

Please understand: Some portion of the population will remain bitterly racist, just as some portion of the population will be incurably manic. But today’s racism is not the racism of 100, 50 or even 25 years ago. America is turning from an ugly nation once bitterly, openly and sometimes violently divided by race. While it is fitting that we still ponder how we can better integrate (when was the last time you heard that word?) the races, it seems that the only ones constantly dragging race into our consciousness are the flying squadrons of racial nags who still live in the 1960s.

So, where to from here? The vetting has begun of Obama’s views on great and small issues, and of his mettle and character. This is all that counts, and if he is found wanting by some Americans, that is not evidence of their supposedly lurking racism.

As for what I’ve seen so far, I disagree with him on many things. I’m not anxious for a liberal to be elected President. But if we must have a left-winger in the White House, I hope that Obama kicks the bejeezes out of his white opponents. Maybe then the nags will at least give us a break.