Saturday, August 2, 2008

Musings on Obama

Tonight, DH and I were having yet another discussion about Barack Obama and his ability to speak to and for the Black community. He believes that Obama doesn't say enough about the condition of Black America. I explain to him that he can't say too much because he has to get elected and White America will only accept so much blackness from him. He retorts with the declaration that if he can't speak his mind now, we really can't expect much from him when he gets into the White House. It's a conversation we've had many times during this election season, especially after the Rev. Wright & Trinity situation emerged.

I suppose the members of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement agree with DH. They, too, are questioning Obama's commitment to Black issues. But I say to them what I say to my husband--this man has to get elected. And despite John McCain's insistence that Obama is bringing up his difference by saying Republicans will claim he is the "Other," most Americans already recognize his difference. For many, this difference is problematic, so if he is to get elected, he can't emphasize his "otherness." These critiques of Obama make me wonder, what do we expect of him and what can we expect of him?

I am on a listserve with my former high school classmates and the discussion often turns to Obama. They are so excited about the possibility of a Black president, as am I. In their posts they speak of how great his presidency will be and what a boon this will be for Black America. I am inclined to agree. But I am cautious, too. We can't expect him to solve all of our problems, as a nation or as a people. One of my students told me last semester that she doesn't want him to win because the country is so messed up now, there's no way he can fix it. Consequently, he and his blackness will be blamed for not fixing it and the path to another Black person winning the office will be blocked. I won't go as far as my student, but I do agree that the task before him will be a daunting one.

Here's what I'm thinking: We should look at Obama as a presidential candidate who happens to be Black rather than as a Black candidate. In this way, we will not hold him to certain expectations. He won't have to speak to every single black issue and we will be more willing to understand that he will have to be a president for everyone. So, we accept that he has to denounce Rev. Wright's ideas on race (however true many of them may be), but we expect him to get to New Orleans as soon as it's safe after Katrina. He has to get elected, but even when he gets there he may not be able to do what we want (or need, in some instances) him to do specifically for Black people. I don't think it's realistic or fair of us to expect these things of him.

Perhaps I'm just making excuses for Obama. I admit that I am still shaping my thoughts on this, so I'm open to other ideas. What do you all think?

Since I'm musing on Obama and the race, I just want to say that I think it is ridiculous for McCain to compare Obama to Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears. Aside from the fact that they are known for being shallow women who are celebrities because they are famous and thus bear no resemblance to Obama, doesn't McCain understand that Americans like celebrity? They voted for Bush because he seemed like someone with whom they could share a beer. So, Obama's celebrity can only work for him.

I have other thoughts, particularly about Obama being posited as the "Other" in this race, but I'll save that for a later time.

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