Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yvette Carnell: My President is Black(ish)


by Yvette Carnell

I really don’t understand theinterventionists who come to Obama’s defense any time someone ostensibly questions his blackness. Being black is about a lot of things, and yes, among those things are the identifiables like hair texture, skin color, and facial features, but there are other more murky endowments as well.
The reason black men keep a fresh cut and black women keep a fresh do is not just because we take pride in our appearance (we do), but because we welcome the affinity of being around kin, especially at the end of a hard week. Without knowing anything about the backgrounds of the people in the shop, you know you can say “giiirrrl did you see that….” or “maaan what about that…” and have people you never met a day in your life race to finish your sentence.  It’s not about race as much as it is about a shared cultural experience and the resulting shared values.
So when people question Obama’s blackness, they’re not questioning his race as much as his anchoring. What we’re asking is whether Obama is anchored in the African American experience.
I’ll be the first to admit that it was downright moronic to mint Bill Clinton as the first black president, but let’s not forget why we bestowed that title upon him; we believed (rightly or wrongly) that Clinton felt our pain. He spoke to our issues in a way that resonated with us, maybe because he enjoyed many of the same things as we enjoyed (Aretha, jazz, good food), but we felt some commonality there.
Contrast our experience with Clinton with that of President Obama, who, up until recently, refused to even utter the word black. Does he feel our pain? And is his indifference (or antipathy, depending on how you read it) toward us a consequence of political expedience or are we really an away game for him? For us, questioning Obama’s blackness is shorthand for questioning his connection to us and our African American experience.
For many people, being black in America has much more to do with our shared inheritance than the difficulty in catching a cab on a busy street, and for my part, I’m still peeved that blackness was boiled down (by Obama) to that single inconvenience during the campaign. The mistake we all made during the Obama campaign was debating whether it was most important how the world viewed Obama or how Obama viewed himself. Was Obama black because the world saw him as black, even if he didn’t share that conclusion, or was he biracial? Once Obama answered that question, and confirmed that he identifies as black and not biracial (“I can’t catch a cab”), the debate was summarily dropped.
But the real question, the real argument, should’ve been over what Obama’s self-definition evokes in him. Is Obama psychologically tied to the struggle, or is he, like so many younger African Americans, just adept at employing the signs and symbols of the struggle in order to achieve advancement? Is he connected to us and fighting for us in the same spirit, if not tactic, as our forbearers, or is he just relying on the political capital of less affluent African Americans in order to achieve his ambitions?
This leveraging of the African American community while simultaneously toasting banksters and profiteers, allocating resources to the super wealthy, and protecting shareholders at all costs, doesn’t speak to what black people came up from. And spare me the TourĂ© post racial nonsense. Being black, does, or at least it should, mean something.
The African American experience includes a broad swath of thinkers, activists, abolitionists, and entrepreneurs. I can’t speak to exactly what Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, and many others expected. I don’t know, with exact certitude, what their expectations were for the future of black America. But I’d be willing to bet that they didn’t blaze a way forward so that the first black President could sell his soul in exchange for acceptance from their ideological and moral adversaries.
But hey, I guess I’m among the minority since I still view blacks as the nation’s conscience and not just another minority group to be horse traded during election season. I guess now, the expectation for all black people is that we be willing to trade the hope and dream of the slave   for the fulfillment of Obama’s careerist ambitions. Thanks but no thanks. For me, blackness extends beyond Obama, his cronies, and his Harlem clubhouse. Blackness includes all black people, both past and present, and anyone who doesn’t understand that, who doesn’t understand that blackness is not synonymous with selfishness, doesn’t understand us, and isn’t culturally aligned with us.
You can choose to participate in this spectacle, whereby the import of blackness is dumbed down and neutered, but I’m now with it. I’m not down with that “cause”. And I’m certainly not “in”.  Folks who freely celebrate keepin’ it real should learn to recognize a false representation of blackness when they see one. I do.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hear what you're saying and I think you have some valid points - blackness is definitely about community. With that said, we have to understand that Barack is a POLITICIAN. If he weren't biracial we would still be having this conversation because he is responsible for connecting several different communities. I honestly think people are disappointed in Barack because they thought he would change the system. The system is still the same. His presidency gives us an opportunity to make incremental changes not overhaul a system that was built on racism and inequality. C'mon Son.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your emphasis on the communal nature of Blackness. We are, in this country, an ethnic group sharing a common cultural heritage and historical experience as we also experience the effects of class struggle and attempts to create amnesia in the minds of our youngsters about from where we, as a community, have come. President Obama is a politician first and foremost. He is charged with representing all people in the nation. The color of his skin should have nothing to do with how he is assessed for doing his job. His claim to be a democrat is questionable, however, and his actions while in office do appear to follow system requirements, skewed to the right. This is about his career, making memories for his daughters (and placing them on a trajectory the rest of the community can only dream about), and satisfying the Bilderberg group and others of their ilk. (Watch All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace). Black is the political name we gave ourselves in the 60s. It is the political ethnic name of our community. It should be capitalized just like Latino, Asian, Anglo, Lakota. By this definition, I'm not so sure President Obama is Black, though he is black when we speak in terms of race and the one drop rule that continues to operate in this country. It isn't his color I have a problem with, but his politics.

Robert G. Walker said...

Black, as a racial category, is an invalid concept. All conclusions reached, with regard to it, are unreliable. We, Ebonesians, are an ethnic group. Whatever cultural items we may share, we are extremely diverse politically. The political continuum ranges between "Compliance" and "Defiance" with "Assimilation" and "Separatism" corresponding to them, respectively. Historically, Ebonesians have been oppressed into the "lower caste" position with only vice and negative attributes associated with it. These have attributes have been internalized by many of us, and, have worked their way into certain areas on the culture. As a result, much of our behavior is self destructive and, ultimately, trumps "racism" as the major cause of our problems. BTW, there is no such thing as "degree of blackness". There is only "degree of ethnic identity".

arthur said...

obama does not call himself "Black", he is very careful to say "african american", which does not mean black. He is not black. He is "african american". He is the the direct offspring of a black african and a white American. If we went around calling Tangerines, Oranges, then people would call us crazy, correct. We did not see the election of the first Black American, as of yet. What we saw was the election of the first african american, just another defendant of a white slave owner elected as president once again. Or another Bush family member running the country.
We all have noticed how obama treats blacks, but I still see black liberals supporting him, which amazes me. Its like one massive case of "Beaten Wife Syndrom". He even told blacks to stop "complaining and crying'?!?!?! If he was 100% white, and went on " The View", and used the descriptive, "Mongrels", for blacks as he did do, we would all be calling him a white Supremacist and a racist right now. In that famous Fathers Day speech, he called black men that don't pay child support, "boys". They may be irresponsible, but men are still men. Not boys.
This is what happens when racist white liberals selects who is and is not black. Malcolm X, in his speech, "Tue Ballot or the Bullet", called black democrats "...chumps and TRAITOR'S TO THEIR RACE", because you will always put the democrat party before your people. I actually did this be true for blacks in both parties, so I personally am an Independent, as Malcom X prescribed for us. obama has an issue with Black America, a superiority complex that most white people have naturally, this is wh he does not tolerate criticism from blacks, and will publicly tell us to "stop complaining and crying". We are the only racial group he has said that to.
If "hope and change" meant giving up my Black Pride and Dignity, I'm glad I didn't vote for him..........

arthur said...

obama does not call himself "Black", he is very careful to say "african american", which does not mean black. He is not black. He is "african american". He is the the direct offspring of a black african and a white American. If we went around calling Tangerines, Oranges, then people would call us crazy, correct. We did not see the election of the first Black American, as of yet. What we saw was the election of the first african american, just another defendant of a white slave owner elected as president once again. Or another Bush family member running the country.
We all have noticed how obama treats blacks, but I still see black liberals supporting him, which amazes me. Its like one massive case of "Beaten Wife Syndrom". He even told blacks to stop "complaining and crying'?!?!?! If he was 100% white, and went on " The View", and used the descriptive, "Mongrels", for blacks as he did do, we would all be calling him a white Supremacist and a racist right now. In that famous Fathers Day speech, he called black men that don't pay child support, "boys". They may be irresponsible, but men are still men. Not boys.
This is what happens when racist white liberals selects who is and is not black. Malcolm X, in his speech, "Tue Ballot or the Bullet", called black democrats "...chumps and TRAITOR'S TO THEIR RACE", because you will always put the democrat party before your people. I actually did this be true for blacks in both parties, so I personally am an Independent, as Malcom X prescribed for us. obama has an issue with Black America, a superiority complex that most white people have naturally, this is wh he does not tolerate criticism from blacks, and will publicly tell us to "stop complaining and crying". We are the only racial group he has said that to.
If "hope and change" meant giving up my Black Pride and Dignity, I'm glad I didn't vote for him..........

Dr. Bowie said...

Eloquently stated, My Sister!

ReneldaMoorehead said...

This article must be written by someone young and unsophisticated.
And that's okay because there is a
wide black audience for her thoughts and questions. If one reads Obama's curriculum vitae, and if
one listens to his rhetoric, watches his body language, you will know that President Obama is, without a doubt, CULTURALLY WHITE.
That aside, and physical features,
the other fact remains that Obama
cannot feel our pain, nor does he want to. Did he appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court? No. He
wants to dare equate himself to Rev.Dr. King, why didn't Obama make history by appointing the first black woman to the highest court in the land? Instead he appointed a Puerto Rican and Jewish woman, both believed to be
homosexual. Why do you suppose that is? Votes, baby, votes. He is so sure of the black vote, he doesn't bother to cater to us.
Also I think the writer of the foregoing article is too general re: black consciousness. Not all of us thought of Clinton as "the first black president." I did not.
Actually, I am still waiting for a black Presidential candiddate with a black wife, as opposed to white.
Believe me, I WILL KEEP HOPE ALIVE!