Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I heard a rather disappointing episode of To The Point today on KUOW featuring several apparently relevant individuals discussing Barack Obama's campaign and his relevance to "blacks." Now, I don't put quotes around "blacks" because I'm not with the times and I think it's offensive; rather, I wish to indicate that I think it's ri-fucking-diculous that these people came on this radio show to discuss what an entire population of people differentiated by skin tone all apparently think. On the face of it, that's damned silly, but even so, that's not what I found myself thinking throughout the feature.

No, what I was thinking was, "Man, they really just don't get it!"

Continually, throughout the show, there was reference after reference to the old, busted '60s Civil Rights paradigm. It was like the guests were absolutely incapable of thinking of a black man in politics in any other terms. Honestly, it was bizarre! Not only did they keep talking about "blacks" or "black Americans" as though there were some sort of unified Black Hive-Mind, they could tap into, they kept sorting blacks and black responses into strange and arbitrary categories. There was some talk about "bargainers," apparently a type of black person who "bargains" with whites not to lay on the racism guilt-trip if they'll just like him (Obama and Oprah were both cited as being bargainers, as opposed to, say, Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton).

Now, I think there is something to that point. Americans do like black people - and I think it's important to emphasize that that's cultural blackness, not skin color - who don't harp on the white guilt issue. Maybe twenty years ago, that was because a whole lot of Americans had lived through the Civil Rights years and had some lingering guilt over being on the wrong side or not doing enough. Today, though, it's a different story. Today's young people have never lived in a segregated society, have never heard racist rhetoric in politics, and have been taught since entering schooling that it is not only wrong but unthinkable to judge people based on skin color. I really think we've succeeded, with my generation and later ones, in creating a mostly colorblind society! And, you see, that's why it's so damned weird to hear so much about white guilt and all this Civil Rights-era thinking in relation to Barack Obama's campaign.

Obama isn't succeeding because he's an Uncle Tom. He's succeeding because he's young(ish), vital, and hip. He is not only appealing to younger people, he is actually reaching out to them in their own terms and their own media. He's the most internet-savvy of the candidates, at least reputedly. He's actively recruiting from the segment of the population, from Gen X onward, who are of age but not really engaged yet, and people are really getting excited about him. But here's the thing: to those people, he's not black. To me, he's not black.

He's not falling back on the same tired rhetoric of the '60s like Sharpton did when he utterly failed to win the nomination and the Presidency. He's moved on. Barack Obama is recruiting somewhat from the black community, it's true, but he's actually not even very good at it! He is ignoring his race, and it's working, because young voters are too. The panelists on today's To The Point just couldn't seem to see that, but I think a lot of Americans do, and I think we'll see, soon enough, that it's a real paradigm shift. My parents' generation became race-aware, for the first time, in a positive way. My generation is losing racial awareness, also for the first time in a positive way, and the Boomers are falling behind the curve.

I don't speak for black voters. I know that. I wouldn't even think of trying. But I can speak for young, white, liberal voters, and here's what I have to say: we don't care that Barack Obama is black. We do care about the struggles of the '60s, but in an academic way, the same way that our parents care about the Second World War. It's history, and if you try to make it the center of a modern political issue, you're going to come up far short of really understanding what's going on. Barack Obama is not Martin Luther King, Jr.; he has a lot more in common with John F. Kennedy, Jr., and trying to force him into the sort of charismatic Civil Rights activist role that he really isn't will work no better than it did when Sharpton tried it and meant it.

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