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About That 10 Percent . . .

Cinque Henderson has a piece at the New Republic that’s well worth a read. Henderson explains why, as a black American, he doesn’t support Barack Obama for President:

I disliked Obama almost instantly. I never believed the central premises of his autobiography or his campaign. He is fueled by precisely the same brand of personal ambition as Bill Clinton. But, where Clinton is damned as “Slick Willie,” Obama is hailed as a post-racial Messiah.

But Henderson’s (somewhat confused) argument runs deeper than this reactive distaste. His case against Obama amounts to an indictment of white America for its cluelessness and black America for its protective impulses:

We have arrived at the crux of the matter. So much of the educated white people’s love for Barack depends on educated white people’s complete ignorance of and distance from the rest of us. Barack is the black person they want the rest of us to be–half-white and loving, or “racially transcendent,” as the press loves to call him.

I suspect this is just right. Indeed such adoration for Barack Obama is based not only on fantastic assumptions about blacks, but on larger delusions about America and the world beyond. Blacks are not that black, whites are not that white: it’s the economic and political machinery of America that continues to create this polarity. Once Obama’s elected, that machinery will be broken. But the truth is that differences in skin color are rendered meaningless by a commitment to the guiding principles of our nation–not by the political rise of a single ethnically-mixed candidate.

Here’s Henderson on Obama’s black supporters:

It’s worth remembering that the majority of blacks still think O.J. Simpson is innocent. And, in times like these, when a black man is out front in the public eye, black people feel both proud and vulnerable and, as a result, scour the earth for evidence of racists plotting to bring him down, like an advance team ready to sound an alarm. Barack needed only a gesture, a quick sneer or nod in the direction of the Clintons’ hidden racism to avail himself of the twisted love that rescued O.J. and others like him and to smooth his path to victory, and, therefore, to salvage his candidacy. . . [H]e gave speeches across South Carolina that warned against being “hoodwinked” and “bamboozled” by the Clintons. His use of the phrase is resonant. It comes from a scene in Malcolm X, where Denzel Washington warns black people about the hidden evils of “the White Man” masquerading as a smiling politician: “Every election year, these politicians are sent up here to pacify us,” he says. “You’ve been hoodwinked. Bamboozled.”

[...]

As soon as I heard that Obama had quoted from Malcolm X like this, I knew that Obama would win South Carolina by a massive margin.

That minorities look out for their own isn’t news. And Henderson really trips himself up is in trying to maintain that most American blacks are both tribally motivated to fall for Obama’s use of Malcom X code words and nothing like the fringy anti-Americans of Jeremiah Wright’s church. Henderson writes:

As the son of a Baptist minister, I can attest that Wright is and was an extreme aberration from how the overwhelming majority of black Christians worship. In church, black people hear about Peter, Paul, Mary, and how to get into heaven. How to forgive. How to love. Not how to vote.

I have no reason to doubt that, but his Malcolm X argument seems overstated. Blacks don’t need cues from Spike Lee movies to feel protective of someone from their community.

Still and all, this is one of the most interesting discussions of race in America to come out of Barack Obama’s much-praised speech. But somehow I don’t think it’s quite what the Senator had in mind.


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