Saturday, March 01, 2008

The manure Barack is shoveling: Part 3 - Desire for black identity affects his politics

Previous Posts:
Barack knock
Michelle Obama: "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country."
Did I mischaracterize Michelle Obama?
The manure Barack is shoveling: Part 1 - Limited love for America; unlimited love for (fantasy) ideals
The manure Barack is shoveling: Part 2 - Not ready; why meeting with oppressive dictators is bad policy

Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God, it becomes, not divine, but demonic.
--Pope Benedict XVI

"I'm going to back Obama ... I can't wait to see what he stands for."
--Actress Susan Sarandon, Mid-February, 2008

Picture and caption courtesy of Time Magazine:

Father of Barack Obama, Barack Hussein Obama Senior, of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Siaya District, Kenya (left) and Ann Dunham with her two-year-old son Barack Obama.

Greg's note: Ann Dunham and two year old Barack are as cute as they could be. Look closer. Look at how proud she is of her son. Everything about her just screams out love and pride. She is compelling. I am drawn to her. When living in the Phillipines, she awoke Barack at 4:30 every morning, to tutor him, so his education would not fall behind the education of his American peers .


Shelby Steele's "A Bound Man" is a short (145 pages), dense examination of Obama and race. I'm 2/3 of the way through, and so far it's the best examination of race in America which I have ever read. It's Steele's fourth book on race in America, so maybe he is mastering the subject.

Steele believes Obama is running on race. When your campaign overtly proclaims it "transcends race", your campaign is actually all about race.

Steele delves extensively into Obama's excellent early book: "Dreams of My Father." Obama writes, with some self-knowledge and some self-blindness, of his search to belong to the black identity in America. Barack possibly feels a special urgency because of his mixed race heritage. Steele:
The issue of race--so nicely contained and deactivated in the Barack Obama political persona--is very much alive within the man. Black identity has been a lifelong preoccupation. By the surface facts of his life--the mixed race background, the childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia--it would be easy to assume that he might be indifferent to the whole business of race and identity. There is a tendency to see Obama as a kind of "new man," someone spared the fate of being simply black or white in America.
But Obama is not such a person. His books show a man driven by a determination to be black, as if blackness were more an achievement than a birthright. And this need within him puts Obama at odds with himself. His plausibility as a candidate comes, in part, from the perception that he is not driven to be black, that he is rather lightly tethered to his race. But the very arc of his life has been greatly influenced by an often conscious resolve to belong irrefutably to the black identity.
Steele writes that racial pride is a good thing; yet the racial exceptionalism of "black identity" in America (which demonizes and denigrates white people) is a bad thing. Steele, whose own mother is white and whose own father is black, and who also enjoys and desires "belonging" to the black identity, writes of the irony of a racial exceptionalism which demands conformity. My paraphrasing: to be authentically black, you must denounce your white mother and your white relatives; and you must denounce their values - which might be the very self-reliant values which enabled your success. You must embrace victimhood as virtue. You must embrace ideas which you know, if you think about them honestly, to be untrue. However, if you don't wholeheartedly embrace the lies, you cannot belong. You don't get to be "authentically black." You are in a bind. You cannot, if you have a drop of black blood in you, belong to the white identity. You cannot, if you refuse to embrace the lies, belong to the black identity.

Steele says, between the lines, that Barack Obama is a dangerous man. Barack's fervent desire to be authentically black 1) leads him to ignore(at least in his political positions) the lessons of self-reliance which aided his achievements, and 2) REQUIRES that he embrace the victimhood lies, and all the trope which that implies, and all the political positions and programs which go along with the trope. Steele in an interview with WaPo:
The problem here for Barack, of course, is that his racial identity commits him to a manipulation of the society he seeks to lead. To ‘be black,’ he has to exaggerate black victimization in America. . . . Worse, his identity will pressure him to see black difficulties — achievement gaps, high illegitimacy rates, high crime rates, family collapse, and so on — in the old framework of racial oppression.
More from "A Bound Man"
That he would join a church this steeped in blackness, with so many other churches available, only underscores his determination to be transparently black.
How can Obama sit every week in a church preaching blackness & not object that he was raised quite well, thank you, by three white Midwesterners? Obama is the kind of man who can close down the best part of himself to belong to this black church and, more broadly, to the black identity.
It's a bit off topic, but I also liked this
So Obama is not given to “fresh” or “new” ideas. It is hard to be an iconic Negro and original at the same time. He works within convention not against it. When you are an iconic Negro you are original, not in your thinking, but in your person
Steele's book was published in November, and therefore written even earlier. Still, that is a right on reading of Obama. In the last 1/3, which I have not finished, Steele asserts that the Barack phenomenon is not so much about Barack as it is about white America. This reminds of something Peggy Noonan wrote:
[Barack Obama's] big draw is this. In a country that has throughout most of our lifetimes been tormented by, buffeted by, the question of race, a country that has endured real pain and paid in blood and treasure to work its way through and out of the mess, that for all that struggle we yielded this: a brilliant and accomplished young black man with a consensus temperament, a thoughtful and peaceful person who wishes to lead. That is his draw: "We made that." "It ended well."
People would love to be able to support that guy.
More from "A Bound Man":
It was not a hard-earned and carefully evolved individuality that won [Barack] entree’ into national imagination. It was the matching of his racial persona with a hunger for racial innocence in white America…
This next is in the final summation of "A Bound Man". Read in context, it does not seem so starkly harsh as it does when excerpted. Still, I include it here:
What gave Barack Obama the idea that he could plausibly run for POTUS? Was it that he had evolved a compelling vision for the nation grounded in deeply held personal convictions? Or was it he had simply become aware of the his power to enthrall whites?
A Time Magazine article, about Barack Obama, written by Shelby Steele.

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