There has been endless conversation and blogging about Barack Obama running for President. I think all the black people I know are either supporting Obama or Clinton for the Presidency. I, personally, am supporting Clinton...and, surprisingly, so is everyone in my family, for similar reasons as mine.
Here's my weigh-in:
I know that there has been this big debate about Obama being "black enough" or not. My lack of support for him really doesn't have much to do with that. I think that it's quite unrealistic to think a black person would ever have the chance of winning the Presidency unless he/she is the kind of person that didn't exactly meet a lot of black people's standards and approval. Heck, I couldn't even be President. I mean, I think running for President as a black woman and running as a black man is very different--I think black men are more accepted in America than black women are, which I know sounds odd to a lot of people...but that's a post for another time.
I'm strictly thinking about what if a black person who was like me but genderless and and sexual orientation-less ran for the Presidency. It wouldn't work--I'd be "too black" for white people...and, what's more, "not black enough" for black people. White people would see me as an angry radical who cares more about issues as they pertain to race, and I think black people would view me as being out of touch because I would be the kind of black person who, though I care about black issues, is also very willing to hold and be vocal about holding black people accountable and pointing out their part in some of their troubles.
The thing about Obama is he's not too black for white people--really, he's just black enough for white people. I don't have a problem with that, per se--I think it's absolutely necessary and what sets him apart from blacks who have run in the past, such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. However...I do get the sense that Obama is one of those blacks who suffers a bit from the "good black" syndrome. I'm not saying that he thinks he's better than certain kinds of black people. I don't know enough about Obama to say that, even though I believe pretty much all middle class and upper-middle class black people think that, to varying extents. I'm not saying that to be critical, as I am an upper-middle class black person--which means I have spent my life listening to and observing other middle class and upper-middle class blacks. In short, I think the majority of us are elitist with respect to other blacks and don't care as much about blacks as we'd like to think we do.
I think that all the talk about "Is Obama black enough" really is a question of "Will Obama do anything for blacks?" and "Does Obama care about blacks?" Again, I really don't know anything, and I feel as if Obama doesn't make it easy to know anything, about his views regarding a lot of issues, including what he will do for blacks. He's such a "uniter," if you will, and I think that's what he focuses on when he speaks about his views. Personally, that's not what I'm looking for in a President. I think that wanting to unite all the very various factions of America is asking too much, and it reminds me too much of the principle of assimilation with respect to uniting the races.
I believe that many black people, at their core, feel as if racial division and/or focusing on race is a way to maintain our authenticity, and I do agree with that, to some extent. I view "uniting the nation" as "some groups have to give in," even though that's not what Obama's thinking at all when he says that, and I think the only way most whites ever really accept a black person is if that person is willing to assimilate and ignore race...or, at least, presents the perception of being a black who is assimilating and ignoring race. I view Obama as having assimilated as much as is possible for a black person to do or presenting that perception, and that's fine for him. I'm not interested in doing these things.
But, honestly, I'm more concerned about our rights and our gains. So when I look at Obama's running for President, I see all the ways that his success could harm blacks, all without his doing anything to add to that in a direct manner. For example, my best friend at law school--who is white--and I spoke about his bid for the Presidency, and she mentioned--out of nowhere--my key worries with Obama's possible win all in a matter of 10 seconds! We'd never discussed this, so everything she said and the way she summed it all up was just amazing to me because it was exactly what I'd been thinking.
She believes that white Americans are very eager to "prove" that they are no longer racist, and that Obama is just removed enough from the black community and/or "blackness" for these whites--even the ones who really are racist--to get behind him to prove this point. He is not the kind of black person who makes white people feel bad about being white, because he comes off as an "against the odds" success story, he's part-white, he doesn't spend time pointing out differences between whites and blacks or vocally focusing on how some issues affect blacks more negatively than whites...all of these things, and then some, are reasons why I view him as a "good black" sort. I think he tries to appeal to white people as a non-threatening type of black person...which, again, is kind of necessary if you seriously expect to win the Presidency...but...I still don't particularly care for it (why are we always having to prove our decency, our worth, our qualifications to whites?? What's more, why do some of us still keep actively engaging in such an effort??), and I still worry about those things my friend--a white person, no less--mentioned.
You have no idea how much this troubles me. Why are whites so eager to prove they aren't racist? Could it just be white guilt, or is something else going on? I can see it now: Obama wins, and white people say, "See? Racism no longer exists. Look at Barack Obama. He has degrees from Columbia and Harvard (boy, do I get sick of hearing about him and Harvard, as if that's the only way a black person can be qualified for anything), but he came from humble beginnings and worked hard. You can no longer use the argument that your people have yet to have a black President, so you're no longer disadvantaged. Therefore, all your 'civil rights' are unfair, reverse racism. Let's get rid of affirmative action. You obviously don't need it--look at Barack Obama!" In other words, I think white people have reached their boiling point, the point at which they are just absolutely fed up with blacks talking about racism. They are tired of being "wronged" by programs that help blacks at the expense of whites, yet they're made to feel bad for everything they have and evil for something they want to make-believe no longer exists. They want to send Obama to office to shut us up.
The consequence would be, yes, a black President who maybe relates to blacks and cares about black issues...but also maybe the unraveling of a lot of the things our parents, grandparents and other ancestors fought hard for and received only because they fit the interests of white Americans at the same time as they fit ours. Obama can't protect us from this. If civil rights issues, such as affirmative action and gay marriage, can be put to a state ballot vote and struck down by the majority, no questions asked and nobody but us seeing anything wrong with this...then this is a realistic concern.
I also just can't support someone simply because they are black. A lot of the arguments I see coming from blacks as far as why we should all support Obama basically sound to me like overly-intellectual versions of "You should vote for him because he's black." At the same time, it's just like I said--I really don't know where Obama stands on several issues that are important to me. I know I can look those issues up, and I have sat down on more than one occasion to do so. I have yet to find some of these things addressed. But it's also true that I'm technically not a Democrat. I vote for Democrats simply because I think having Republicans in office is more devastating for blacks and gays and the poor, but I don't share many of their beliefs. So I don't think there's anyone--Democrat or Republican--running for the Presidency that I would support based on the issues.
So I essentially support who I think will do the least amount of harm to minority interest groups and who actually has the best chance of winning. I think that's Clinton, on both accounts--and like I said, I don't think Obama would intentionally be causing blacks harm, but he would. So far, more blacks have been supporting Clinton than Obama. And I have been waiting for Clinton to run for President for a long time, just as lot of people have. She has been one of my idols for years, because she has been one of the most visible powerful women. I think this should be her time. I believe Obama, who does not have the amount of political experience that Clinton does, should be running for Governor of Illinois rather than President of the US. I envisioned supporting Clinton for 2008 ever since 2003 or so, and supporting Obama for the Presidency in, perhaps, 2016. I think it's too soon for him, and I don't want any screwups--G-d forbid--he makes to be attributed to race when the likely culprit would be his relative lack of experience in politics.
The thing is that the worries I have about whites wanting to prove something...it's not as if things will really be that much better for blacks in 2014 or 2015, when the candidates start to gear up. However, maybe the climate of the country will have changed...