Am I Black Enough for Ya
by Vince Rogers
In a March 7, interview in the lowly Torrance, CA newspaper The Daily Breeze, former Democratic Party vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro made a statement that has set an ill wind to blowing. In reference to the candidacy of Democratic Presidential front-runner Barack Obama, Ms. Ferraro stated that, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued, “He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." This statement about the possible first “Black” man to be nominated to challenge for the presidency, has blown the doors wide open to discuss the race factor in Obama’s run for the White House.
The Obama campaign itself has tried to down-play race as a factor in his run for the White House. Mr. Obama has not ascended to the heights of power the way other “Black leaders” have, which is to say he has not been a lifelong crusader for civil rights, voting rights or even squatters rights for that matter. Because Obama was not groomed and mentored into his position by the “old guard” civil rights movement power structure, many powerful Blacks are opposed to him becoming the first Black President. They c laim that he is not Black enough.
Barack Obama was born of an African father (a Kenyan national) in America (the state of Hawaii) and he looks like any “Black” man you might meet. So that surely means he must be an African-American. Cased closed. Well not so fast. The question is whether he has a sufficient amount of “Blackness” to satisfy Black voters and powerful Black people who might endorse him. Ay, there's the rub. What then does it mean to be Black?
For starters, it might be instructive to hear what Obama says on the matter. In a 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft following the announcement of his candidacy, Obama states that "If you look African American in this society, you're treated as an African American. I am rooted in the African American community, but I am not defined by it. I am comfortable in my racial identity, but that is not all I am." It appears that Obama feels that if being “Black” means being unable to appeal to the mainstream and tackle mainstream issues then being “Black” is not for him.
During the 2004 Presidential campaign, Teresa Heinz Kerry the wife of Democratic Party nominee John Kerry stated that “I am an African-American.” Ms. Heinz-Kerry was not trying to establish her “Blackness” or make any claim of solidarity with the Black agenda or Black culture and heritage. What she was trying to do was appeal to all American’s to recognize that the old terminology that we have been using to put people in their different places and box them in their various boxes was slowly but surely losing its usefulness.
It is clear that Obama appreciates the sacrifices that slaves and descendants of former slaves have made to give him the opportunity to reach his highest human potential. However, he refuses to be enslaved to a certain mentality that his race should define all of his interests as a human being. The puzzling thing about the Obama-phenomena, if I remember my high school history classes correctly, is that the stated goal of the civil rights movement was to put a stop to judging people’s worth on the basis of their race.
Yet there continues to be a certain antiquated cultural standard borne of the civil rights movement that insists all Black people adhere to a particular standard of authentic “Blackness.” That standard seems to be consistent with being viewed as a “minority”. Obama demonstrates a break from this way of thinking. He believes that those things that make him unique allow him to make a unique contribution, not a subordinate or secondary one. Like many of those who oppose him on the basis of his lack of Blacknes s, he believes that he should be judged by the merits of his ability to contribute to society as an equal, not given special patronage because of his skin color.
So the question remains, would he be in this position if he was a white man. The answer is probably not. If he were a 46 year old, White male, first term Senator he probably would not be seen as a viable candidate for President. That doesn’t mean that he is not the most qualified candidate in the field, it just means that he is not the typical Presidential candidate. Yet in this day and age of unyielding, over-wielding, closed minded partisan politics, Obama’s other-ness is his strength not his weakness. Fo r being perceptive and seizing the opportunity to satisfy the American people’s deep yearning for change he should be commended not condemned.
The American people should be commended as well for seizing the opportunity to prove that they are willing to judge him by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. This country has the opportunity to elect someone who has not been perpetually caught up in the divisive, vitriolic, stagnant business as usual that has had a grip on Washington for the last twenty years. It’s a great thing the country is finally caught up in that concept. Vince Rogers VinceVision Publishing 2008