The black opposition to Obama

Juan Williams:

BARACK OBAMA is running an astonishing campaign. Not only is he doing far better in the polls than any black presidential candidate in American history, but he has also raised more money than any of the candidates in either party except Hillary Clinton.

Most amazing, Mr. Obama has built his political base among white voters. He relies on unprecedented support among whites for a black candidate. Among black voters nationwide, he actually trails Hillary Clinton by nine percentage points, according to one recent poll.

At first glance, the black-white response to Mr. Obama appears to represent breathtaking progress toward the day when candidates and voters are able to get beyond race. But to say the least, it is very odd that black voters are split over Mr. Obama’s strong and realistic effort to reach where no black candidate has gone before. Their reaction looks less like post-racial political idealism than the latest in self-defeating black politics.

Mr. Obama’s success is creating anxiety, uncertainty and more than a little jealousy among older black politicians. Black political and community activists still rooted in the politics of the 1960s civil rights movement are suspicious about why so many white people find this black man so acceptable.

Much of this suspicion springs from Mr. Obama’s background. He was too young to march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His mother is white and his father was a black Kenyan. Mr. Obama grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, then went on to the Ivy League, attending Columbia for college and Harvard for law school. He did not work his way up the political ladder through black politics, and in fact he lost a race for a Chicago Congressional seat to Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther.

In an interview with National Public Radio earlier this year, Mr. Obama acknowledged being out of step with the way most black politicians approach white America. “In the history of African-American politics in this country there has always been some tension between speaking in universal terms and speaking in very race-specific terms about the plight of the African-American community,” he said. “By virtue of my background, you know, I am more likely to speak in universal terms.”

The alienation, anger and pessimism that mark speeches from major black American leaders are missing from Mr. Obama’s speeches. He talks about America as a “magical place” of diversity and immigration. He appeals to the King-like dream of getting past the racial divide to a place where the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners can pick the best president without regard to skin color.

Mr. Obama’s biography and rhetoric have led to mean-spirited questions about whether he is “black enough,” whether he is “acting like he’s white,” as a South Carolina newspaper reported Jesse Jackson said of him. But the more serious question being asked about Mr. Obama by skeptical black voters is this: Whose values and priorities will he represent if he wins the White House?


The "black enough" question speaks to the wrong headedness of the "down with the struggle" remnants of the old civil rights movement. Bill Cosby begins his new book Come On People, On the Path from Victim to Victors, with a discussion of whether he is "black enough." This is really a sad commentary on where many in black America are.

What is it about the "down with the struggle" civil rights movement that cannot accept the successful achievers who are black? I think some of it is jealousy and some of it is a fear that if they accept the path to success used by these achievers it will mean the loss of not only their power, but their ability to exploit white guilt to extort money and concessions from business and government. If people find a way to success without them they lose their power and influence. It is one reason why they are willing to forgive and forget the gaffes made by white politicians who are "down with the struggle," like Joe Biden.

The "down with the struggle" civil rights movement has embarrassed itself with its lynching of the white boys on the Duke Lacrosse team and has sought to redeem itself with a campaign to save some boys who behaved badly in Jena, Louisiana. But you don't see them trying to solve the really serious problems in the black community where young black men are killing each other at extraordinary rates. They are not down with the struggle caused by the failure of too many young black men to take responsibility for the kids they abandon.

Anyone asking if Obama is "black enough" is part of the problem in the black community.


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