Obama’s black paradox and our ownFeatured, Politics — By George Davis on June 30, 2010 at 08:44
He’s damned fortunate if we don’t and damned fortunate if we do allow that he is black.
We received some crazy responses by email, by phone, and as online comments to our blog post, “Could Obama dare to say that some people attack him because he’s black?” on Race Talk a week ago. Racial politics have gotten crazy, at worst, convoluted, at best, in America, with so much post-racial racism and racist post-racialism ingrained..
If we don’t see Obama as black, that’s a good thing. Many Americans proudly proclaim: “I never look at a person’s race. I don’t see a person as black or white.” However, if some Americans, some very powerful Americans and/or large groups of Americans, “real Americans,” they sometime call themselves. . . .if they act towards Obama as a black then that is doubly bad.
First, their attitudes give his enemies a sense of his vulnerabilities because he’s black while many of his would-be supporters don’t see him as black. So, secondly, how likely are they to see that the attacks arise because he’s black, and defend him in an appropriate manner?
Complicated, yes, complicated even to explain. The problem is we have these social constructions called “races” that affect people’s value systems, religious and moral beliefs, emotions, motives, reasoning, and behavior. Yet, in truth, “races” do not exist. There is only one race – the human race. That’s our paradox.
Perhaps a hypothetical will make the confusion clearer. Supposed General Stanley McCrystal wanted more troops for his Afghanistan strategy and he saw, as someone trained in psych ops would automatically see, that Obama was extraordinarily vulnerable because of , well, some Americans’ value systems, beliefs, emotions, reasoning, and potential behavior vis-à-vis black people.
So last fall when Obama took a long time deciding yes or no on more troops for Afghanistan, and we’re just using McCrystal as an example because he’s in the news right now. . .when McCrystal wanted more troops he, or his Pentagon supporters, might have leaked information to the press that would make Obama seem weak on national security if Obama said no. At least that’s what the famous, much quoted June 22, 2010 article in Rolling Stone postulated.
No one in all of this needed to speak specifically about race, or even think about it McCrystal and Pentagon allies might simply have looked at the situation which a Harris poll confirmed: Among Republicans, and there are about 50 million registered Republicans in America:
- 67 percent believe Obama is a socialist.
- 57 percent believe he is a Muslim
- 45 percent believe he was not born in the United States
- 38 percent equate many of his actions to those of Hitler
- 24 percent say Obama “may be the Antichrist.”
Yes, and sure there were Antichrist charges because of the 666 numerology thing surrounding the name Ronald Wilson Reagan. There is still a Facebook page you can join to connect with Reagan’s 666 “powers.” It has 39 friends.
Surely, members of the vast right-wing establishment hated Bill Clinton. Probes ending in Clinton’s impeachment trial cost tax payers nearly $80 million, according to the General Accounting Office. Non-governmental war chests aimed at driving Clinton out of office may have been even larger.
But with Obama we’re talking about extraordinary vulnerabilities, the kind that arise because of race. More than a million people joined a Facebook group praying for Obama’s death. Some of those Harris Poll numbers are certainly about race.
No matter how much popular presidents, Reagan and Clinton, were hated by segments of the American population, against them there were no sizable portion of the population arming for insurrection. No one of nearly equal political stature made such loud and apparently serious threats to secede from the Union, as did the Governor Rick Perry of Texas at what turned out to be an anti-Obama rally.
You don’t have to be paranoid to believe that this is special, and Obama’s awareness of his special-ness might account for why a wise white person would do one thing in a situation when a wise black person shouldn’t.
To continue our example, McCrystal saw a vulnerability created by race, even if he was not thinking in racial terms. And it is good that news commentators did not drag those terms into the discussion. The drag is from very far off in left field.
So the Obama black paradox is: He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t say that some people (even some people who are not thinking of black) attack him because he’s black. His saying it might not be a complaint but rather, perhaps, just a description of an American reality, a reality that would not be seen by some Obama supporters who say: “I never see a person’s race.”
The reality is that black men and women have learned to do many things differently than white men and women, in America. If the black person is successful his or her American way is certainly effective because it has brought him or her a great distance to success.
One of the things that the reality has usually taught is that the only way a paradox can be resolved is to rise to a higher spiritual level, a level on which the paradox does not exist, which is what Obama seems often to do. On the higher level faith and patience are the prime virtues.
In time McCrystal made it possible for Obama to fire him not in defense of Obama’s unjustly questioned constitutional prerogative as Commander-in-Chief but in defense of the Constitutional structure of civilian military control. Even some of McCrystal’s supporters agree he had to be fired.
Maybe now our President can get us out of Afghanistan with a lowered potential for armed insurrection at home. God has once again blessed the United Races of America and our President, who is black like me and white like many of thee.
Author: George Davis (14 Articles)
George Davis’ nonfiction novel, Until We Got Here: From "We Shall Overcome” to "Yes We Can" will be published in 2010. He has taught at Columbia, Colgate and Yale universities and is professor emeritus in creative writing at the Newark Campus of Rutgers University. He is author of the bestseller, Black Life in Corporate America, and the novel, Coming Home, upon which the Jane Fonda Vietnam War film is loosely based. He has been a writer and editor for Essence and Black Enterprise magazines, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
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