{Empty title} | The Nation

Patricia Williams' article is the cleanest and most articulate piece I've yet read on the protean Sen. Obama.

Having said that, though, some of the readers' responses go a long way towards proving what Ms. Williams states in the article:

Lauren Donnellan, for instance (and she's probably a kind of paradigmatic "liberal," in this): On exactly what authority has Ms. Donnellan come to teach us that "not everything said about race is 'racist'"? And how exactly is transcendence of race (say, as Sen. Biden clumsily formulated it) in Sen. Obama's campaign a true or a good thing?

Criticism of this "transcendence" has nothing to do with charity--charity be damned- -but has everything to do with the hard facts of REAL experience. Quite a lot of us are chained down here on American ground to a host of particulars: in work, housing, health care, political empowerment, and so on. The hard data on each of these particulars, the very distinct and ugly reality they convey, make irrelevant all modish, abstract discussions of race-as-identity. (And this talk of the "self-identified" black man is even richer than Biden's "clean and articulate"!)

Some are stung by the criticisms of Biden's remark because they are SURE it's only a compliment to Obama, however clumsy. But Biden's happy storybook example of the "articulate" black man stinks of tokenism and essentialism. Many of us--certainly others among that class of "clean & articulate" blacks--took Biden's "compliment" in the same way we've taken every such "compliment" offered with due charity from whites.

It is not Biden's place to mark out the salvagable portion among the great unwashed African-American, to note Obama as a fine specimen: I mean, he's offering this "praise" to his better (let's be honest)--So where does he draw the nerve, if not from the lazy, racist core of white "objectivity"?

Transcendence of race is an antique trope; a primitive, stupid notion which has no place in 21st century socio-political theory or policy. When I think of racial transcendence, I think of Desdemona's declaring that she "saw Othello’s visage in his mind,/And to his honours and his valiant parts/Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate." Or of William Blake's "Little Black Boy" in Songs Of Innocence, who anticipates shunting off the cloud of blackness on his death, to shine white in Heaven...

On the other hand, Chris Kruger's parsing of the Reagan Democrat phenomenon, of the defection of "ideologically progressive white males" from the "Balkanized" Left is as convenient and selfish and slippery as...a Reagan Democrat.

Yes, I know it's common wisdom--like a bedtime story you've heard a million times but can't get enough of; but where you see stung idealists alienated by militant minorities, I see quislings and opportunists and an orgy of self-interest.

The post-Reconstruction "Redeemers" of the last quarter of the 19th century rose a century later in the form of Reagan Democrats, and since then also the plague of DLC (Repub-lite) types who lament old hassles over the knotty issue of race.

But I don't believe that concern over race and racism is self-interest--quite the opposite: the rush to *abdicate* public concern over race and racism is the assertion of self-interest ($$$) over general social or political well-being. And it'll be interesting to see how tenable Obama will find race-transcendence to be...