OBAMA: GREAT BLACK/WHITE HOPE
Gary Younge’s “The Obama Effect” [Dec. 31] offers insight into the senator’s cross-racial appeal and that of others of the constructed “new generation of black leadership.” As Younge states, “race is…a performance,” and Barack Obama and his cohorts have mastered the act to become viable candidates–that is, to appeal to whites. Their race must be presented not as a source of contention but as a symbol of hope. Obama reminded us of this in his victory speech in Iowa, when he reiterated this feel-good theme: his biography, beginning with a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, is possible only in America.
As the locus of black politics continues to shift from the church and the community to the boardroom and the academy, new presentations of race will be the norm for African-American candidates. Why would we expect them to act in the same way as the civil rights-era black politicians when circumstances have changed?
Yet I do not think we are in a postracial society, as the elated mainstream pundits claimed in the wake of Obama’s success in Iowa. Rather than signaling the end of racial politics, Obama’s spin on race shows the savvy of the post-civil rights black candidates in marginalizing race.
SUSAN SMITH RICHARDSON
Folly Beach, S.C.
Barack Obama may not have been raised in the black community and the black church, but he is shaped by them because of his adult choices. Organizing in Chicago is tough and gritty, and closer to the essential urban black experience than that of most of the black politicians Gary Younge mentions. The cadences of the black church Obama attends are in his speeches. And as he says, being passed up by New York taxis taught him quickly what it means to be black.
Perhaps the difference between the older generation of black leaders and the new is something else: that they are about more than the black experience and the needs of urban and rural black communities. These “new” politicians make the connection between black communities and other communities of need.
It is striking here in South Carolina to see how many moderate Republicans are investigating Obama. They are drawn to his vision of a different kind of politics. It’s the Democratic chattering classes that don’t seem to get past his skin. Those who see him “only” as black also believe he doesn’t have enough experience because they dismiss everything but his Senate career. It’s still a perilous journey for a politician who acknowledges his racial heritage.