Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is Barack Obama Black Enough?

Of course i'm playing Devils Advocate with that title. I believe this whole question, raised by the mainstream media and by some in the so-called "Black Community", is a ridiculous one.

The following is my response to a fellow blogger who raised the issue after attending an event at Claflin University in South Caroline where Obama spoke over the weekend. NPR did a brief story about this speaking engagement. Listen Here.

According to the blogger (whom I like & respect and whom I agree with probably 90% of the time), Obama was not attentive enough to so-called "Black causes". The inference seemed to be that Obama was not being "Black Enough". There is a desire in Black circles to see Obama tow the line....or follow the path of Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton.

Instead, Obama seems to be moving more in the tradition of a Shirley Chisholm or a Carol Moseley Braun (they tried to cast a wider net..... even Chisholm going back three decades. She was way ahead of her time on that front.) Oddly enough, I don't recall their so-called "Blackness" being questioned like Obama's Blackness is being questioned today.

Many Blacks want to pigeon hole Obama....they want to stuff him into some Liberal Black only box that they have created. Now that they see he doesn't want to cooperate and step into that box, some are getting upset.

Here is the original Post.

My response:

I agree with some of what you had to say….and you had me laughing hard at times…. however, I have to disagree with the overall message.

It’s a new day…. I am personally glad we aren’t getting the Sharpton, Jesse Jackson line again with Obama. Obama shows that we as Black folks, are in fact diverse.

And you have to understand the situation that Obama is in. He is not running to become the President of so-called “Black America”. A lot of folks want to paint him into that box. The fact of the matter is…. he is running to become the President for all Americans. Therefore, his message has to be a broad one. The problem that many African Americans have is that they have not broadened their view.

Contrary to your point about not wanting to hear about other issues… (such as international issues for example), I believe that Black Americans have to recognize that such issues are important to them. They may not appear to be important on the surface, but they are. What happens with U.S. foreign policy has an impact on what is happening (or not happening) in terms of an effective urban policy. The billions of dollars that are being wasted in these foreign interventions is money that will not be available for the domestic programs that are important for Black Americans….and poor/moderate income folks across the board. Less money for education, College loans/grants, etc.

Tax cuts for the wealthy?…. that is less money that is going for education and healthcare.

NATO expansion?…. that means that Black blood will have to be wasted for countries that many Black folks can’t locate on a map and for countries that “we should not care about” as you say.

Election/campaign finance reform? That IS important. Any effort to level the playing field a little, is a pretty decent idea. Anything that will limit corporate Americas influence over who can run and who is elected, is exactly what we need. If we could go to a public funded system where all the candidates have a similar amount, that’s a good thing…and it would mean that more minority candidates may be able to participate…and voters just MIGHT have a little more influence over who is elected. I will be waiting to see exactly what kind of campaign finance proposal he comes up with….hopefully something that won’t be just cosmetic.

Lack of a healthcare plan? Who does that impact disproportionately????

Have you seen the 2008 Budget? An 11% increase in military spending and cuts in domestic programs like Medicare/Medicaid. Who does that hurt most (disproportionately)? Black folks who depend on those programs.

My point is…. it IS important for Black folks to have a broader understanding of the issues. Blacks SHOULD know and care about what is going on internationally. That way, Blacks will not only know that they are being screwed….but will have an understanding of exactly how rich politicians are doing it…. so that they can deal with it more effectively…by pushing for better policies (domestic, economic, international, etc).
And all of these policies and issues are interconnected one way or another. So it’s important for Blacks to understand what is happening….especially when it comes to international affairs.

And politically…. Blacks must know what is happening from a broader perspective rather than just from a Black perspective, because that kind of old political approach is dead. It is no longer relevant to the American political scene. Obama (hopefully) represents a new breed…. although that remains to be seen.

A Black politician running on a “Black Issues only” platform is doomed to failure before he even gets started. He would have no chance whatsoever of getting elected. Obama understands that. Unfortunately, a lot of Black folks are having a hard time catching up…especially those who say he isn’t “Black Enough”. This is one of the things that I hate about modern Black culture… Blacks are quick to attack and destroy their own, even when it could be something positive. Yet I don’t see the same Black folks attacking those things that ARE negative within their culture with that same kind of vigor. Go figure!

Blacks must come to understand that 80-90% of our issues are shared by other poor folks across the board….therefore, they must learn how to build coalitions across race, religion, class, etc in order to make something happen. Therefore, candidates like Obama have the right approach from that perspective.

But getting to your point… he probably could have talked more about issues that were more important to his particular audience (as well as the other issues….because those are important as well, even if they don’t appear to be). Those “other” issues will give him a fighting chance to get a foot in the door.

Perhaps his campaign team just doesn’t have a well thought out plan regarding what issues to talk about in front of different demographics. Some simple Market research would have told his people that the crowd would be mostly Black & moderate/middle class working folks….more concerned with the price of medicine…how to stay alive, etc…
He has been used to talking in front of white or mixed audiences for the past few months…. A Black crowd might have thrown him off a little. lol

It’s still early in the campaign. He hasn’t had the chance to really shape his message just yet.

See my comments about a new approach for Black politicians.

1. CBC (Congressional Black Caucus) is upset about Alcee Hastings. The CBC must find an alternative to racial politics only.

2. CBC begins new session.


Even Louis Farrakhan (in this speech) talks about the importance of Black folks having a wider view.

Domestic policies & foreign policies, economic policies, etc etc…are connected.

Disclaimer.... I am in no way whatsoever endorsing Farrakhan's platforms/positions. However, he makes a few good points in the particular speech above.


Another blogger chimes in with the following....

Great leaders of our time speak to the masses in truth and with integrity backed by their faith which moves all generations, all race and nationality. Although the people in the arena were hungry for a leader, short of the wordly view of “All Americans” to which definintion still lacks, they were there as a community to seek such leader that embodies Martin’s dream, Lincoln’s principle, Ghandi’s courage, and Bobby’s genuine presence. And to deride such notion that hes running for “President of All Americans” is an understatement, yet trivial, to what everyone should be really be paying attention to. A leader!!!, or “the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success to the cause we believe that is just !!” Cookie-creaming it to fit, or to design a “one size fit all Americans” package is not how a leader of any community rise to true success. Leaders are created by the communities and the masses of those who yearn and struggle for equality, liberty, freedom, fairness with a sense of belonging as a whole community. Created by those who seek simular ideas of the pursuit of happiness even if its the three bedroom house, two children, two cars and a dog… They were looking for a word, a word from a leader….and not a politician that can be viewed on C-span or any other news show. Thus skeptical brotha, was disappointed.

My reply

Again, Obama is not and cannot be the leader of “Black Folks”, that many are looking for, nor is he some great mythical leader of the ilk of a King (Hell, I could have told you that and saved you some gas money). He never claimed to be either one. It’s the media that has painted that box for him to curl into. Now that folks are seeing that he doesn’t fit into the boxes created for him, folks are getting upset. lol

Black folks are whining that he is not Jesse or Al Sharpton….or MLK…. But as I mentioned before, that is a bygone era. You aren’t going to get that from Obama. If you want to hear a feelgood speech about Black issues only…. then go to a Jesse Jackson event….or a CBC function…. they are good at having “Church”. Actually getting anything done however, is a different matter. lol

I have studied leadership and I would be willing to bet that Obama gets a wider range of support (which is needed to be successful in politics) than any of his African American predecessors. Leadership is often determined by followership. Yeah… Jesse and Al got the Black vote….but they couldn’t win with just the Black vote. They ran symbolic feelgood campaigns. On the contrary, Obama is trying to reach out to more voters… (and the so called “Black Community” attacks him for trying to run an intelligent campaign).

Black folks (a lot of them) have a very narrow view of what a Black President or candidate should be.

BTW… you mentioned “Lincoln’s principle” as a way to describe how Obama should be????

Lincoln didn’t free the slaves out of the kindness of his heart. I always wondered why people talk about Lincoln as some great mythical leader who loved or even liked Black folks.
But I do get your point….

However….demanding all of those qualities in one guy might be too much.

Let Obama be Obama…. he can’t be a Ghandi, King, Jesse, and all the rest. Everytime he does something (or doesn’t do something) he is compared to one of these figures.
In many ways, he is catching more hell from Black America than from White America. I knew he would catch hell from Black America….because Black America likes to create this kind of controversy when candidates don’t dumb themselves down enough to become the Ghetto President. That’s the kind of mentality (the mental chains) that holds Black folks back and keeps them in the same old box that they have been in for the past 20-25 years.

It’s ironic that Black folks are looking for some kind of leader to save them (as if they need to be saved from something being done to them from the outside) when many of the problems in so called “Black America” are self inflicted…(The ignorant *** hip hop culture is a perfect example).
Blacks should stop waiting for some great leader to drop out of the sky and instead become the leaders that they are looking for.


A great related article from the Indy Star


Anonymous said...

We limit ourselves greatly. We have let what is "black" or "not black enough" hold us back from a wider world and a wider perspective.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog through your post on Skeptical Brotha. I wanted to thank you for your posts. You're on the money, and sees the wider issue with Obama and how he's trying to run for the Presidency of the United States...NOT the Presidency of Black America. I know the difference and you seem to know it too.

Thank you for not applying an Obama-Only Black Tax that I see with Black Bloggers.

Brian said...


I agree 110%. I often wonder how much longer this mental segregation will go on for "Black America".

The world is becoming more and more global (for people of all sorts of different cultures and nationalities). Black Americans are at risk of being left behind once again.


Thanks for stopping by, and I appreciate the comments.

I'm glad to see there is at least SOMEONE else out there who is able to see the wider picture.

I think some Black folks have been trained to see things a certain way for so long that it is really hard for them to change their outlook.

Anonymous said...

Al Sharpton..Jesse Jackson..Black Leaders;
Time to Lead for BARACK !
Greg 'Peace Song' Jones

I regularly listen to talk radio ranging from Air America, which is more progressive or Democratic...to Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager and Michael Medved which are Republican....and black radio particularly Warren Ballentine and Rev. Al Sharpton on the Radio 1 Network which is doing a great job of reaching the black community and creating an opportunity for voices nationwide to be heard.
I find it interesting to hear the different views from the hosts....as well as callers nationwide...on the subject of Barack Obama for President. Many of the hosts, even callers, on both Air America and the Republican shows voice massive approval and support of Barack Obama. It's actually quite refreshing to see and hear that so many white Americans are ready for a black president, basically because they feel he is the best choice regarding the issues of America and the world. Now, that's progress.
Then I listen to the Rev. Al Sharpton. First of all, let me state that I greatly admire Rev. Sharpton. The work that he does through his National Action Network is developing into becoming a mighty force in the black community nationwide and I feel that all blacks should be supportive of NAN. But when I listen to Rev. Sharpton talk about Barack Obama's presidential campaign I am totally amazed, shocked and beyond extremely disappointed. I'm almost embarrassed. Here we have Rev. Sharpton, who many blacks, including myself, look at as the number one leader for justice and empowerment in the black community.....and here we have a black man...Barack Obama...who is a very serious, capable, qualified candidate for President of the United States, supported by millions nationwide, with a realistic chance to enter the White House. But instead of rallying, supporting and stating this black historic opportunity as it is....Rev. Sharpton would rather not express his support of Obama at a ll !!! What's wrong with this picture ? I cannot believe that the leader(s) of the black community like Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson are NOT supportive of what could be the first black president of the United States, ever? That is crazy !!!! (note: Rev. Jackson has quietly declared that he is supporting Obama but has done little or nothing to rally the black community....while polls show Hillary currently receiving more black support than Obama !.....That's CRAZY !) We, as blacks, know that in order for the black communities to rise up out of the muck and mire that permeates, we must all work together....as a family. We know that we always preach that we should be supportive of black achievement, black businesses, our black youth and each other.
If that is the case, that we are to be supportive of each other, which I do believe that to be true, then never has that need been more evident than now. ALL black people should be in absolute support of Barack Obama for President, not just because he's black, but because of his stance, capabilities and qualifications. This should be a period of rallying in the streets, shouting with pride that we have a true opportunity to change history and put a black man in the White House. And this rally cry should be lead by our leaders.
Yes, Rev. Al, Rev. Jackson, the NAACP...ALL black leaders should be sounding the trumpet to inspire all black people to vote for this historic change. Why aren't they ? Rev. Al states that he hasn't heard enough from Obama regarding the issues to make a decision. I find that a bit disingenuous seeing as to how I know where Obama stands on the various issues....and so do the millions of white Obama supporters. Rev. Al also says that Obama may not have enough experience. I find that to be a sadly interesting comment, particularly considering both Rev. Al and Rev. Jackson ran for President with absolutely NO political experience, but never stated that they were too new for the post. (NOTE: Rev. Al knows that Barack Obama has been a U.S. Senator for over 2 years.....and that Abraham Lincoln was a Senator for 2 years....and turned out to be considered one of the greatest Presidents of all time). Rev. Al also states that he is not hearing enough talk from Obama regarding specifically what he will do for the black community. Now common sense should tell all black folks that Obama has to play the political game. Keep in mind, he is running for president of the United States...that means everyone, black, white, hispanic, muslim, jews,and all others.
Obama cannot appear as if he will only be concerned with the black community's needs or he has absolutely no chance of winning. Maybe that's where Rev. Al went wrong with his campaign. Does Rev. Al think that Obama should be shouting 'ungawa...Black Power' during each debate ? There is no way that he could do that and expect to win. But once he is President, common sense tells us that he would be more receptive to the needs in the black community than any other candidate. That's just common sense based on what we DO know about Obama. Then some folks want to say he's not 'black enough'. That is the most pathetic thing I've ever heard. First of all, his name is Barack Obama......not like Jesse or Al. Secondly, Obama is half Kenyan.....that's pretty black !!! Sometimes I just wonder to myself, why aren't Rev. Al and Rev. Jackson leading the rally to support this historic cause ? Could they be jealous that Obama has already achieved more acceptance than they did during their campaign efforts ? I would hate to think that to be the fact. Or, could Rev. Al be hopeful that Hillary will win because he feels that she will assist him in his personal efforts if she is elected President ? I hope that too is not the case.....that would be selling out.....and I would never believe our leader(s) to be sell-outs. But for our leaders to not boisterously support Obama is like saying that they feel a white person would do better or more for the black communities, which history has proven is just not the case. Then what can it be ? That is the question.
I believe that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be very proud and thankful to see that, in spite of all of the weights that have burdened and held the black community down, one black man has risen to such a level that he is a viable choice to be President of the United States in 2008. I believe that Rev. King would truly lead a powerful movement to change the tide of history. I envision marches, flags, signs, songs, t-shirts, buttons and millions of blacks proudly expressing jubilee for this opportunity to make a real change in our country.
WE SHALL OVERCOME....has been our motto for the black struggle for many generations and we are still struggling, in oh so many ways. And we will never overcome, until our leaders wake up, stop 'hatin' and vigorously lead the cause that will truly make a positive difference in our country, in our black community, and in the entire world. Rev. Al....Rev. Jackson....love ya' both....but on this subject... It's Time To LEAD !!!
(Greg 'Peace Song' Jones)