2/11/08 N.Y. Daily News 2
There is something very fascinating about the difficulty the media have in
explaining the Obama phenomenon.
It seems that not enough of my colleagues have noticed that in commercial
advertisements we have seen a great shift from the older America of John
Kennedy's era. Then everything was done, enjoyed and understood solely by
white people, who were thought to be the symbols of humanity at large and
were accepted as such by those trying to sell products.
That is no longer true and the monoracial news teams, experts on health, the
stock market, fashion, technology and so on are no more. We are accustomed
to seeing multiracial teams of men and women who know or are good enough to
speculate about the meanings of important events, trends and evolutions of
Americans have become accustomed to having spent years looking at the
recently deceased Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes" or the reigning queen of
daytime television, Oprah Winfrey, neither of whom meant something in
exclusively racial terms. Bradley was thought of quite simply as one of the
best and most honest reporters on television. Winfrey is seen much more as
America's queen of goodwill than anything else.
But those elements of distinction, of a particular ethnic style, have become
secondary to the power of human qualities with which anyone can identify or
During the era of "identity politics" that was interpreted as an attempt to
"deny" the supposed "blackness" of the person under discussion. The problem
is that every group has many different versions of itself - the simplest
being an upper-class version, a middle-class version and a lower-class
version. Within each of them, there are many variations and, finally, there
is the most mysterious and unexplainable version of all: the individual.
That is, he or she whose talent makes everything else secondary. That always
I don't think that many pundits understand that about Barack Obama because
they are sunk in the mud and in the statistics of a past America in which
things were much less fluid. Young Americans and most others have accepted
the diversity idea because it fits their experience.
For at least 30 years, they have been meeting at public school, in college,
in the military, on sporting teams and on jobs of every sort - all manner of
people from myriad backgrounds and cultural styles. They are accustomed to
sitting in diverse groups and making jokes about how "out of it" their
parents are and how old-fashioned their ideas are about inevitable racial
alienation. They see themselves in generational terms and accept their many
distinctions as enriching elements of the human reality in which they live.
That's how it is. But most pundits keep running forward with their eyes
glued to a mirror in which only the past is clear. They don't get it any
more than a television reporter did when some black guys in angular hairdos
ran toward a van that caught fire and saved a couple of Jewish kids in
Brooklyn during a period of "racial tension." When asked why they risked
harm to save the children, one of the black guys answered, "Why? Because a
van was on fire and some kids were trapped inside. Beside that, we didn't
think about it."
A recent report on NPR talked about how race shaped the Super Tuesday
primary. And blogs devoted to black issues say that any attempt to suggest
that Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy "transcends" race is the real fairy tale.
But Newt Gingrich has it right when he said of Obama after Super Tuesday,
that anyone who can take a red state like Iowa, in which there are virtually
no black people, cannot be looked at in racial terms. Millions of Americans
across racial lines obviously like him.
Something else is clearly going on.
Elements of ethnicity are now second to humanity