nation grew a little bit last week, when Democratic
Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama, give a speech on race unlike any
this nation has ever seen. In the very week America thought it had discovered
the bone in Obama’s closet that would derail his run for the Presidency,
Barack kicked down the door of the closet that holds America’s worse skeletons,
its race closet. We all know race is a conversation America never wants
to have, because it’s a conversation they can never win. So the race closet,
stacked to the top with 400 years of skeletons-from the Middle Passage
through today’s colorblind racism, is closely guarded by those who know
and understand this vile and twisted history. However, this time America
started it by trying to radicalize Obama and racialize Obama’s Minister,
Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Barack finished it by stating that if you really
want to have a conversation about somebody’s racial views - then let’s
talk about America’s racial views, in its totality. It was substantive,
and it was eloquent.
Historians are equating
it to the great watermark speeches in American history like Lincoln’s
“Divided House” speech that positioned him to be President (though he
lost the Senate election, he was the anti-slavery candidate two years
later), and Kennedy’s “Catholic Church” speech that eased the nation’s
concerns that the Pope wasn’t going to dictate to a Protestant nation.
But America has never had a conversation on race, per se, in the midst
of a Presidential campaign where someone in the electoral campaign led
Let Hillary Clinton
call this speech “just empty words” or another “eloquent speech.” And
let those who claim Barack ain’t “black enough” hang their hat on this
speech while those who try to diss his “too black” pastor realize that
Barack is “too black” to allow himself to be separated from his church
and his community. It was a historic moment. We can truly say that after
this week, “a black man” is running for President. And by most accounts,
he’s still the best candidate in the race.
Floating that Obama
was a Muslim and wasn’t patriotic hasn’t been enough to sink his prospects.
They had to try to radicalize Barack by suggesting that his racially radical
Minister spoke what Obama deep down believes and inferred guilt by association.
This, after trying to suggest that we are in this post-racial
era of American politics where race doesn’t matter. We have been
shocked back to the reality that race always matters in America, and racial
hysteria is only as far as one critical statement of America’s racial
past. America is a nation of xenophobes who are never far removed from
their racial doubts that Blacks (and others) can acculturate - even lead
their Eurocentric society without changing their racially charged cultural
Obama has proven he’s
different in every way and even before the Wright remarks - they still
had doubts about him. Now that America knows he sat in the pews of a prominent
black church and listened to harsh and bitter criticisms of America’s
historically improper (and I’m being diplomatic) racial and foreign policies,
and didn’t leave or speak out, many are trying to suggest that maybe someone
who tolerates the expression of such views might be “too black” to represent
all of America.
They’re back to doubting
that a black man can represent a white nation (don’t get it twisted-America
is still 69% white). America was poised to default on Obama. The default
position is, of course, that only a white can represent all the people.
Well, name me one President in the history of America who has represented
“all the people?”
Every President has
acted adversely to the equality interests of black America, being either
implicit or complicit in their actions to cover-up the race caste system
in American society. Only two, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson, sought
to eliminate the legalized race caste systems (of slavery and segregation),
though both tolerated and participated in societal norms that affirmed
racial inequality and separateness (while they were President).
Obama was expected
to do the same, lead the nation - ignore America’s racial faults - affirm
the nation’s racial differences (disparities and all) - and not racialize
the Presidency by talking about the nation’s past or promoting his own
blackness. The thought here is, “White people know he’s black, no need
to throw it up in their face” and never blame anything on race - even
the obvious racial attacks or the codified ones. As authentic a person
as Barack is, it’s his authenticity that has most come under attack from
Whites and Blacks. From Whites - in no Black could possibly be this perfect
(so hopeful yet non-critical); from Blacks, that no Black could really
be “black” and not talk about race. Well, Obama showed how authentic he
really is last week, in not running from race and not running from his
own. The media could neither “blackball” nor “whitewash” Barack Obama
after last week’s speech (and trust me, they were trying to do both).
Barack pulled it off.
The truth on race
in America set Barack Obama free last week. It is still left to be seen
if it sets America free. For a country that always has something to say,
most of it (except for the ideologues and the racial extremists) stood
speechless and/or complimentary on the nation’s first publicly televised
race speech by a Presidential candidate. There was nothing empty about
the speech. The closet doors on both Obama’s and America’s racial realities
are open. The bone in Barack’s closet is out and on the table; the bones
in America’s closet are all over of the floor and may be too numerous
to pick up and put back in the closet. Time will tell if America stands
ready to punish Obama for addressing the race question, or reward him
for purging it of its past sins. We now know one thing, though. Race is
still a salient issue in American politics (like we didn’t know).
We just needed someone
“black enough” (and honest enough) to talk about it. In trying to castigate
one man, the door to America’s race closet was opened by another. The man who would be President, if he would have just remained “post-racial.”
Now, he’s black and America’s new race conscience. If America is willing
to face up to its past and grow up in the race reality of its future (multi-racial
nation), Barack Obama still might be elected President of the United States.
We all know that’s
a pretty BIG “if”…but one with which a mostly white nation is grappling.
Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director
of the Urban Issues Forum
and author of the new book,
Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website
here to contact Dr. Samad.