2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Pundits blind to Obamas America


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Stanley Crouch
2/16/08 Argus (Fremont-Newark, CA)

BARACK Obama has pulled forward in ways that are inarguable, but the media still are wandering blindly through Duhland, talking about tired black-and-white issues. These people obviously are incompetent, because a good part of their problem has to do with the fact that so many of the supposed pundits do not seem to live in the same America that they are paid to be experts on, to be able to predict and accurately assess.

Not enough of my colleagues seem to have noticed that even in the commercial advertisements that appear throughout the day, we have seen a great shift from the older America of John Kennedys 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 attempting to sell products.

That is no longer true. The monoracial news teams, experts on health, the stock market, fashion, technology and so on are no more. We now are used 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 public consciousness.

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 achieved national meaning in exclusively racial terms. Bradley was thought of quite simply as one of the best and most honest reporters on television, so much so that he was the only one granted an interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was a lunatic about just about everything other than Bradleys quality as a reporter and an interviewer. Winfrey is seen much more as Americas queen of good will than anything else, although her background as a black woman fully from deep-down Mississippi is never in doubt because you can see it, hear it and feel it.

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 reject. Those who identify with such people no longer have to say, as it once was common to assert, When I see so and so, I dont see color, I see him (or her).

During the era of identity politics, that was interpreted as an attempt to deny the supposed blackness of the person under discussion. The problem with that kind of thinking is its simple-mindedness, because 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 transcends sociology.

I dont think many pundits understand that about Obama because they are sunk in the mud and 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. To them, e pluribus unum is a daily fact.

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. E pluribus unum.

Thats how it is, but most pundits keep driving forward with their eyes glued to a mirror in which only the past is clear. They dont 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 didnt think about it.

That is why Newt Gingrich said of Obama after Super Tuesday that anyone who can take red states 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 going on.

I think that something else is where the whole nation is going at a time when human interest has trumped every other consideration. That is a distinguishing combination of discovery, of will and of our indelible American luck.

Stanley Crouch ( crouch.stanley@gmail.com) writes for King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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