Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sen. Obama's litmus test

One would have thought that, several months into the presidential campaign, questions about Barack Obama's blackness would have been settled, or at least ignored.

But it's now apparent that Obama's lack of total support among the black population has nothing to do with his abilities. Instead, an unthinking spectrum of the black population - both inward-looking and self-serving - has decided to subject him to this hapless color scrutiny.
The issue about Obama's blackness first came up in 2003 when he was running for Senate. Four years later, the topic is as virulent as ever.

Considering this country has never had a black president and the perception that past leadership have not done enough to address problems of African-Americans, it's easy to assume their support for Obama would have been automatic. Yet this has not been the case. Instead, many in the African-American community are more interested in subjecting Obama to a "how-black-are-you?" test.

In November 2006, African-American columnist Stanley Crouch threw the first blows before Obama even announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic ticket, saying, "He has not lived the life of a black American … If we end up with him as our first black president, he will have come into the White House through a side door - which might, at this point, be the only one open."

Comments like this are silly, immature and divisive. Why doesn't anyone ask if Bill Richardson is Hispanic enough, if Hillary Clinton is feminist enough or if John Edwards is handsome enough? Why hasn't anyone asked if Mitt Romney is religious enough or why Rudy Giuliani has marriage problems? Has anyone bothered to find out if Joe Biden is tall enough or whether Ron Paul is white enough?

Obama may not represent the black community the way 50 Cent does, but he shouldn't have to. Obama's trouble with the community is that he's biracial, has a direct connection with Africa, doesn't yell racism at every opportunity and will not make reparations a campaign theme. Because Obama is a Harvard-trained lawyer ready to break from the stereotypical African-American mold, he has been given a bad name by a community that should have been his most unyielding support base.

Should the reluctance of blacks to vote for Obama be seen as a display of political maturity or a reflection of their own small-mindedness? Is the reluctance of a black person with African-American parents to vote for another with non-African-American parents - but still black - any different from a white American refusing to vote for a black person? Do we call that racism too? Or is there another name for it? Is one's blackness determined by one's parentage, culture, color of skin, educational background, prison history, propensity for violence or something the rest of us don't know about?

Actually, when did race become such an issue in presidential politics?

To cast your vote based on the color of one's skin is as simple-minded as making a judgment of one's character based on the shape of his or her nose. In any case, who has bestowed on anyone the authority to determine the blackness of a human being? When did Al Sharpton's definition of blackness become a barometer for measuring race? What were people thinking when they called Bill Clinton the first black president? We should be worried, because the factors that gave Clinton that label are nothing to write home about: a huge appetite for sex and single parenthood.

Obama is the first black candidate with a realistic chance of becoming president, so isn't it ridiculous that a prowling mass of gullible ethnocentrists are pulling the trigger on his quest to make history?

The simple truth is that playing the race card is a great disservice to the future of America and the qualities of high achieving aspirants. Race is irrelevant. I hope that one day many more Americans will move beyond the clouds of trivial politics into the high plains of thought where ability, skill and relevant qualities are considered in making a judgment of one's suitability for the White House.

Perhaps the bickering about color reveals more about the pettiness that underpins our politics than about the candidates themselves. Let us judge them on their records. Let us judge them on their policies. Let us judge them on their message and the reason of it - not on the color or discolor of their skins.


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