The Brother From Another Planet: Good, and Bad, Reasons why Blacks Aren't in Lock Step with Obama

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 4:39 PM EST

I never cease to be amazed at how amazing it seems that blacks aren't in automatic, unthinking, en masse lockstep with Barack Obama. I did a BBC interview just after Obama's announcement from Springfield and nothing I said could penetrate that white woman's disgusted annoyance with me for pointing out that even black candidates have to earn black votes. I was only there to prove how baffling, and therefore ignoreable, Negroes are; she never heard a word I said. It was incomprehensible to her that we could at once do carthweels in the streets over him and keep our minds open about voting for him. Guess it's not just Asians who are inscrutable; it's all Others when they don't queue up in accordance with whites' lazy predictions about us.

This annoyance and assumption of black connivance (our coolness toward Obama can't possibly be defensible) against a shiny, clean black guy like Obama is particularly worrisome when it comes from other blacks. Most often, it's the same blacks who rail most vocally against white denial of black complexity, yet they know very well that you can't talk to any group of black folks without hearing a plethora of contradictory opinions (gee, just like 'real' people). We range from Bill Cosby to Michael Eric Dyson, Sec. Rice to Marian Wright Edelman. If we vote for any black just because they're black, we get dogged. If we vet all comers with equal scrutiny we're seen as, I dunno, stupid. Self-destructive. No need to pay us any mind; let the grown ups make the decisions.

The truth is that nobody weighs their vote as carefully as blacks, especially older blacks, and we've been voting for non-blacks a long time. You see, we want to see blacks get their due but, more than anything else, we get that we're minorities, often despised minorities, and that we'll only rarely be represented by folks who look like us. We wrote the book on making due and getting done what we can get done, symbolism aside. Without knowing more, black opposition to Obama is as worthy as black support of him regardless of what the black Politburo says.

Still, William Jelani Cobb, writing in The Washington Post, offers one of the few worthy versions of this argument re the civil rights establishment's ambivalence and hostility to Obama:

That's because, positioned as he is between the black boomers and the hip-hop generation, Obama is indebted, but not beholden, to the civil rights gerontocracy. A successful Obama candidacy would simultaneously represent a huge leap forward for black America and the death knell for the reign of the civil rights-era leadership -- or at least the illusion of their influence.

Cobb is still ignoring the obvious too much, I think, as to the role of black sagacity in weighing Obama, but his argument is among the most nuanced. I'm on record as highly critical of the Generation That Won't Go Away (Sharpton, Jackson, et al), much as I honor their role in my freedom. We'd still be in the back of the bus if I'd had to face Bull Connor. Still, I think they're getting something of a bum rap on Obama. And of course, Clinton shot herself in the foot with the dissing of MLK. Oh my, how the truth slipped out there. All you Negroes marchin' was fine, but it took white folks to seal the deal. Andrew Young et. al. will be thanking her for a long time for that one. And South Carolina's blacks have been given a little something to chew on while their hands are poised over the 'Clinton' button.