Friday, January 26, 2007

The Question Behind The Question

My jury is still out on whether I think Sen. Obama should run. I'm excited and nervous about it simultaneously. I do know that if he does decide to run, I will be right next to Tuckergurl helping with the campaign.

One thing that does frustrate me to no end is that infernal question that buzzes around him like an annoying wasp: Is he BLACK enough? You won't hear this question talked about openly because it's a private be discussed only by black people. Non-blacks are simply not allowed to question his blackness. There are certain black folks, however, who feel that it is a completely valid question.

I think the question is incredibly stupid. As a woman who grew up having to answer the equally stupid question: Why are you trying to act white? just because I aimed to get good grades in an all-white high school, I know I am speaking from a personal place. It's still a stupid question.

This question has come up again, in a different form. In the Chicago Defender, Roland S. Martin opined about the lack of support Obama is receiving from "black leaders." He calls it "nothing more than black-on-black hate at its best."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who offered nothing more than a few great quotes in his 2004 presidential bid, told the Chicago Defender: "I think that Obama brings to the race a fresh face with an impressive background. I think that all of us around the country will be assessing all of the candidates and seeing what they have to offer. It is then that we will be able to make more solid comments about Obama and other possible candidates and what they will bring to the table."

He added: "My own thing is that I don't know him that well, but I seek to get to know him," Sharpton said. "Then I can give you better impressions about him and I will be able to grasp what it is he is seeking and trying to do."
You all may know that I have no respect for Rev. Sharpton. I do think it is interesting that he believes we're all waiting with bated breath to hear his impressions of Sen. Obama. Like black people cannot make a decision on an issue or a person without first hearing the words of our black leaders. How delusional they are.

The black enough question isn't really the question anyway. For me, that question instantly makes me wonder...How does one define blackness?

Is Jesse "blacker" than Barack because he walked with Martin Luther King, Jr.? That's not Barack's fault; he was only two years old when The March on Washington happened. And does that mean that King is "blacker" than all other black leaders ever?

Is Big Al "blacker" because he only talks to black issues? Barack believes that confronting American issues is dealing with black issues. It's how he sees the world.

Is Barack "less black" because he is embraced by the general population? Again, that is not his fault. There's no accounting for taste.

Am I "less black" because I have a Master's degree? Or is Skip Gates the "blackest" because he runs the African-American Studies program at Harvard? Are the people who lived in Ward 9 in New Orleans "blacker" than an African American living in a foreign country?

You see? It's an impossible question. And since it is the foundation of: Is Barack Obama "black" enough? makes this question impossible and stupid.

Tuckergurl once wrote that I am the person who always asks the questions no one wants to answer...I take that as a wonderful compliment, by the way. This question might be another one of them. So be it.

Addendum: My friend Daphne...of the "use antibacterial cream for zits" fame...sent me a link to this article. I guess mainstream media is openly discussing this topic.

If "being black enough" is code for all those issues that Vaslav and the article bring up, then why use code? Why don't they actually ask those questions!?! Those questions aren't stupid.


tuckergurl said...

Thanks for the shout outs. I am glad you wrote this entry because although I had been thinking about these questions, I did have the energy to put hand to computer to write about it. We will be grappling with this question for a long time.

You know where I stand. The whole more/less black issue is BS. However, I do think it is important to engage in dialogue about this publically even if folks are fumbling when they do it. This is very important for race relations in the US.

This whole more/less black thing is about class, or rather the class you are perceived to be. I will say more about that later. (Mainly because I have to go.)

I did want to say one thing about this quote: "Or is Skip Gates the "blackest" because he runs the African-American Studies program at Harvard?" That made me laugh. Um ... no. Skip Gates is not the "blackest". Not at all.

Vaslav said...

Ma Chere
While I totally agree with you that it is a stupid question and irrelevent to whether Obama has the goods, on the other hand I can see where some of this is coming from in the wider African American community. I think it is just that someone with his background (and I don't mean color, but an African father, white Midwestern mother, growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia), there is the question: does he understand on a gut level the issues important to many African Americans? And if not, will he be there for us when it counts? For example, I understand the anger I've heard expressed over Ivies filling their minority slots with West Indians and Africans - by color alone - & not with African Americans, who by nature of an oppressive history and continued discrimination fall disproportionately into the class category mentioned by Tuckergirl. SO, by black enough, I think some mean, does he get what it means to live through what we have lived through and understand what we are looking for in a leader - something that Bill Clinton hooked into, by way of his own class issues, in spite of his quite pasty looks. After all, I objected to Ronald Reagan sporting his Irishness, he was certainly no friend to Ireland, and colluded with Margaret Thatcher in extraditing many political activists back to British prisons. Not Irish enough? Or was he,like, Obama, part of an ethnic spectrum, some totally aware of their heritage and what it opens their eyes to, some just suckers- up-to-power. OK, rambling time over, more coffee needed - Remember my favorite quote; We are the ones who keep asking questions right up until the very end. [Nous sommes de ceux qui posent des questions jusqu'au but.]