‘Nilla like me


Let’s face it, for all his popularity with regular black people, B-Rock was never going to win the Black Authenticity game with guys like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Whatever it was that Jackson said about BHO in the tape that Fox didn’t play (was it the N-word?) the implication of the whole exchange is clear: Obama is guilty of speaking white to blacks. Because for the gatekeepers of what it means to be authentically black in the US (and this includes liberal whites like Ralph Nader) there are some things you are supposed to say, some poses you are obliged to adopt in order to be considered black. In his 2003 book Authentically Black, the linguistics professor John McWhorter writes that “a tacit sense reigns among a great many black Americans today that the ‘authentic’ black person stresses personal achievement and strength in private, but dutifully takes on the mantle of victimhood as a public face.”

BHO’s problem is not that he represents a post-partisan, post-racial politics, it is that he’s trying to bring about a change in America’s discourse on race while running as a black man who refuses to play the victim. For professional blacks like Jesse Jackson, that just means that he’s little more than a younger, more attractive Bill Cosby.

After BHO’s big speech on race a few months ago, the best thing I read was an opinion piece in the wsj suggesting that the boldest thing he could have done was run as a white man. In addition to being a profound challenge to one of America’s longest-standing assumptions about blackness (the one-drop rule, more or less), it would have given him an easy riposte to the Ralph Naders and Jesse Jacksons who accuse him of talking white.

“Why of course, ” he could have replied. “I am white”.


‘Nilla like me

  1. And he is half white.

  2. Watched Anderson Cooper last night and they had Al Sharpton on to discuss this. He said we should view it as a good cop, bad cop type situation.

    Personally, I think Jackson is trying to protect his turf and retain his ‘moral authority’. He will be marginalized, more than he already is, if Obama wins.

    Found John McWhorter on Blogging Heads a few months ago and he seems to be a very interesting guy. He has great discussions with Glenn Loury about blacks in America. Seems like I need to look more into McWhorter’s books and essays.

  3. McWhorter is great, if you like essays on being black in the US in the vein of Shelby Steele. Steele’s a much better writer though. I also just read Stanley Crouch’s new book “Essays on Authenticity” — not so good.

  4. Thanks for the tip, Andrew. I quite like Steele so I will definitely have a look for McWhorter’s writings.

  5. McWhorther is nothing like Steele. McWhorter is an original thinker who criticises white liberals (at least the sort like Nader) while Steele is more like Jesse Jackson: there is a singular way to “be black”, it comes only by identifying yourself in relation to white people, and deviating even slightly is to become a sellout.

    Anyone who thinks Oprah is popular because she makes white, middle-aged, largely conservative (or at least far from left-wing) housewives feel less guilty knows nothing about contemporary America.

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