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”.