07 November 2008

black like me

from: Day in Pictures - Sacramento News - Local and Breaking
"[S]o in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings.” -- William Faulkner
I love black people. I love to see them happy. I especially love to see them happy about things other than, I don't know, rims and Tyler Perry movies. But my joy at black people's overwhelming happiness on election night was tempered, and nearly destroyed by a distraught sadness that even my apathetic cynicism cannot render obscure. I am sad for myself; I am sad for black people.

I make no argument that what happened on the night of November 4, 2008 wasn't historic. It was. We should be elated that we--and the world-- survived eight years of the Bush Administration. We should be relieved that we endured over twenty months of campaigning. And yes, we should celebrate the fact that a person of color has somehow found a way to become the leader of the so-called Free World. Then again, it's this last point that troubles me.

As I watched journalists interview countless black people--both famous and not--about the significance of this moment, my disbelief and furious inner-critic could not be quelled. I wondered: Why are we celebrating? What are we so happy about? Why do some of us tearfully utter that we've [finally] overcome? That the Promised Land is in sight--and this time our view isn't a picture of Oprah's southern California estate courtesy of Google images? As friends have noted, the moment was as if the resounding, "Not guilty," coming from a Santa Monica Courthouse one Tuesday (I didn't even have to look at a calendar, the memory is so clear) morning in 1995 had been heard again; except this time, there were a few white people dancing in the streets, too.

I'm sad for black people. I'm sad because we can be so forgiving, and willfully forget how Obama became President-elect. That one essential element of his campaign was to stand atop and juxtapose himself against some of the same kinds of black folks who celebrated his victory as if he were a son, a brother. We forget that we had to wait until white Iowans validated his candidacy, as if they were saying, "It's all right this time. We like this [or is it that?] one. Go ahead. Dream," to shift our support from Clinton to him. That Obama disavowed his minister and spiritual mentor when semantically exagerrated portions of several sermons were leaked, allowed those views to be considered racist, and thereby implicitly suggested that maybe part of the motivation to join that church was to gain footing in the Chicago's southside black community. And even though most of those black people in the streets celebrating the outcome of this election didn't think there was much wrong with what had been said, this Reverend Wright, this old crazy uncle became expendable because he made too many white people uncomfortable.

I'm sad because his wife--and I think she's incredible-- had to make a speech to prove herself safe enough, and not bitter. And she still got called a black militant in the process. Satirically, of course. (No, I don't know why the caged bird sings, but I do know why they send a canary into a mine.) I'm sad because Obama felt it necessary, with cameras rolling for whites to see and nod in approval, to chastise black parenting, to suggest that they voluntarily feed their children Popeye's for breakfast, as if the McDonald's or the liquor store across the street is a better alternative. As if they make their children sit at home and watch television rather than subject them to the danger of these streets. (I have police cameras on my block because a young black girl was shot and killed on the playground.) I'm sad because he allowed black pathology to be regarded as an ideological position, and was somehow the creation and fault of blacks. And I'm sad because the people he maligned then, are the people he ignored especially in the latter part of his campaign: Sure, you want to reaffirm the middle class, but what about poor people? Or are they expendable, too?

I'm sad. I'm sad because on election night, a tearful Roland Martin pointed out that 100 years ago (roughly), the NAACP was founded and now the United States was electing a black president. As if the NAACP, CORE, any black organization or leader or person had only existed to put a brown face at the head of this nation. As if Obama hadn't garnered the national spotlight in 2004 by denying the existence of Black America, only for some of us, a mere four years later, to celebrate his victory by singing the national anthem of this non-existent entity. But he's Joshua, right? I'm sad because in order to be happy, to find joy in a system that continually jeopardizes our tenuous citizenship, we must suspend our critiques to celebrate and defend "Close enough."

I'm sad because this moment affirms for me, not that any black person with the will and desire can be president, but rather that any black person can't be president. Could Obama have become President-elect with his wife's geographical origins? Or mine? Or yours? Riddle me this: if Barack Obama had been born in the summer of 1961 not in Hawaii, but in Oakland, CA, would he be here? I venture to suggest no. For if he had, he might have made the mistake of living too close to Black Panthers' headquarters, and accidentally eating one of their free breakfasts on his way to kindergarten.

Could he have become President-elect had his father been an American? His mother black? If he had been raised by grandparents who look like those who raise so many black children? If he'd not had the auspicious luck of being born on an island in the middle of the ocean, and not on a continent, a terrain trod with racism and the fight against it? Understand me, this is no fault of Obama's. Yet if these are the essential ingredients in creating a serious black presidential candidate (and at this juncture, I'm not sure I can believe they're not. Recall: the only other "viable" potential black candidate in recent memory has been Colin Powell, and he's also light-skinned and the child of Jamaican immigrants.) how many young black boys and girls can replicate that kind of chance? What American Negro can replicate the exceptionalism that assuaged Obama to whites? This is not an argument that Obama isn't black. He is. But he's a special kind of black. As a friend and I like to say, an "Accented Negro," slightly--and just enough-- different from the rest of us. Just enough to make enough white folks feel better; just enough for us to celebrate him anyway.

And what are we happy about? What are we celebrating? That this brand of American Imperialism will be brought to you by a melanined face? For nothing in Mr. President-elect's foreign policy makes me believe that American occupation in other countries is over, just a bit nicer and served to you with a smile. Sure, whatever he does will be a change from the Bush Doctrine, but how hard is that? Won't poor black and brown folks continue to be deployed, only to return with no options? That is, if they are not already incarcerated in our for-profit prisons? Because you can't become president without making white people feel safe. And unfortunately, that safety necessitates keeping the hometown persons of color from rioting, and the away team persons of color at bay.

So, what are we crying tears of joy for? I woke up this morning, and I'm nowhere near a promised land. I'm still in Chicago. And police cameras keep a bird's eye view of my street. I know it's still hard to be black. And it's still hard to be Muslim--or at least look it.

I'm sad because I can't help but rain on black people's parade.

Hold on, my people. Please.


C.L. Jones said...

Powerful stuff and a couregious observation. I'll leave it as it is with no fluff from me.

keep them pondering.

z.bediako said...

I've forwarded this around about a gillion times for the past couple of weeks.

Lost a couple of friends.
Was almost shanked by a co-worker. lol


Im in the process of reading Michelle's undergrad thesis now.

She sure has changed, or has she?

Anonymous said...

I have an analogy. My great-grandmother is 93-years-old. Born and raised in Alabama. She doesn't give a shit about her cholesterol level, her triglycerides. She eats bacon and eggs every day for breakfast. She fixes it for anyone that eats breakfast with her, 8 months to 80 years. The trick to her eggs is she cooks them in the fresh bacon grease (oh yes, she fries the bacon...in the black cast iron skillet...and it ain't turkey). It probably sounds sickening to most of your readers, but I was raised on it, so it's good eatin' to me. But we were talking about Obama.

I eat eggs. Not because they're especially delicious or anything, but because I do. People have been feeding them to me since I was a wee lass, and so... I have eaten eggs cooked in vegetable oil. I have eaten eggs cooked in olive oil. I have eaten eggs cooked in canola oil. But there is just something about eggs cooked in bacon grease that trumps all that other shit. They feel (taste?) like home.

I say this to say that, to me, Obama is like eggs cooked in bacon grease. He may not make all of the changes that he's promised. He may not make any. He's bourgie. He's a politician. He looks like a high school principal. Definitely not the dream. But still...Seeing him behind the podium makes me feel just a tiny bit safer than I felt when I saw Bush. Just the tiniest bit.

Like when grandma's eggs get served up? I don't worry that they won't taste right. They're right.
I feel like even if Obama doesn't make the right decisions all the time, at least I'll be able to relate somewhat to his reasons for making them. And in a sense, that makes them more tolerable. Or maybe I should say forgivable.


I don't think that his election signals the end of anything. It's a beginning. Of what, we'll see.

summer of sam said...

@z: glad you didn't get shanked. i'm glad what i wrote was helpful.

@saf: see, your analogy points to my problem with obama. for me, he's not eggs in bacon grease (i'd eat that shit too). he's not even like eggs in bacon grease. he might look a little like them, but he really ain't them. since he was cooked in something else, enough white folks like him. but since he kinda looks like eggs in bacon, the black people love him.

my question: when can a nig cooked in bacon grease become president?

that said, i think you made the point i'd be willing to agree with: he feels safer/smarter than bush, or even mccain. now, that's something i can get with. beyond that, i got have problems.

for me, obama is potentially a black history factoid, not an indication that black people and muslims aren't the most hated folks in this country. he's like a much larger version of the only black dude in an honors class--and you and i know about that version of tokenism.

i've already written too much. besides, i really am over this shit. i don't really talk about it anymore.

Anonymous said...

I've felt the same way as you do about Obama for most of his campaign and voiced points similar to those in this post to most of my closer friends. Glad to hear someone else shares these sentiments.

love love love this blog

Monie said...


I know I'm really late to this party but...

This is an amazing post. I agree with you. I would add that while calling African Americans out for being poor parents, irresponsible etc.

Obama also didn't make any promises to Black Americans. How do you hold a politician accountable if he makes you no promises? You can't and we can't.

I suppose most Black people are so happy he won they are willing to overlook that. I’m not.

Thanks for writing this.

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