Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Anti-Barack Obama Threat Pyramid Part 2: The "Principled Opposition" of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity et al.

In our first installment of this series, we analyzed the top of the Anti-Obama threat pyramid. In this second piece, we move down the pyramid to the "principled" opposition--a mid-level threat more common than the most dangerous grouping at the top of the pyramid. However, these bloviating conservatives are toxic to the public discourse because they hide behind a veneer of "respectability" and the shield provided by free speech. Moreover, the mid-level of the Anti-Obama threat pyramid is to be watched closely because their access to the popular media (and the audiences Rush Limbaugh and others command) represent the potential for a broader danger across the spectrum of possible threats in our battlespace.

In the following piece, guest blogger Buhbajangal takes on this issue by exploring the politics of blackness and black authenticity as inspired by Ann Coulter's recent performance/appearance on the television show the View.


Well, we two black people of a certain age were talking about the upcoming inaugural festivities (“Where will you be?”), wondering which way the wind will blow (it’s been unseasonably cold here on the East Coast), and celebrating the selection of Elizabeth Alexander to bless us with poetry (ok, that last one was just me). I made mention of having watched the View on Monday (for which I was chided) and of the fireworks between the guest (one Ann Coulter) and everyone else (yes, surprisingly, even Elizabeth Hasselbeck seemed perturbed by this woman’s rude tone with her hosts). Neither here nor there. What was significant was the topic—race. There was Barbara Walters reading an excerpt from Coulter’s new book that had at its core something about how there are several successful Black (?) people today who pass themselves off as African Americans even though they have white mothers. Namely Alicia Keys, Halle Berry, and Barack Obama. Coulter wanted to know how these people can go about claiming to be Black (or only Black) when they are clearly not. To this I thought, “oh yeah?”

There were some valuable responses from the panel: something to do with the acknowledgment of said racial category being based on how these individuals are perceived in the world. Simply put: When people see them, they see Black people. The perceivers react accordingly—envision the same clutching of purses that happens to darker skinned Black people, imagine the same must to prove one’s qualifications in academic/professional settings, or sadly, the same got-to-act-the-fool-ness to prove you truly are Black enough. Of course, I thought Whoopi’s response (smirk—“I think that [Coulter’s view] is bulls… I think that’s bull!”) was…priceless!

But the mention of this line of thought (if you can call this stuff Ann Coulter does “thinking”) brought my friend and me to our own: Obama is suddenly not as Black (to White America) as he was. Or Black at all. Though what drives us globally to laud his election victory is that he is to be the first African American President, well, suddenly he isn’t! What?

There I was thinking about Blackness. What is Black? Who is Black?

We all know that back in the day in the United States it was if you had even one drop of Black blood… Even if you had lived your whole life as white and someday someone found out you had a Black relative somewhere in your family tree…BLACK! No matter how far back…BLACK! You can, by this logic, undo whiteness but you can never return from being Black, never cease to be Black. Until now. You remember how we used to say “There are only two things I have to do: Stay Black and die!”? Not anymore? Not if you get a lot of fame and/money or become President of the United States? (When did I up and move to Brazil?)

I was on my end of the phone saying that I think the Obamas’s Blackness cannot be denied. Somewhere I read that Barack Obama referred to his wife as “the most quintessentially American woman” he knows. I am going to say that she is quintessentially Black. I declare THEY are quintessentially Black.

Honestly, as a Black woman, the moment I first encountered
Barack Obama, I thought, Nice! But I was cautiously optimistic.

(Yes, I was readying to conduct the “how Black-identified is he?” test.) I know that all too often Black men achieve some level of success and they find a not Black woman. (Harold Ford Jr.!) Sometimes they find a not-Black-enough woman. (You know what I mean: She’s so light-skinned you have to ask and she likes it that you ask. She doesn’t want anyone assuming.) So I was left with the mix of not sure if to be happy or grieved. Then out came Michelle Obama—undeniably Black to the human eye. Then the public learned more about who she is—daughter of working class African Americans who emphasized education, excellence, family, oh, and education. That’s Black!

You know I think back to my mother’s and her parents’ generations and how the drive was always towards schooling—the best schooling. Even if they couldn’t or didn’t have it, they wanted it for us. We had Black people who fought for their children to be bussed to better schools because they believed that’s where it was at—access to an equal quality of education and everything else would fall into place. When white folks could see that we are the same sort of intellectual and moral creatures that they are, well, they had to treat us right. People risked life and limb for some book learning. Look, even when it was a mortal crime to learn something Black people found a way.

Black: parents living in the same household—mother and father—working sunup to sundown (and sometimes beyond) to provide for their children whose only job was to study hard. Black: parents and GRANDPARENTS tending to, guiding the children. Black: making you take all kinds of lessons (piano lessons, dance class, swimming lessons)! Black: making you say all kinds of “Yes, please” and “Thank you.” Black, Black, Black.

Look now, I did say I am a person of a certain age, but is it only me who remembers these as definition of Blackness?

But the issue is not Michelle Obama’s Blackness now. It’s his. So I say, “He’s a different, other, still-connected-to kind of Black. A postmodern kind of Black. A kind of Black that young people, people younger than I am, can relate to.” (Because to be Black is not just one thing any more than to be white, Asian, or Latino is to be just one.) Black: single mother trying to instill all that do-the-right-thing-via-education notion. Black: rising to the top even in the willful absence of a father. Black: grandparents doing the bulk of the providing for and child rearing in the face of a mother’s need to work. Black: deciding to marry your partner before you have some children (because you are not going to be like your father). Black: sticking around to raise said children. Black, Black, Black. (Now, do you see the intersection with and re-development of the first group of Black people?)

Family first is Black. Taking care of your responsibilities—i.e., the community—is Black. Speaking Standard English is Black. Keeping your cool in the face of some real bullshit is Black!

Society has to be careful with the kind of talk that Coulter and her sort are promulgating. By their reasoning (I use this word loosely here), Francis Grimke was not Black. Booker T. Washington was not Black. Nella Larsen was not Black. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was not Black. Damn, even the masterblaster Bob Marley was not Black! Even though the aforementioned identified as Black people.

I have not only this response to Coulter’s question; I have my own questions: You mean forever “the other” will exercise the ultimate in white privilege? Forever they get to tell us who we are? Forever? Forever ever?

1 comment:

Jeannette said...

Beautifully written and put.