Friday, December 10, 2010

Featured Reader Comment: "Obama is an Outcome of his Cultural Dna Which is Bi-racial and as Such He Reacts Accordingly"

Obama is a outcome of his cultural dna which is bi-racial and as such he reacts accordingly as a professor in a law class and as a president in a white nation..

Obama is exactly what we observe a mild manner colored man handcuffed by his bi-racial cultural dna..Obama's restraint and tilt toward avoidance is his deliberate posture..His entire inner circle is absence of any strong outspoken Black males and this truth has hurt him...Obama is not going to change his true being..,We are stuck with a guy driving the car that likes to stay within the speed limit when we need him to race the engine and get to the ER...


This comment was worth bumping up. And let's tread carefully as we want to avoid the essentialist politics of blood and identity. But, maybe Thrasher has stumbled upon something of note.

I have been thinking a bit about our earlier conversation on the psychologizing of President Obama as either battered partner or hostage. The jury is still out on his tax deal with the GOP (some think it is pragmatic brilliance), but I have been struck in recent weeks by how the pundit classes seem unwilling to address how the sum of Obama's life experiences and racial identity are interrelated variables, variables that are most certainly impacting the president's approach to politics.

Sure, race is omnipresent as a narrative framing for the presidency of Barack Obama. For example, he is routinely tarred and feathered as an "uppity" black man by his enemies, an anti-white bigot, or somehow "unAmerican." Conversely, the president cannot show the type of passion and anger that his populist base demands because he would then risk being branded as an "angry black man." Thus, being reduced to being like those "other" black people--a political liability if there ever was one.

What we have not seen to this point is an explicit reference to how Obama's experiences as a black man of a mixed racial background, and the President's struggles to negotiate his identity, have impacted his approach to politics and life. Now, we most certainly don't want to be hand-tied by old, flat, and binary narratives of tragic mulattoes that 1) either want nothing to do with their blackness and run toward whiteness and imagined salvation or 2) become anti-white firebrands who hate all white people. And as I am so fond of saying, there are some 30 million ways to be black.

Ultimately, there has to be a nuanced middle role that acknowledges the complexity of Obama's life experiences, while also signaling to how, like Commander Data in Star Trek, he is more than the sum of his parts.

Obama's biographies are a great and obvious place to start: He openly discusses the processes through which his identity was negotiated, and the ways in which blackness for Obama came to have meaning--politically, socially, culturally, and intellectually. President Obama is a brother: a healthy and whole black man who happens to have a white mother.

I would propose that the true Rosetta Stone for understanding Obama, both as the pragmatic politician and as a black man of mixed race background, lies in his much lauded "A More Perfect Union" speech. While justly praised for how it was a sophisticated and mature reading of race in the post-Civil Rights era, I found the speech noteworthy for a different reason. There, Obama made a subtle tactical move that telegraphed the type of President (and decision maker) he would soon be.

In "A More Perfect Union," Obama made the frustration, hurt, and struggle of Black Americans as they fought for their fair share of the full fruits of American democracy somehow equivalent to White rage, anger, and resentment at having their centuries of de facto race privilege challenged. This was not a shocking move on Obama's part. Part of then candidate Obama's appeal was precisely because he does not share the blood lineage or family legacy of slavery. For some, a vote for President Obama could be a get out of white guilt free pass; he was a candidate without the blood of slaves, and thus a perfect salve and leader for post-racial, twenty-first century America.

However, the way in which Obama so casually conceded the moral justice and superiority of the Black Freedom Struggle to the petty spitefulness of white anger was and remains troubling. If then candidate Barack Obama was willing to surrender the metaphorical Mount Rushmore of moral high ground, what else would he be willing to surrender at the bargaining table if elected President? At the time this was just speculation. Two years later we are seeing just how "pragmatic" President Obama actually is.

To what ends remains the question.


Anonymous said...

I voted for him in the general election (what choice did we have?!), but knew that his hands were going to be tied re his doing anything specifically for black America, for fear of reverse racism. Told the fam and anyone who asked the same thing, but got eye rolls.

I also had qualms about his personal politics re race pretty early on, and this was reinforced after reading a New York Magazine article in which a Harvard Law aquaintance related that Mr. Obama didn't join other black students' persistent efforts to press Harvard to hire more faculty of color. That story telegraphed volumes to me about how much he'd stand up on black issues, and was honestly one of the reasons that I didn't vote for him in the primaries.

Regardless, I support him as president, and hope he can succeed.

fred c said...

This is more a topic for a book than for discussion in a blog, even a "big idea" blog like this one. But . . .

I feel that "mixed racial" background is an illusion. The truth is in the mirror. A close friend of mine is merely twenty-five percent Black (and half Jewish, and one-hundred percent homosexual) and in his early life this status led him to believe that the entire racial inquiry was silly. I agreed with him, I still do. Later on he realized, inevitably, that any "touch of the tar brush" was enough to make him Black for purposes of discrimination. All of the evidence that anyone needed was his lip-seam, his dark skin, and his hair texture.

Regarding the personality that avoids confrontation and seeks conciliation, no racial identity has a monopoly on that. Many of us develop strategies in life to avoid trouble and, yes, beatings. Speaking personally, this mannerism can limit success in life.

annum natalem said...

Oh, Chauncey. As ever, you cut to the heart of it.

That's the real bitch of the Tragic Mulatto narrative, IS that eternal compromise. You have to be forgiving of a LOT of shit when you're "mixed". Forgiving of other people's assumptions. Forgiving of unforgivable things.

When your narrative makes you exceptional by design (super smart changeling rape-baby-maybe sepiatoned wonder) and everybody's all pettin' on your hair and telling you that your smarts and goodness come from your white side, that's gonna carve you in certain directions.

I'm not saying that a tragic mulatto can't overcome. I'm not saying mulattoes can't be the sort of person who CAN negotiate and not get magic beans for their cows.

But being In Between doesn't give you a superior POV. It just gives you a different POV.

Obama's introspective enough to know his own shortcomings, but he is also a regular man, with frustrations and arrogances of his own. When you're self-aware, you're meta-aware of not only how you are, but how your message comes off, and how they're gonna react to your message, regardless of how nice or plain you say it.

Anonymous said...


I didn't vote for President Obama, and that speech weighed heavily in my decision not to. It was astounding to me to hear my (black) friends and family gloss over the fact that he had essentially sold us out by referencing a bizarre false equivalency.

However, while I think that Thrasher's race-based theory has some merit, let me offer another.

I have lived in Hawaii for over ten years now. And I don't think that you can overstate the effect that spending many of his formative years here had on his personality.

The average local person abhors confrontation. If there was ever a place where people live by the maxim "go along to get along", this is it. You also have to take into account his being a student at Punahou School (in the interest of full disclosure, I have some connection to the school so I am well versed in its culture), where in many cases children are taught that collaboration is preferable to individual intitiative.

While for some, these factors may seem to lead to positive personality traits, they may often not lead to a very strong and assertive personality.

Hence, the frustrating behavior of our President.

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon 1--I want him to succeed to. But, how can he get past being such a bound man?

@Fred C--In terms of the literature on Obama, I can't wait to see the pre and post election and then long view of his presidency, especially in regards to race. Right now this topic is off limits, but it will become front burner.

@Fictional--Nice to hear from you. So, is Obama's black mulattoness a net gain or minus to this point?

@Anon 2--I didn't even factor in his schooling at that age. Please share more.

Plane Ideas said...


Thanks for the marquee attention:-)..I found your narrative very sound and instructive as well..

Clearly from my vantage point his ease and wiliness to kick Black folks and our agenda to the curb is a outcome of his noturing and not the nature of his external influences...

Obama's white mother flexed her white privledged in his lfe she did marry a home grown local Black nobody..Obama's grandparents clearly left a sting in his armor so race and the privledges of a white bandwidth influenced and impacted him..

Again the shelflife of white supramacy is augmented also by the contributions of its subjects..Obama's reluctance in affirming Black Americans is really not a surprise...

The question is what to do about it???

Plane Ideas said...

I meant Obama's mother did not marry a local homeboy nobody...