Barack Obama is facing a challenge from across the political aisle where both liberals and conservatives are calling for him to show anger about the BP oil spill. The groundwork for this critique began during the 2008 campaign, where to some in the media and among the public, Obama seemed too "intellectual" and "distant" to be an effective leader. Metaphorically, Obama was Spock, while John McCain was Captain Kirk--the former cerebral and disciplined; the latter emotional and daring.
Here, Barack Obama is a bound man. On one hand, because of moribund constructions of gender, Obama is unable to show a full range of emotions that go beyond "anger" or "strength." To cry or to be vulnerable are still (even in the 21st century) looked upon by many as traits unbecoming a "real" man. As a Black man, Barack Obama is doubly restrained. If Obama shows any amount of upset he risks easily falling into narrow and stereotyped caricatures of black manhood--especially as when viewed through the white gaze.
The error here is an assumption that black anger is one dimensional. In fact, black anger is complex--with many rooms in its proverbial house. To point: in an effort to help Obama negotiate his "anger" problem I have compiled a helpful list of archetypes from which he can borrow.
Which of the following models are best suited for President Obama? And what types of black anger can be added to our list?
2. Primal, libidinous, and a force of nature: Mike Tyson.
3. Literati, intellectual, and creative: James Baldwin.
4. Crazy, nonsensical, and self-loathing: Alan Keyes.
5. Rage of a black privileged class: George Jefferson.
6. So smart that he scared white people to death: Malcolm X.
7. 1960's Black nationalist in a leather jacket and a beret: Stokely Carmichael.
8. Hollywood black anger: Spike Lee.
9. Respectable and non-threatening to White people: Sidney Poitier.
10. White liberal black rage: John Brown.
11. Apocalyptic black rage: Nat Turner.
12. Anger in the prophetic tradition: Reverend Wright.
13. Black rage that (most) white people were willfully blind to seeing: Martin Luther King Jr.