Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama the Racial Healer--Lay Hands Upon Him and You too will be Healed

"Many dismiss the Obama phenomenon as a mere "cult of personality." It is in some ways a cult, but not one of personality -- it's a cult of racial healing, of racial transcendence. For many whites, voting for Obama is a kind of appeal to one's better self, and the better self of the country. It is, in a way, a promise. It could even be seen as a kind of prayer." from Gary Kamiya, at Salon.

We have commented on Obama, race, and his "black magic" a number of times on this blog. In some ways, we and others, have been ahead of the curve--and yes, it is gratifying because it validates that we can be some smart, respectable Negroes when we want to.

The thesis that Obama represents racial healing is compelling to many. Why wouldn't a reasonable person support moving past our country's racial divide? Why wouldn't a good and decent person want to see Obama elected, a man who could quite possibly hail a future where race is lessened as a determining factor for our life chances? If we as a country are afflicted with a racial sickness, wouldn't we all want to be healed?

I have to ask, what sort of healing does Obama offer? I still argue, and will continue to do so, that Obama is popular precisely because of the particular "type" of "black" candidate he is. Obama is the child of immigrants and is not heir to that nasty lineage of slavery, white racism, and racial violence which animates the anxiety (and guilt) many white Americans feel about racism. Simply stated, to them, Obama isn't one of those "angry" blacks who will "play the race card" (note: isn't that one of the most imprecise and moronic phrases to enter our language in recent memory? It is almost as bad as "reverse racism" as a turn of speech best delegated to the trash bin of the English language).

Obama, the mixed race, black man (who to his credit self identifies as African-American) is to many observers the literal embodiment of racial reconciliation--the product of "black" and "white" love. He is a magical fetish of sorts, a healer who washes away pain. Maybe, Obama will induce a moment of racial transcendence akin to a religious revelation of sorts where the "gifted" speak in tongues:

If Obama is elected he points to an opportunity to heal wounds--not because we as a country will have one more occasion to have some very difficult conversations about race, power, and justice (The Civil Rights Era representing one such moment), but instead because we will be able to forget. Perhaps for some, this "Racial Alzheimer's" will be a path to healing:

I am one of those difficult respectable negroes who is still caught up in remembering. As I have said previously, I hold no positive anticipation towards a post-racial future. Why? because a post-racial future is one where the foundation of the house is rotten, where "we" move forward, not because we as a country have confronted the present, past, and future consequences of this house that race has built, but because we have in an ironic fashion chosen to continue forward with our case of national amnesia.

There are lots of good reasons to vote for Obama. There are lots of good reasons for white people to vote for Obama. But, the very premise that a white vote for Obama equals a moment of good feeling, of racial catharsis, of racial healing, is so distasteful and troubling not because of its truth, but rather because a "racial" vote for Obama is (to my taste at least), too close to being an elixir-like moment, a halcyon induced daze that does not engage some painful truths about race and society:

I am a grumpy respectable negro and I ask hard questions:

For example, if Obama held the same policy positions and were not black would you vote for him? If not, why? When in the privacy of your own thoughts, what category of "black" person is he assigned to? Is he one of those "nice" ones, or is Obama one of those "angry ones? How would you respond if Obama supported reparations? What would your response be if Obama wanted to reform the prison industrial complex? Would you be nervous and full of angst if Obama wanted to expand affirmative action? What if Obama pledged to use the force of the State to challenge the type of conservative colorblindness which has made it all but impossible to integrate public schools, universities, and colleges? What if Obama stated without fear or qualification that the United States still owed an unpaid debt to its black citizens? How would you feel then?

Don't be afraid to ask these difficult questions, because asking doesn't make you a bad person, it just makes you an honest one.


The Roving Reporter said...

This is great! You took the words right out of my mouth.

I would love to see the responses.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

thanks, I know I am not the only one thinking about Obama this way--share this post with some like minded friends and see if it merits a response. Who knows? But, it seems the cat, or Obamamania has gotten folks's tongues! Or maybe it is Obamafatigue?

Let's see how they chime in over the next few days.

Chauncey Devega

Anonymous said...

while your article is good,and spot on about the "colorblind" religion that many white liberals worship, I feel a large part of Obama's success is white people's hatred of the President Clinton years, and by extension, Hillary. I've heard alot of white people say that if Hill is nominated, they would vote for McCain.