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Not Black, just black. January 27, 2008

Posted by Lindsay in Criticism, History, Media, News, Philosophy, Politics, Race.
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Obama’s South Carolina win and acceptance speech convincingly rebuked the “black candidate” perception that he has. But when listening to the speech, we must keep in mind how ridiculous the debate has become. The false dichotomy of “the black candidate versus the candidate who happens to be black” is merely a euphemism for the ignorant ideas they connote, that is, “candidate influenced by and committed to the ‘negative’ aspects of black culture versus the candidate who is black but is more influenced by white culture.” Depending on your point of view, what exactly those elements of black culture that are negative differ.

One reason why Obama may be courting so many conservatives is that he does not call to mind the image of someone such as a Jesse Jackson, who speaks with a more African-American Vernacular English-influenced accent, which can affect others’ perceptions even when the speaker’s voice is informed by proper American English. Obama does not seem like an ‘affirmative action’ candidate. The fact that critics say he is not “black” enough may even be helping his campaign with supporters across the aisle. The Jesse Jackson-Al Sharpton effect may very well be the black liberal version of the Klan Effect.

The absurd notion that one even needs to make a distinction between a black candidate and a candidate who happens to be black is unfortunately very prevalent right now. I applaud Obama’s speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Day, in which he called for black leaders to address homophobia, anti-intellectualism, and other such hindrances which, while certainly not exclusive to the black community, certainly does find warm pockets to settle in. Such a speech, which was discussed in the media, could have been lambasted as a form of “airing our dirty laundry,” a criticism that comes from blacks who want Obama to be a black candidate. Any black who defends his speech runs the risk of being added to the (excuse the pun) Uncle Tom blacklist. It is as if anytime a black person discusses blackness within earshot of a white person, he becomes a traitor. On the other hand, if criticism of Obama’s speech at Ebenezer has not been as vocal as criticism of his other stances, then it seems like all you have to do to avoid the charge of “airing dirty laundry” is make sure you make your speech before a predominantly black audience. It’s no matter that there is a camera on him, and any internet user of any race can see it on YouTube: it’s okay, apparently, as long as most of the people in the shot behind him are black.

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