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Maybe He’s Not Black Enough.

October 3, 2007

Maybe He’s Not Black Enough

By Thought Merchant 

One thing that is evidently clear from the recent fundraising decrease of Obama is that he has been loosing the debates. Honestly, he’s been losing them badly. Now from the title of this post many will say its unfair of me to question Obama’s racial authenticity. My point in doing so stems from  acknowledging a certain tradition among African American leaders—they usually can handle a verbal jousting with finesse.

Its well known that within the oratorical tradition of African Americans, the ability to think on ones ones feet has been  considered a prerequisite to moving the crowd, or getting your “hustle on.” From players to pimps and preachers to politicians, the gift of gab is something that has always been an asset to members of the Black Community. That being said, why is “Brotha Barack” coming up short when it comes to these debates?

Compare Obama to past African American presidential contenders, and his verbal jousting skills seem pathetic. Jesse Jackson in the 1988 Democratic race had oratory style and flair. Al Sharpton in 2004 handled himself in the debates with aplomb. Even Alan Keyes handles his Republican peers more adeptly than Obama handles Democrats. Then what is the problem? Honestly, Obama has no excuse.

Barack Obama graduated with high honors from Harvard Law School and was editor of their Law Review. He worked as a Civil Rights attorney and taught Constitutional Law. Debates of any type should be a breeze for Obama. Yet he flounders with “umms” and “uhs” like a rank amateur. My point is this: with all that fancy education Barack Obama has, he cannot muster the traditional oratorical style of great African Americans speakers of the past. Frankly, he can’t even muster the talents of good African American speakers of the past. At least not when it counts, which is clearly in these debates. Why? Maybe its because Obama has always been divorced from these traditions within the Black Community.

It is this lack of ability to be vocally inspirational in these debates that has caused Barack to loose support amongst Democrats. And it is Obama’s inability to meet the high standards of African American oratorical tradition that has denied him full support within the Black Community in the first place. So when it comes to his ability to rock the microphone–Obama clearly has not been Black enough.  

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. B. Lake permalink
    October 3, 2007 10:59 am

    This is pure speculation, in regard to his gift of the gab. That flair, that Jesse Jackson possesses and how Al Sharpton may have handled himself, could be some of the leading causes why they lost their elections. Gift of the gab has nothing to do with African Americans; it’s a matter of personality, environments, education, and much more. There are plenty of individuals from different cultures that possess that skill. So, to question his ethnicity is a flaw. I personally feel what he discusses in his debates hits home to our African American culture. Furthermore, for him to come this far in the race, he deserves nothing but support from African Americans. When will we unite? We now have another opportunity to make this country better and I for one feel that now is the time.

  2. gpo permalink
    October 3, 2007 1:42 pm

    I have to agree with B. Lake. I could not have put it better. A co-worker and I debated the article this morning and in the end we both saw eye to eye.

  3. august permalink
    October 4, 2007 12:44 am

    why not criticize the white candidates too along with obama? How disappointing!

  4. October 4, 2007 12:52 am

    I think this is unfair. I think it’s unfair because I believe Obama is trying to speech the message across boundaries. I believe that he was weak in the earlier debates, but has gotten stronger with every one that has come up, and I cheer on his progress.

    Every month that he stays in the game. Every month that passes and he’s still there, and he’s campaigning, is something that Black folk should step back and go ‘ Wow’. I know it impresses me, because the NERVE of a Black man to run for President has to be off the charts. Not that he isn’t qualified, he is. That ‘ experience’ mess is something they create FOR US, and if he had served 20 years in the Senate, they’d come up with yet ANOTHER excuse as to why it ‘ isn’t his time’.

    I’ve become more convinced, as this campaign has gone on, that THIS is the time. Is it the perfect time? No. But, I’ve been Black long enough in America to know that we NEVER get ‘ The Perfect Time’ – that’s a delusion that’s reserved for White Folk. We get the ‘ maybe it’s not the most horrible moment in time in the world for me’ time. Plain and simple. But, we take our shots when given, do our very best and push forward.

    Hillary Clinton does NOT have more ‘ experience’ than Barack Obama. If you count her time as First Lady, then where do I sign up for the Laura Bush for Governor of Texas Committee, because Laura Bush now has as much ‘ experience’ as Hillary did when she ran for The Senate.

    Why don’t you go over to the Think On These Things blog. Read some of Obama’s speeches. Nobody else out there is putting out these kinds of ideas, and he’s finally bringing his ‘ A’ game.

  5. October 4, 2007 8:08 am

    I knew I was going to tack some flack for this post.

    August: I concentrated on Obama because as a person of color I initially had great hope for his candidacy. But his performance at these debates is something I’m finding unforgivable. The debates are a place he cannot afford to be weak in. In fact he has to excel. Its the old piece of advice parents used to give to African American kids–“You have to be twice as good.” When it comes to the debates Obama is acting like he never got that advice.

    Rikyrah: I agree that in other speaking formats Obama has been impressive but frankly, he is not blowing away members of the Black community and the debates give him a media focal point that he is simply squandering. People may not watch or read one of his policy speaches, but they will watch the debates.

  6. October 4, 2007 5:43 pm

    appreciate the comment on my blog but am disappointed you used to to pimp yet another story questioning obama’s blackness. you make it sound like al sharpton WON the debates because he’s a verbal hustla. You’re missing a few things.

    Sharpton was MERE entertainment and all he WON was more media exposure for himself. Black people are not better off because of it. America is not better off because of it. Is that the black tradition you miss?

    You want Obama to perm his hair and jump on EVERY single civil right case that can get him on TV? You want him to drop a freestyle RAP for you? Sharpton was a joke. Yes he often raised good points, but his candidacy had NO impact. He is not the president and NEVER EVER will be despite his considerable gift of gab. Sharpton is not turning out record people of ALL RACES at his rallies. Sharpton is not breaking fundraising records every filing period with ever more donors.

    Sharpton and Jackson are both REVERENDS from the tradition of the black church. They have whatever oratorical skills in their possession because of this, not because of their melanin count. Are you now demanding that Obama become a black minister, go back in time and march with King and get sprayed with fire hoses?

    How can you focus so narrowly on one simplistic attribute – debate performance – and use that to judge both the blackness and presidentialness of Obama? I think you have to take in a much broader picture and clarify what you’re looking for.

    If you want a PRESIDENT, you need to look at policy positions, support, legislative record, intelligence and judgement, community work, fundraising and ability to be taken SERIOUSLY and inspire others.

    You also make some sweeping generalizations about black leadership and oratorical skills based on a meaningless sample size of TWO. You’re passing judgment on Obama’s blackness and presidentialness based on Sharpton and Jackson as if they are the only black leaders in the world.

    Your inclusion of Alan Keyes has GOT to be a joke. That man has no oratorical skills in any quantity matching his volume and shrillness.

    The sad part is I agree with you that Obama hasn’t been nearly as smooth as he could have been. There are too many ums and uhhhs. The difference is that I concluded he might have been nervous or in need of more practice in that format whereas you concluded he’s not black. Think on that.

    I am so disappointed by the title of your post and much, but not all of its substance. I’m not trying to be an asshole btw. But you can’t go flippantly charging people with NOT being black. You set a terrible tone for the rest of us, and place yourself in a position of judgment that none can hold: god of blackness.

    Now, your post on why black folks shouldn’t dig Ron Paul was on point, so you definitely have the analytical chops. Please do more like that and less jumping on a sensational, substance-free subject like how “black” someone is.

  7. October 4, 2007 6:41 pm

    Baratunde:
    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment on my Blog, I appreciate it. In regards to my comment on Obama, I was not trying to insinuate that the traditional call and response style of Oratorical speaking minus substance is all Black folk need to support a candidate. My point is Obama has to excel at BOTH substance and Style, and his style is not catching on with the Black Community. And frankly, its causing him to lose credibility in the overall community as well.

    When I think of the great oratorical tradition in the Black community, Al Sharpton is included. His speach at the 2004 Democratic Convention was by all accounts the best given. We know the brother has problems on other fronts, but the point is his mastery of the African America tradition of public speaking garned him respect among Blacks AND Whites.

    I’m not saying Obama needs to jokingly revert to some caricature of a Black Minister, but their are many other styles within the African American tradition he can draw on–from Malcolm X, to Stolkey Carmichael, from Frederick Douglass to Fannie Lue Hamer, and from Booker T. Washington to Belford V. Lawson there is a tradition among Black public speakers of pusrsuasive strong vocalization. And Obama is not coming close to the mark.

    As a Black attorney with his training, Obama should be able to channel Thurgood Marshall, Johnie Cochran, and Charles Hamilton Houston. But he can’t. Why? I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that he’s not in tune with that tradtion. That may not be required to be a GOOD candidate, but lets be serious…Obama needs to be a GREAT almost FLAWLESS candidate if he thinks he can come close to being president.

    Now I’m not saying that Barak Obama is not qualified for the job, but what I am saying is that he can’t channel the improvosational rhetorical style that has made great Black leaders in the past viable to both Black and White audiences. But maybe Obama doesn’t want to be a great Black leader. Maybe he wants to be a great leader, who happens to be Black.

    But tell me if that is going to give him the support he needs in the primaries against Hillary Clinton, particularly in places like South Carolina. Because Hillary has got African American men LINED UP to help her get as many Black votes that are needed to put her in the White House.

  8. October 4, 2007 11:34 pm

    i see your point TM, especially for Obama’s need to be “flawless.” The curse of black achievement, I suppose. I only wonder if he really did channel some of those great oratorical skills you reference, would he not turn off the very multi-racial following he has? Would he be too black for comfort? Sharpton’s DNC speech WAS amazing, but that’s all he was there for. To give a speech and get off the damn stage. I also seem to remember Obama rockin the DNC mic kinda hard. BTW, I’m sure he doesn’t want to be a black leader, but a leader who happens to be black. I admire that.

    We should extend your questions of black support for Obama to Hillary. Why do black people love her so much? Because she’s married to Bill Clinton. Period. NO ONE has love for Hillary in the Black community I know. She has far weaker oratorical skills than Obama or John Edwards. There is very little to inspire other than the familiar last name and the prospect of the first female president (don’t get me wrong, she’s smart as hell and crafty, but she is not inspiring on the stump).

  9. October 5, 2007 7:04 am

    I think Barack Obama and Newark Mayor Corey Booker were both criticized on this same tip: They are not a part of the preacher-turned-politico generation of the Black political establishment we have now. Essentially Black ministers who lead the organizing of the Civil Rights Movement were elected to public office in the 1970’s and now their ivy-league educated descendants are running for office. They do not have that folksy okie-dokie style we’ve come accustomed to from Black ministers who are the vast majority of black political leadership.

    So I think it is unfair to judge him on those standards. Besides, it’s the same shit that Al Gore was deemed unfit to be President by the press in 2000 because he was too “cerebral” and not the village idiot who was eventually elected (even if the state of Florida was stolen, it should have not even been that close!). Can we judge him on the substance of what he’s saying and not whether he’s good at political spin?

  10. Dawn permalink
    October 5, 2007 7:03 pm

    “His speach at the 2004 Democratic Convention was by all accounts the best given.” Now, this is where you lost me. I defy you to find one person, besides you or members of the National Action Network, to quote one line from Al Sharpton’s speech at the 2004 convention. Senator Obama’s speech was the highlight of the convention! I would love to know how you gauge that Al Sharpton’s speech at the 2004 convention one him respect from Blacks AND Whites alike when Chris Matthews and his panel of ALL whites went into collective redneck meltdown at the mere presence of Al Sharpton on the stage. You’re absolutely right that we are held to higher standard, but to turn around and perpetuate this injustice against another Black person is heartbreaking! Senator Obama’s every word and action is over analyzed while Hillary Clinton gets credit for not taking concrete positions and refusing to answer hypotheticals. Come one, she’s declared the winner of the debate when she refuses to answer a basic question about social security or choose between baseball teams??? What bold initiative is she proposing to improve the lot of African Americans? Ron Dellums claims that he chose to support Hillary Clinton because she had the most progressive urban agenda. Go to her website…she doesn’t even have an urban agenda, only a middle class agenda. Senator Obama, by contrast, has a detailed urban agenda. This gives new meaning to giving credit for nothing. WTF is wrong with us? Are we suffering from some sort of collective ‘driving Miss Daisy’ or Mamie complex?

  11. Phia permalink
    October 6, 2007 10:15 am

    What Blacks are in desperate need of in this country is a representative in the highest office in the land who WILL institute national policy change that will level the playing field for us. I find it interesting that this same blog points to how Bill Clinton’s policies actually HURT poor Blacks (which I’ve been saying for years), and in spite of that Hillary is enjoying a large Black following. A piece that criticized Obama’s poor performances in the debates, and perhaps a credible analysis of how it might cost him the nomination would have been fitting. But to invoke images of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as if to insinuate some standard that Obam should aspire to is counterproductive. Also, as someone who has watched every debate, I find it interesting how you didn’t highlight the many great moments he’s had. It’s not that he doesn’t have the oratorical skills – the problem is he is a metaphorical Scottie Pippen in the debates; sometimes he shows up ready to win, and other times he’s u there like a dead fish. He must show up to win everytime and stay consistent to have a shot at winning this nomination. On the flip side, I’m not sure if Jesse or Al (or any other Black candidate for that matter) would have the gumption to run against the Hillary machine, and still stand a chance! This should be celebrated…

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