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Barack Obama:The Politics of Racial Kinship

July 14, 2009


By Thought Merchant

According to Gallup Polls, at the end of his 100 day mark in office Barack Obama held a 96% approval rating among Blacks while only holding 57% approval among Whites. Without doubt being the first African American President inures Obama with a great deal of pride and admiration from the Black community. The sense of accomplishment was palpable on Obama’s inauguration day as thousands of Americans journeyed to Washington, DC to witness him taking the oath of office first hand. But for African Americans, the journey to the Washington mall had a particular significance. A little over 40 years earlier Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated and many questioned the future of the Civil Rights agenda Dr. King fought so hard to have turned into policy. Many in the Black Community saw Barack Obama’s election as the fulfillment of that Civil Rights agenda. To those African Americans Barack Obama’s election as President was the embodiment of the centuries old struggle to gain acceptance in a society that often treated them as less than full citizens. But is it possible that those same sentiments may obstruct Blacks from being able to objectively critique Obama out of a sense of racial loyalty? Does the sense of racial pride and appreciation for the singularity of Obama’s accomplishment make him De facto off limits to Blacks who neither approve of his policies nor see him as the byproduct of years of Civil Rights Struggle. What of those actions Obama takes that may have an adverse affect on the Black community or the African Diaspora? Will racial loyalties cause people of color–particularly those in the media–to give Obama a pass out of fear of alienating Blacks who feel a vested interest in the success of his presidency?

Furthermore, some African Americans were offended by Obama’s attempts to seem “beyond race” or “race transcendent.” They argued that for Obama to market his candidacy as an attempt to move beyond America’s past racial acrimony both mitigated the role race played in the lives of Blacks today and allowed Obama to cynically use support for his candidacy as a cure for White guilt in order to increase support in that community.

Fundamentally, at the core of these issues lie the following questions: How does Barack Obama ‘s position as the first African American president affect the Black community in both policy and perception. Moreover, does Obama’s position as an African American give him a particular political capital in dealing with issues of race that escaped prior U.S. Presidents. Also, will Obama’s success as an American President hinge on him fostering an image of extreme race neutrality that diminishes any perception of favoritism in the eyes of Whites, while in fact being seen as offensive to Black sensibilities and African Americans.

These questions, as well as others, will be asked on this Blog as as we begin this series: Barack Obama:The Politics of Racial Kinship. The series will attempt to gauge how Obama uses the political capital he maintains with the Black Community to his advantage in his attempts to further his policy agenda, while observing how it affects his overall attempt to guide this nation through one of its most difficult economic transitions. Hopefully you keep reading this Blog as this series progresses.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2009 7:19 pm

    You have asked a lot of questions here.

    “But is it possible that those same sentiments may obstruct Blacks from being able to objectively critique Obama out of a sense of racial loyalty?”

    I think the best way to answer this question is to decipher or make a distinction between which Blacks voted for Obama simply because he was Black to begin with and those who did not. Are they (those whose decision was based on race) even political?

    It’s unfortunate that many of us were not familiar with his political agenda, yet voted for him based on some type of mythological hope that his Blackness would somehow change the racial scope of America. It is also unfortunate that Blackness is all that many Black people understand. It is just as unfortunate that many years of racial discrimination has caused this.

    Emotionalism is a disease and the use of it in the minds of Blacks was critical in the election. The Rev. Wright issue was fuel to the fire. When one really begins to examine the political aptitude of those who have lived in a “pre-post racial” America, we can find the reasoning behind our (some Blacks) lack of patriotism and begin to dissect why this racial allegiance takes place. But it is so much deeper than that.

    Now that Obama has put himself in a place where others can come behind him, more of us will begin to think critically about what it really means to be in this position of prestige, what it really means to be American and what role we have to play in order to control our own free will by sustaining our communities through participating actively in the all areas of the legalities…something that many White people have understood for many years. America has always been there’s in a sense but has always been a place of discomfort for many of us.

    Calling out Black people to be racially impartial (who aren’t already) to other Blacks would bring to light those who still seek to play the role of victim and is in the end too logical for most of us to comprehend.

    • July 14, 2009 7:46 pm

      Appreciate your commentary as usual. Many have argued that the Black Community works from a position of emotion when it comes to its political allegiances. I contend that Obama as a candidate was well aware of that and used language and symbolism of racial kinship in times to gain acceptance in the Black community, but would use rhetoric of self sufficiency and “accountability” to the chagrin of Blacks when it was politically expedient to his goals of growing white support. I will investigate that phenomenon in this series. I will refer to it as Obama’s racial realpolitik.

      The Series will sometimes even go back to his 2008 campaign to show how then candidate Obama used race as a double edged sword to further his political ends. I hope it makes good reading. Please come back often and pass the link to the blog to the peeps in the Afro-spear.

      One Love
      Thought Merchant

  2. July 14, 2009 9:11 pm

    Good stuff…

    Bear with me as I overly generalize. In my mind’s eye, I see a spectrum with three major segments on this spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is the “Lovers” segment which has not been politically active, and largely (some might argue blindly) support Obama because of racial identity. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “Haters” segment who oppose him at ever turn in order to prove that they are unafraid to criticize an African-American President (think Ron Christie and his ilk). And in the middle of the spectrum, the (“I Like you, but I’ve been hurt before” segment, who while proud that a qualified African-American was elected President, are perfectly able to criticize him when they feel that it is warranted. My hope is that this segment is the largest of the three that I described, but I can not quantify this.

    On the surface, it is probably easy to say that the “Lovers” are the largest of the three groups. However, I think back to the loyal African-American supporters for Hilary Clinton during the primary season – some of which were openly negative towards Obama (at least during that phase). My belief is that a significant proportion of the African-American supporters of Hilary Clinton, now probably reside in the “I like you, but…” segment.

    Looking at this topic from a different perspective, your initial premise could be applied to any racial, ethnic or religious group that saw a member of its group elected to the Presidency for the first time. That is with the exception of the WASPs, who have had a vice grip on the Presidency. And since, for WASPs, the experience is not new, they can more easily focus on evaluating the President based on his accomplishments – rather than the excitement and newness of the experience. I imagine that a percentage of Catholics blindly supported JFK largely because they were enamored with the fact that we had our first Catholic president.

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