BY BRANDO STARKEY
Debra Dickerson, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1995, was one of the first, if not the first, to claim that Barack Obama was not black. Her argument, featured in her Salon.com article, hinged on his ancestry. To be black, she opined, one must be a descendant of West Africans brought to America as slaves.
Obama, the product of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, does not share this genealogy. This makes the status of being black out of his grasp. She allows that he is African-American but black, he cannot claim.
Because he is not a progeny of American slavery, Dickerson argues that when whites look at him, they are not reminded of the peculiar institution. He is a successful black man and he is in no way connected to America’s great stain. Obama does not make them feel guilty. And as Dickerson points out, white folks love them some Obama.
This gatekeeper of blackness might know what she’s talking about when it comes to the Caucasian mind. Her white husband has undoubtedly given her a lot of insight. I know if I was down with the swirl like that I would know the white psyche too.
It’s true. White folks are diggin’ Obama. They have a non-sexual Jungle Fever for him. Hell, that Obama-girl was practically orgasming while singing her lame song about the junior Senator from Illinois. Surprisingly, white folks didn’t say anything. White girl open about her love for a black man and she’s on “Hardball” and not in the hospital. That’s progress.
The Wall Street Journal featured a quote from a white man from Iowa who said that because Obama was black he might change things in this country. Being black is an attribute? Since when? It’s like if all of the black people left the country, whites would make Obama stay and deliver the send off speech. They love him. But in all seriousness, it’s interesting to see how Obama has a realistic chance of being the nominee for a major political party, let alone President.
The title of this article is taken from a 1967 New York Times column entitled, “Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?” That column was written by a black person who had distaste for Poitier – a sentiment that was then growing in the black community. Poitier writes in his autobiography, The Measure of a Man, that he was castigated “for playing roles that were nonthreatening to white audiences.” That sounds familiar.
Although Dickerson says that Obama can’t claim to be black, she has an overall positive opinion of him. Moreover, I have not heard blacks lambasting Obama aside from a few jealous Negroes during one of Tavis Smiley’s panel discussions on black America which he seems to have every weekend. Seriously, that man is running out of venues. He’s going to start having them in Waffle Houses.
The dynamic Obama embodies is, consequently, new. He is liked by both blacks and whites. Some might point to the fact that Obama is not winning the black vote in polls. Hillary Clinton is. I believe that has to do with blacks pessimistically believing that he cannot win. Even if that’s not true, there surely is no antipathy towards him in the black community.
But the question still remains. What is Obama’s appeal? Dickerson’s explanation is specious. It is not his genealogy. Whites aren’t thinking that deeply. Whites love Obama because he’s non- confrontational. He seems like the black guy you could say the n-word around and he would respond by explaining the term’s history and why it’s offensive. He wouldn’t knock your lights out. And, although he has similar policy positions to, say, Jesse Jackson, he doesn’t antagonize white people and rub their noses in their long history of perpetrating racism; that’s my job. His “Let’s Come Together” shtick is endearing. He’s the one black man who a white father wouldn’t mind marrying his white daughter. He’s Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Obama is not like the others. I like him. Since he wants to be President, he has to be that way. I do not, therefore, criticize him for it. Nor could I countenance his vilification. But this fact is obvious and so it has to be said.
Others may disagree. But whatever Obama has going for him, he needs to bottle and sell. I’m sure Al Sharpton would be the first in line if he doesn’t have a hair appointment. The perm comes first. Until then, we will just have to sit back and wonder: “Why does white America love Barack Obama so?”
Brando Simeo Starkey is a 3L.