Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack, do you reject *and* denounce black people?

So Barack, do you reject *and* denounce black people?

This whole dust-up is really whites asking Obama to reassure them that black people aren't mad about racism anymore or at least that the ones who are are 'outside the mainstream.' It's Obama being cornered at the water cooler and being pressured to say he's not like 'the others' so everybody can go back to pretending race is not their issue with which to grapple.

I'll be watching because never before has a black man attempted this maneuver so publicly. But don't get it twisted, black people working in white America walk this tightrope everyday. At the lunch table, when someone makes a rude comment...when Imus makes a joke about black women...when OJ's name is invoked...

Black people in close proximity to white people are inveighed to reject unconcentrated, problematic 'blackness'- the kind that makes whites break out in a cold sweat...

Usually, of course, this ritual is writ small. The response required is a head nod or a chuckle signaling all that this black person takes no offense at the past and ongoing wrongs that might wound those other black people. The insinuation, of course, is not just that 'they' have no right to be wounded and to consequently cry out in pain and rage. 'They' are at it again...whining, crying, complaining about indignities, slaps, and blows that could easily be made inconsequential. Not by redress, but by 'their' silence...if they would only shut up...and go away. You, Representative Black Person, isn't that right? Couldn't all these problems be solved if 'they' would just stop their wailing and moaning? Notwithstanding that 'they' are our siblings, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, acquiantances, mere familiar faces...I don't know a black person who hasn't been asked to reject them as the cost for admission to what so many legion were unjustly denied.

In the script, we- as Representative Black People- are supposed to enthusiastically, even stridently, reject black pain and rage. We then must assure that, in fact, we've never even experienced the malady. But what usually happens instead is that, in lieu of reciting our lines as written, we stand quietly and the whites present en scene go on with their dialogue as if we had delivered an Oscar-worthy performance. Some dunderheaded black people do go so far as to actually say their lines. They are celebrated by white folks in myriad ways, their names held aloft for other black folks to venerate...Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Condoleezza Rice...They will reenact their monologues at small cocktail parties and large convention halls with little provocation.

Make no mistake, tonight Barack Obama is being given the opportunity to be similarly laureled. But Barack is much smarter than the aforementioned. To date, even other black people have underestimated his ability to avoid passionately delivering the Oath. He has managed thus far to get by with the head nod. Not too long ago though, Hilary Clinton upped the ante. On behalf of white folks at water coolers everywhere, she indicated they would not be accepting the usual tacit compromise. She wanted to hear the words. Maniacally she demanded, "Say it. Say it, Barack." And Barack subversively said the words while making Hillary's command for the performance transparent. "Is this what you want me to say? That I reject and denounce black rage. OK, if it makes you feel better. Hand that script to me and I'll read it, but this is a very strange request you are making." And that was the rhetorical tongue in cheek, because we all knew that strange request is made all the time, even as I type...

So white folks have regrouped. Come back with something stronger for Barack's ass. "Boy....I mean Barack...everyone of you smart Negroes done figured out you need to sidestep Jesse and Reverend Al...(it was that SNL carton that really got white folks all steamed)...and now you don't even blink when we ask you to answer for Farrakhan? Well, we gonna have to come back with a real switch for that ass..." And that switch is Jeremiah Wright. A black man that most white people have never even heard of, but we'll give them a clip so they will quickly understand that we are asking you to turn on one of your own, one that you know, one real close to you, one that has done nothing but love and clean up after the wounded flesh racism has left behind on the Southside of Chicago. "We want you to spit on him in front of everybody. We're going to dress him up in rags, push him out, and make you-- in front of everybody--finish him off."

Make no mistake, that is the spectacle that is expected when Barack Obama makes a speech addressing the comments and his connection to Reverend Jeremiah Wright. At least as white folks see it. And to some measure that is the mise-en-scene...

But for black folks, the drama is different for Barack. He is Denzel standing in Glory...waiting for the lash...

Denzel Washington got the Oscar for that tear. That tear that for some signalled submission, but for those of us in the know, from that same womb, was a tear of defiance...

So today, I am filled with anxiety...but still hopeful. So far, Obama has shown himself to be more consummate than any of could ever have hoped. But I feel like I am sitting beneath the biggest circus tent ever, waiting to see Barack Obama be fired out of a cannon or to attempt a quadruple trapeze somersault without a net below. And I have always HATED the circus. HATED the circus. I want him to pull this off so badly and I am ashamed that I am even a little afraid for him, afraid that even that twinge of fear is a little betrayal of my confidence in his abilities.

I am also filled with respect, because I have never attempted to push myself the way Barack Obama has pushed himself. Perversely, where he finds himself today is an awesome testimony to his ambition, his courage. To me, whatever happens after this, he is like Thurgood Marshall, like Malcolm X, like Ida Wells Barnett, like W.E.B. DuBois, like Martin Luther King, Jr, like Shirley Chisholm...because he has stepped into the full awesomeness of his own possibility and not been diminished by the limitations society all too often successfully imposes on blackness, and black people. That he is even tested this way, is testimony to how far he has come.

Those heroes were amazing because they dared live in the beautiful complexity of their humanity while black. **I'll leave that for you to chew on and come back to it another day. Because there is no such thing as a Magical Black Leader who lives life to the fullest and speaks truth to power because they are so ethereal and preternatural. We all are Magical, if we dare to conjure.**

But I digressed, this speech that Barack Obama is so awesomely game to give in Philadelphia tonight, directly addressing his relationship to Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an attempt to force him to either betray his African American base by publicly rejecting an elder and losing face or to lose the delicate, fragile, spider-web fine support he has woven together from white people. Either outcome is fine with Hillary Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Geraldine Ferraro, and every other angry white person that Barack Obama has Matrix-moved around so far. I don't care what he says. I understand what this is all about. All those years wasted on postmodern, psychoanalytic theory. This is a mimetic moment. This is metaphor. This is spectacle. This is the Panopticon.

Obama, gird yourself for your moment in the arena. I only wish there were more of us who had been where you are going so that someone could tell you what to say. Because tonight, make no mistake, you are going where no black person has gone before. If you vanquish tonight, there is no mistaking that you are the baddest black man alive. If you vanquish tonight, you will have proven that, like Neo, you in fact are the one who can do it where and how none of us has had the opportunity to do it before.

**Thank you, Anna, for the link to the transcript of Obama's comments. Hopefully, there will be a video clip soon.**

2 comments:

muslimahlocs said...

i was anxious about the speech too, for him and for us. i suppose that it's like that anxiousness that morgan freeman felt watching denzel step up to the whipping block in your glory analogy. we have all shed that tear and i still have many of those tears inside of me.

barack confounds them because he refuses to embrace the "we sick" mentality. maybe toni morrison (?) was wrong...maybe the master's house can be dismantled with his own tools.

Bygbaby said...

"But for black folks, the drama is different for Barack. He is Denzel standing in Glory...waiting for the lash..." Damn your whole post could have been this. Very strong & lovely connection!!!

Bygbaby