Just about the only interesting thing to come out of last week’s Democratic convention was the spotlight on Barack Obama, the 42-year-old African-American senatorial candidate from Illinois. Obama’s speech eschewed the usual whining and racially divisive rhetoric of the self-appointed leaders of America’s blacks such as Al Sharpton. Obama spoke quietly and with unabashed enthusiasm about family, faith, and hard work instead of the usual government handouts and affirmative action. He’s my favorite Democrat right now.
Unemployed editor/Washington Post Style section columnist Tina Brown also waxes enthusiastic about Obama today. Most of Tina’s column this week is the usual unreadable string of non sequiturs so characteristic of Tina, but she manages to toss a few sharp observations like raisins into the porridge of her ramble:
“[Obama] had the unexpected effect of making smiley John Edwards, the media darling before the convention, seem too class-bound and, well, paleo-American. If Obama is not from outer space he is someone who confounds stereotypes, frustrates attempts to pigeonhole him and yet shows the way to the future….
“What remains haunting about the Obama moment is not just the birth of a political star. Or even of the thrill of hearing the man of no category talk about the need for America to reject the bitter politics of category. It was the fact that his charisma meant he was listened to rather than simply heard. His speech was a reminder of how great it is to hear a passionate new voice speaking at length about the things he believes, without cliches or gimmicks or smart-mouthed contemptuousness.”
OK, you’re forgiven, Tina–until next week.
Much more engaging is Vanessa Williams’ Post op-ed piece about Obama, who’s being criticized in some quarters, such as the New York Times, for not being a real African-American because he didn’t grow up in an inner-city ghetto. Barack’s father is Nigerian, his mother is a white Kansan, and he was raised in Hawaii. The Times’s Scott L. Malcolmson complained that Obama “did not…sound the familiar notes of African-American politics.” Malcolmson added: mistaken about his own identity. “[W]hile he is black, he is not the direct product of generations of black life in America: he is not black in the usual way.”
Williams had a sharp riposte to that: “I wonder: Is there a ‘usual way’ to be white?…
“In presenting Obama as some new template for black success, Malcomson offered an analysis as shallow as the one sometimes spouted by discouraged black teenagers (and roundly criticized by the black middle class): that to embrace the values and behaviors that lead to achievement is to ‘act white.’ Worse, his reasoning as to why white voters find Obama attractive is reminiscent of color biases many thought had long been retired: that society favors those black people with particular bloodlines, schooling and mannerisms, while seeing the lot of black Americans through almost-cartoonish generalizations from the dark days of Reconstruction and Jim Crow….
“The…byproduct of the media’s inadequate coverage of African Americans is its creation of ’black leaders,’ who are called upon to speak for all black people, regardless of the subject. In many instances these spokesmen are simply the nearest, loudest and glibbest people. Some of these quote machines have been speaking for ‘the black community’ for decades, sounding like broken records on a tinny Victrola. Is it too difficult or time-consuming for journalists to go out and find black parents, wage earners and professionals who can speak for themselves?
“Although Malcomson attempted to depict Obama as a brother from another planet, his life story does not seem all that alien to many black people. Obama’s racial makeup is not all that unusual; many — perhaps most — black Americans have some ‘other’ blood running through their veins. Like Obama, scores of middle-class black professionals have mastered the art of peacefully coexisting with — and excelling among — whites.”
Williamson’s piece is a must-read.