In keeping with my recent track record, my vote is up for grabs. Either party. I’m just waiting for someone to convince me to vote for them. Honestly, is the most interesting part of the electoral process how we treat the election like a horse race? Since politics as entertainment is a blog for another day, several horses have announced their entry into the fray, but I’m particularly intrigued by the excitement Barack Obama has generated.

As a writer, I’m all about storylines and right now, the most interesting storyline so far in the race is Obama. Sure, one of the reasons why he has gotten so much attention is because he’s black. Not just black, but a popular candidate with a real shot at getting the nomination. There are many things that have been covered with respect to Obama, from the trivial (he’s handsome, he SMOKES!) to more relevant discussions (his experience, a conversation that ought to subside considering Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s bid). However, it is the question of his ontological blackness that intrigues me.

He didn’t come up through the civil rights political machine, which means there are those who question his “commitment to the cause” (the usual suspects being those who want to hold him at a distance while still reserving a dinner spot at the power table in case he wins).

“Black,” in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics. At a minimum, it can’t be assumed that a Nigerian cabdriver and a third-generation Harlemite have more in common than the fact a cop won’t bother to make the distinction. They’re both “black” as a matter of skin color and DNA, but only the Harlemite, for better or worse, is politically and culturally black, as we use the term.

I get what the writer is saying, though I whole-heartedly disagree with her final assessment. Building on her semi-point, a race of people could be defined as a people with a shared story, that is, experience, heritage, culture (insofar as it goes deeper than appreciating the aesthetics), and most importantly, history. History is the story of individuals coming together. Authentic blackness is about personal responsibility, pride and a sense of history and community. It means staying true to yourself, your faith, your life and constantly seeking the truth. This whole “blacker than thou”/”I’m I black enough for you” game is utter foolishness. It buys into the racist construct of race in the first place, and smacks of the days of classifying black people by the amount of black blood that they had (octaroon, quadroon, etc.). Plus, it ignores the fact that Obama self-identifies as black.

On the flip side, while he’s not black enough for some, you can tell he’s “black enough” for others. I’m a strong believer in the fact that words mean things and how words can shape us. All of the talk I’m hearing (while trying to ignore the air of surprise when he’s described) about how “clean” and “articulate” Obama is reminds me of Chris Rock’s routine describing General Colin Powell as “so well-spoken.” Translated, white people, this is your cue that he’s alright to vote for. You want to find out how black someone is, if the “clean” and “well-spoken” talk doesn’t clue you in, then apply the Klan test: you can be as articulate as you want from the end of their rope.

Though, I’m already on record believing that a black male will be president of this country before a woman of any color.

My hopes for Obama are high, and it’s not because of the “black thing.” It’s because he communicates hope. We live in a cynical age, a time of particular distrust of our president and government. One of the most important, and under-appreciated, roles of the presidency is to be our national cheerleader. The best two, of recent memory, at speaking to the people were Presidents Reagan and Clinton. Obama is under the microscope, the anal examination that comes with increased media scrutiny, his every word parsed, speech dissected, and gesture analyzed. He may be young to public life, but the process will mature him quickly. Maybe Obama is too “racially transcendent” for some, but maybe that’s exactly what this country needs right now.

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