Before election day many said (Glenn Loury surmises the sentiment in the link at the bottom) that for Black Americans, there was a lot more riding on a Obama victory than merely his re-election for a 2nd term. Ironically the fear wasn’t about some particular policy or proposed policy; or governance. The idea is that it would have been a psychological and emotional hit for Black Americans. An– if he fails, we all fail sort of thing. I dismissed it at first but then after reflecting and seeing the fervor leading up to the election, I thought there might be some legitimacy to that fear. Now whether it was wide-spread or whether in a weeks time the lost is shaken off, who knows; and thankfully we’ll never know. But I came to realize what the Obama family, that image above, represents. It’s Black America’s Camelot or rather Black American women’s Camelot. And don’t be fooled by brother-preacher, the women are the thought police in Black churches, schools and pretty much everything in the traditional “Black community”.
To explain my premise, I’ll back up. During the early part of Obama’s run against the Clinton machine, Black American women favored Hillary at around 68%; clearly going with the girl power angle. But there’s always a hedge.
Like (and I’ve actually seen this) girl power and air kisses with our White sisters until she’s with her Black male partner and she’s “the white girl” or the extreme,”White bitch”. Or girl power one moment, then White women are taking our men, brother’s you should support your sistas. Mention supporting the brothas and watch the eye-rolls, body language and grumbling (ala Sherri Shepherd, swinging her hands around in the air, during a volatile segment of an ABC’s nightline special, (yes of all the issues, fucking special!) saying, “I don’t have time to validate you every day!”) because they see any and all gender roles as an insult to their feminine independence. Yet many brothas still can’t seem to find their voices of sovereignty even in the face of this glaring set up (of course until it’s time to impress the ladies by chastising other men). If you see a Black man being slapped on his head by Black women or Tavis always saying, “my momma’s watching”-those kind of cats. Anyway, friendships that develop organically are always real, but the girl-bound is phony or at the very least the hedge is always in play, but I digress.
Anyway, a friend was a little concerned about the polls numbers (68% women and a 42-46 split among men) but I reassured him saying, “they’re front-runners, they’ll fall in line”.
After Iowa and New Hampshire something happened-you could feel momentum building for Obama. This is when that 68% begin to fade. Now I don’t know if there’s an official poll that showed this but in blogs, online magazines, etc. you could see the rhetoric shifting. They were looking for an entrance, but had reservations about betraying the girls club. So I posit that the vehicle they used was Michelle Obama. If we isolate racially, yet still as a group of women, we’re not really betraying the girls club. Again, the hedge. You started to see the shift in sentiment, in blogs, comment sections, The Root and other online magazines where Black American’s frequent; about how Michelle “made”, “mentored”, “guided & showed” Barack the ropes. In other words she (Michelle) was responsible. It’s as if Barack was just stumbling around thinking, “oh lord just what am I going to do with this Harvard degree and Law review President on my resume”.
You have to understand, Obama grew up with a White mother and grand-mother, so there was no big momma narrative (Tyler Perry plays brilliantly on this theme), and there just had to be some roll a Black female played in Obama ascendency. It’s just difficult to give it up to a Black men without a woman being at the center.
Now this Michelle as vehicle angel was totally logical, especially when you took a closer look at Michelle, she quickly became as impressive as Barack. There’s a grace and ease with which she handles the role as 1st lady, when you know there’s much much more to her than that role. There’s no doubt she’s the real deal and I don’t begrudge Black American women from being proud.
But another observation the need to find an entrance is that it couldn’t be done on just the man, the stand alone person, on GP, without seeing themselves in him. In fact there was, as always the bully faction, who actually opined that, “She’s (Michelle) is representing us, so she should..or she better do such and such”, reminding us that the bullying is gender neutral.
Now these images of this attractive, intact family with a Black dad who’s affectionate with his 2 beautiful daughters is extremely POWERFUL. It’s the Cosby affect all over-times 12. And most notably, it represents everything embodied in the “no good Black men”, or “can’t find a man”, lament and the issue of men not being in their daughters’ lives.
But what it has, despite being real, that the Cosby affect didn’t have is sex appeal. Cos cuddling up to Ms. Rashad was teddy-bear cute but it wasn’t sexy. When you see images like the one above where she embraces the President from behind, it just seems so real, human and spontaneous; warmth unlike any other 1st lady. You can imagine what their early dating must have been like.
When Black women look at Obama they’re seeing much more than a President, they don’t even seem to be thinking about the office of the Presidency at all, or at least the concept. So knowing who runs the community and given the emotional capital tied to what the Obama’s represent, I can see why many say it would have been a psychological hit. I get the fervor.
So Obama flipped a constituent that was 68% in favor of his opponent and transformed them into his most ardent and vocal supporters. If you don’t think that door opening was mostly about Michelle or if you think it was less about Michelle, then consider this irony: had Michelle been White, the White female candidate, Hilary would have won the nomination because her opponents wife was a White female. That’s how funky and twisted it all is.
But ALL of that is sentimentality, not about much and certainly not the serious stuff of real political thought, robust enough to face the challenges in front of us. So now that the election is over, campaign season is over its time for governing. So for many of my fellow Black Americans, when they stop emoting, my hope is that they’re able to can get beyond the narrative, cheerleading and the knee-jerk protection of the President from the crazies. Does it stop there and do you care about the drone policy for instance? How many innocent Muslim deaths (men, women & children) are worth the image PR and self-esteem boost you get from having a Black president? And what about the drug war, which is at the heart of the dysfunction in troubled Black communities? If it is, as Michelle Alexander says “A new Jim Crow”, then having a Black President ignore, alas, double-down on it (war on drugs) is supreme irony. Or there’s no irony at all and instead it’s an indictment of that kind of sentimentality?
Obama is the president and the stakes are high so he needs to be critiqued with clear-eyed realism that does not delve into Cornel West like (or any other late 1960’s rhetoric from segregationist who think they can build a Black only nation) rant about his momma, living in Hawaii, etc. How much he’s Blacking isn’t as important as what he does and it DOES NOT inform what he does!
He’s an elite just leave it at that, which isn’t a knock but it does mean that far from being protected he needs to be PUSHED to do what’s right for the “us” that matter, the 99%.
Click the link below to listen to The Glenn Show conversation w/John McWhorter