Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Black Skin, White Mask

My uncle Lucius took me to task on my last blog post. To place that into proper context, Lucius Warrick was and is to me one of my models of black manhood. He inspired me, without knowing it, to get all those degrees that hang on my wall. Yes, it’s his fault that I’m strapped with a huge student loan debt for attending school at the University of Missouri, Duke University and Princeton Theological Seminary. He convinced me that the key to success was a good education.

Uncle Lucius is from the old school. Back in the day people believed in the notions of both Booker T. Washington and W.E. B DuBois. For some the secret to success is found in pulling up their boot straps. For the fortunate talent tenth, the road to liberation is found in the halls of the academy. It’s a message lost in the new wave of youthful thinkers more enamored with fast cash than hard work.

My uncle maintains that lashing out at Obama may be a bad move. In his words,” I am not sure that Senator Obama should be targeted as the “scape-goat” for a lack of action,” he wrote in an email. “Have you or others in your group contacted Senator Obama to ensure he is aware of the correct facts and details concerning the case?”

His concern gets at the root of the tension facing black candidates for high office. The political game requires a high level of positioning intended to convince those less likely to vote for a person due to their race; that race will not hinder their ability to see things through a white lens.
Put another way, Obama has to be careful not to associate himself with issues that remind voters of previous black Presidential hopefuls. The critical question facing Obama is what makes him different than Jesse and Al. Is he another example of a black dude with a pro black agenda? Or does he have the stuff necessary to stray away from every black concern disrupting the nation?

My chastisement of Obama was more a criticism of the process that goes into being elected than in the person running for the office. My gut tells me Obama has read those accounts of the Jena 6 in the Chicago Tribune. The Trib is his home town paper, and the folks up in Chi town are heading down to Jena, LA to protest the recent conviction of Mychal Bell.

I’m politically savvy enough to understand why it was advantageous for Obama to speak out on the Duke Lacrosse rape case while remaining silent on Jena 6. He has to weigh the pros and cons of how doing so would impact his image. It’s an example of how he could have served us better by staying put as a Senator instead of jumping into the Presidential shuffle.

My uncle’s words speak to another issue. Black folks shouldn’t talk bad about black folks. Instead of attacking Obama, I should find a way to fix things using a different method. In other words, don’t blame Obama, find a way without having to get him involved.

There’s wisdom to my uncle’s words. One shouldn’t hinder the journey toward the prize by raising issues that distract voters. I get the argument. With that being said, there is a more critical issue related to this matter. How much does one have to give up for the sake of winning? How often should black commentators close their eyes when those we want to support fail to respond to our needs?

There’s another way of looking at this. In Obama’s quest to prove to white Americans that he’s not to black to be their President, has he proven to black Americans that he’s not black enough to be their President? Does any of that matter? Is it possible to lead the country as a black President without taking notice of how race continues to strap the nation?

It all reminds me of Frantz Fanon’s book “Black Skin, White Mask”. As much as we would like to think that race doesn’t matter, Obama will face decisions that forces him to contend with the black skin covered by the white mask.

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