Another Obama address, another failed attempt at messaging by the White House communications team. Instead of using his address from the Oval Office to remind us that he displayed true leadership by going against the tide and opposing the Iraq war when everyone else was for it, Obama proudly asserted that he’d made a call to George W. Bush to inform him that the war was over. Obama had the opportunity to be nostalgic, and remind his base that the candidate of 2008 is still alive in the President of 2010, but he didn’t. To the contrary, Obama listened to Republicans who’d been chiding him all week to give at least a modicum of credit to the one man who deserves all the blame – George W. Bush. And since Obama was ill-prepared for a skirmish with the Right, he gave in once more.
The issue is not just that President Obama is unprepared for the present fight that he’s engaged in, but that he’s unprepared for all fights – period. Obama doesn’t use the bully pulpit because he’s not a bully. This is a hard pill for most African Americans to swallow.
White liberals want Obama to fight because it’s the right thing to do. While African-American liberals agree with that premise, we are also goading President Obama to do battle with Republicans because we’ve collectively adopted clashing with despotic regimes as our solemn oath. The spirit of David and Goliath is alive in the African-American experience.
When Obama declared himself African-American, and not mixed race or biracial as some had hoped, the African American community celebrated with jubilee. To us, Obama’s bold assertion meant that he identified with the African-American experience. It was proof that he’d accepted the chivalrous invitation of the African-American community and would soon glide into our open arms to meet our soft far embrace. So far, much to our dismay, he’s proven to be a bit of a playboy.
In classic Obama style, he’s adorned the costume which we’ve come to associate with all rebellious agitators. Unlike some who’ve compared his speaking style to MLK, I see more of Malcolm than Martin in Obama’s mettle performance. Short, decisive, snappy comments, which linger with the listener by virtue of their verbosity and in your face intellectualism. This was Malcolm’s marker. In 21st century America, Obama is Malcolm’s emulator, but not his heir apparent.
While African-Americans were busily working for change during Obama’s 2008 campaign, we absentmindedly forget that history often foretells future events.
Born to a white mother and a Kenyan father, young Obama’s world view was fashioned in Indonesia and Hawaii through the prism of his mother. There is nothing unseemly about Obama’s upbringing, but it does belie the difficulty inherent in labeling President Obama as African-American.
Even if President Obama’s Kenyan father had been in his life, that wouldn’t have been enough to link Obama to an African-American experience which is uniquely different from that of Africans in the great vastness of the Diaspora. And to say that Obama is connected to the African-American experience by virtue of his Kenyan father is alarmingly simplistic.
The African-American experience is unique in the level of insight which it imprinted upon its members as well as the relative level of equality bestowed upon a previously enslaved minority group. We view life through a dual lens whereas for Obama, the lens is singular.
Truth be told, our collective defiance has negatively impacted us in a variety of scenarios. The mythology of the African American attitude heralds a people unafraid to speak truth to power. Even in our day to day individual dealings, we are more apt than most groups to betray our own self interest by confronting our employer, government, or whomever else we feel may be engaged in double dealing. History has made us rebels.
Our expectation was that Obama would display some of the steeliness so overtly recognizable in the African American persona. But President Obama’s perspective is international, not African American. It is time that the African-American community stops looking for its reflection in President Obama. He may be the first black President, but he’s certainly not the first African-American President.
Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill Staffer turned political blogger. She currently publishes two blogs, Spatterblog.com and GoGirlGuide.com.