“Black” — It’s the New Black!

A remarkably narcissistic essay this morning on Salon.com about Barack Obama. Well, ostensibly about Barack Obama, though the real subject seems to be the author’s fascination with her own feelings about the media coverage of Obama. It begins:

I am confident that I have held out longer than any other pundit to weigh in on both the phenomenon that is Barack Obama and the question of whether race will trump gender as America looks toward election 2008.

I had irritably avoided columnizing on these crucial topics (though I have been quoted by others) for several, somewhat unorthodox, reasons.

What a maverick this woman is! Waiting until now to write a story about Obama, even though hordes of readers were urging her to weigh in, even though her silence had become conspicuous, even though every thinking person in the nation was saying, “But what of Debra J. Dickerson? Why has she not columnized on this crucial topic?”

Why, indeed. The reason is that, until recently, the media coverage of Obama had been on too low a level for someone like Debra J. Dickerson to join in:

I was waiting for the discussion to get serious and, at last, it has.

The writer is too much of an iconoclast, you see, too independent a thinker, to write anything serious on a matter until others go first. The discussion, you see, had focused entirely too much on Obama’s charisma and good looks for Ms. Dickerson’s liking, and if she refers to Obama’s youthful sex appeal over and over again in her essay, it’s important that we understand that she’s only trying to make it clear to us how unimportant it all is to her:

Horrors, Obama smokes! But isn’t he hot in his swim trunks?

All much more important than why he doesn’t wear a tie.

… sexy Obama might be, but ….

… superstar Obama ….

… the handsome Obama ….

In her ninth paragraph, two thirds of the way through the essay, Ms. Dickerson finally breaks her silence and reveals to an anxiously expectant nation what her thoughts on the matter are, and a devastating bombshell it is, too. For months now, America has blundered around like a toddler exploring the garden, and though Ms. Dickerson saw that we were getting too close to the rosebush, like a loving mother she had bitten her tongue for our own good, knowing that it was best for everyone if we figured things out for ourselves. Now, though, with only 22 months before the election, time is running short, too short for her to stand by and say nothing, and, again for our own good, she lets us have it:

Which brings me to the main reason I delayed writing about Obama. For me, it was a trick question in a game I refused to play. Since the issue was always framed as a battle between gender and race …, I didn’t have the heart (or the stomach) to point out the obvious: Obama isn’t black.

Ah, so that’s why I’ve been hearing the sound of eyes snapping open and palms slapping foreheads all over the country this morning! But of course! Black, Ms. Dickerson is here to inform us,

… 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.

How could I have not realized this before now! As everyone I know uses these terms, Obama is not black! He’s just “black”! What fools we have all been not to have seen this!

Whites, on the other hand, are engaged in a paroxysm of self-congratulation; he’s the equivalent of Stephen Colbert’s “black friend.” Swooning over nice, safe Obama means you aren’t a racist. I honestly can’t look without feeling pity, and indeed mercy, at whites’ need for absolution. For all our sakes, it seemed (again) best not to point out the obvious: You’re not embracing a black man, a descendant of slaves. You’re replacing the black man with an immigrant of recent African descent of whom you can approve without feeling either guilty or frightened.

And how fortunate we have been to have Debra J. Dickerson, in her infinite grace and benevolence, looking out for us all, showing us the depths of her mercy by withholding her devastating reality check from those who needed so very desperately, for the sake of their own absolutions, not to hear it!

Of course, this morning she went ahead and dropped the nuclear bomb on us anyway and charred our pitiful souls all to cinders with her searing words of truth, but that’s only because, you see, things had changed. The discussion had turned serious, and when that happened it became the path of greater mercy to put us out of our paroxysms.

The only thing is, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I hang out on the WELL, both notorious hotbeds of progressivism, and I don’t actually know a single person, white or otherwise, who appears to be paroxysming over Obama, or Clinton either for that matter. Yes, I can see that the news media seem to have decided, 22 months before the election, that the Democratic race is already down to Hillary vs. Barack — but I don’t actually know anyone, anyone, who is in fact wholeheartedly enthusiastic about either of them.

Sure, I hear a lot of “I give Clinton points for all the work she did on health care, but …” and “Damn, that was a great speech Obama gave the other day, though still …”. I do think most of the people I know would find either of them a huge improvement over our current president, to put it mildly. But I can’t think of anyone who puts either of them at the top of his or her list.

There are two politicians I hear that kind of enthusiasm for among some of my friends. Not paroxysms, exactly, because nobody seems to think either of them has a hope of winning the nomination; but whenever I hear someone say, “You know who I’d love to see as the Democratic candidate in ’08?”, the answer to “No, who?” is neither Obama nor Clinton. It’s usually “I know it’ll never happen, but …” and then either Al Gore or Howard Dean.

So where are these reported paroxysms actually taking place? Is it happening all around me and I just haven’t noticed? Or — and I know this is a terrible thing to suggest — but could it possibly be that — that the media is — dare I say it out loud? — could the media possibly be blowing a story up out of all proportion?

But no, what an absurd thought! Unimaginable! How could such a thing possibly be true? The media are the lapdogs of the left wing, the sworn enemies of the corporatization of America — everyone knows that! And given that every single president this country has elected in over 200 years has been a while male, what possible reason could our intensely liberal media have for promoting the idea that, with the election nearly two years away, the Democratic candidate is already guaranteed to be either black or female?

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