Charles Senteio

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What’s all the fuss about roots?

What’s all the fuss about whether Obama is ‘Black’ enough? It seems curious to me that this discussion seems to be firing up, I think it will only increase in frequency and volume as the campaign season heats up. I still need to learn a bit more about Obama, and of course look at who else is out there, before I can really determine who’s best to lead the country. However discussions about African descent and if he had ancestors who were slaves seems silly, even for political banter.

What makes this especially troubling is that I’m starting to observe Black and White folk ask about his ‘cred’ with Black folk. Whaaat?

I agree that I would like to see a Black candidate who identifies with Black people while building bridges to other groups. I’m sure Jewish folk like for Lieberman to identify with their issues and women would want, no I think they would expect, Clinton would identify with theirs. But why this scrutiny?

Oh yes I do have some more to learn about Obama. I am most curious as to why he chose to make his big splash on the same day, heck the same time, as Tavis Smiley’s 7th Annual State of the Black Union in Jamestown, Virginia. Obama of course came up during the discussions and his absence did not go unnoticed. Tavis mentioned he spoke to Obama Friday nite and he expressed regret in not being able to come. In fact Charles Ogletree, one of his professors from Harvard Law School, hinted that this was a mistake however his main point was that Obama’s relative youth and inexperience would require that we must be there to lift each other up when we fall down. I agree with the Professor, I was a bit disappointed in Obama’s timing. I can understand not showing up. Heck I can see why Obama at this stage of his budding career wouldn’t want to necessarily sit on a panel that included Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton, however why hold your big splash on the same day as Black America’s annual flagship event designed to be a catalyst for change?

Isn’t this the type of scrutiny Black folk should invoke?

Have other light-skinned Blacks had this type of scrutiny? I don’t seem to recall DuBois, Douglass Wilder, or Thurgood Marshall having to address their lineage in this context.

I have to admit I am surprised, and of course troubled, by this type of scrutiny. Alan Keys, a guy whom I can’t recall ever hearing anything remotely thoughtful coming out of his mouth, ran against Obama for the empty Illinois Senate seat in 2004. He claimed Obama wasn’t black because he was not descended from slaves. This is the type of idiocy I’ve come to expect from Keyes, his silence since has not caused the slightest void on the political landscape. Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch, who I regard just a bit higher than I do Keys, said that Obama had not lived the life of a Black American. Boy I don’t know what that means.

Unfortunately this dialogue seems to be spreading to mainstream media, folks that seem to be embracing everything he does and says.

On Meet the Press this AM, Howard Kurtz from the Washington Post said:

I haven’t seen a politician get this kind of walk on water coverage since Colon Powell a dozen years ago flirted with making a run for the White House… a guy with all of 2 years of experience in the US senate getting coverage ranging from positive to glowing, to even gushing. He hasn’t even taken a mild hit yet except for what turned out to be a bogus story in a conservative magazine that reported that when he was 6 years old he spent a year in a fundamentalist Muslim school. It turned out to be bogus. The only storm cloud that is looming is he Black enough to get support in the African American community and if he isn’t is he trying too hard to please white people?

The beginning of Kurtz’s comments are very important and personally interesting. What of this mass appeal so early? I am interested to see how this evolves. I’m sure the love-fest won’t continue at this pace however the ‘Black enough’ argument is just silly.

I remember all the talk about Tiger when we first started to realize that the hype may be exceeded by results. However Tiger seemed to distance a bit from his Black heritage early on in his career but seems to have settled in with his role from a race standpoint. I don’t see where Obama has written or said anything to inspire these questions about his Blackness.

This type of scrutiny is toxic and doesn’t seem to advance our understanding of the man one bit. I wonder, where is this discussion coming from?
We have significant diversity in our Black American community. There are ‘Black’ people with ancestral ties to the Caribbean and West Indies, South America and of course the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Senegal where my Dad’s parents were born.

I am much more interested in learning about and discussing issues that matter to me and this country: issues like our foreign policy decisions, 9 million uninsured children, access to fair and equitable health care, our policies on incarceration, etc. These are some of the issues I’d like to learn more where candidates fall. Whether or not Obama has a slave in his lineage seems entirely irrelevant.