Tuesday, February 12, 2008

That Damn Tightrope

One of the most well-known cliches in the world is that life is a balancing act.

Do I buy that new video game, or put that $60 in savings?
Is it worth winning this argument with the Little Women if it means I'll be going to sleep horny and unhappy for a week?
If being fat is so bad, why do donuts taste so good?

Life is full of compromises. Very few people live their lives without having to balance several competing interests.

That's especially true if you're black.

It goes beyond the simple decision of whether to buy that daily latte or save for that nice vacation. No, in this country, being black means balancing how much of your true feelings and beliefs can be revealed against just how far you want to progress. It means deciding just how often you can keep it real before things go horribly wrong.

Obama knows all about this high-wire act.

That story does a decent job of outlining the nifty footwork Obama has used in navigating America's racial minefield. It's clear that he and his staff have spent some time examining the electorate and know which buttons must be pushed to be successful. The story falls short in giving context about why the racial divide in this country exists or in explaining the mindsets behind different ethnic groups. While the writers were clearly trying to write an analysis piece, they seemed to shy away from truly analyzing the most important issue:

Why does a black man have to be a circus performer to achieve any power in this country?

The simple answer is that there are only 36 million black folks in a country of 300 million people. Simple mathematics tells you that if Obama wants to achieve far-reaching power in this country he can't limit his appeal to a small piece of the pie. He can't be the black president.

Bill Cosby understood this and that's why his fictional television family rarely confronted the issues that most blacks during that time period faced. Tiger Woods knows that it's hard to hawk Buicks if white people think you're too sensitive about the whole "lynching thing."

Shit, every black person involved in mainstream America understands how the game is played and knows that to accomplish anything within the current power structure you need to build coalitions with white folks. Most of us give our own personal performances under the Big Top everyday and we know that we're one false step away from splat.

But, it's what is beyond the simple numbers answer that intrigues me. The truth is, while black folks like Obama and others are tiptoeing across a narrow wire to their destination, white folks often get to run flat-footed on the ground to where they want to go.

See, nobody likes to think that they got where they are today because they had an unfair advantage. Everybody loves to believe in the meritocracy myth that is America. White folks in particular seem to have some sort of visceral reaction to the notion that they have a headstart when it comes to achieving the American dream. Any suggestion that this is the case is sure to provoke eye rolls and comments about black people's love affair with victimhood.

But, that's all bullshit, and I think deep down inside Obama has to know that.

He has to see how he's been forced to verify his racial authenticity in a way that no white president has ever had to do. He has to wonder why his overwhelming support among black people is deemed a negative despite the fact that no white president has ever been elected without the overwhelming support of white people.
Obama has to resent having to divorce himself from his main spiritual adviser because that pastor's views don't coincide with mainstream values. He can't be happy having to let the Clintons and their surrogates take potshots at him and other blacks because the one thing he can't be labeled as is the "angry black man."

He has to see the gaping abyss beneath the tightrope he's walking.

Just don't fall.

1 comment:

rikyrah said...

Saw the link you left at JJP - thank you. I totally understand everything you wrote, and I agree with it all the way. Black folk understand on a whole other level as to what Obama is doing. I believe most of us are in awe of what he is doing. WE KNOW how hard it is;on a level no White person can understand; there are only a handful who would even pretend to begin to grasp the depth of what Obama is doing.

Raving Black Lunatic