Thursday, May 3, 2007

Barry The Magic Negro (aka: The Curse of the Black Politician)

There are two schools of thought regarding how minority politicians can run a campaign for statewide or nationwide offices.

1) Run a color-free campaign based on unifying everyone for a common cause. You'll risk losing your base, but have to have wide enough appeal to win.

2) Rep' yo' peoples, and probably lose.

Barack Obama, largely by virtue of weak competition (anyone seen Jack Ryan lately?) and a superstar speech at the Democratic National Convention was able to avoid the issue of race in his ascension to US Senate. However, the same "is he black enough?" and "is he going to rep for us?" questions that dogged him in his Congressional loss to Bobby Rush a few years prior are resurfacing now that he's gunning for the Oval Office.

For the first few months of his campaign, Barack played the race neutral role, realizing that toeing the line between appealing to voters in Compton, CA and New Compton, RI is a tricky exercise that few have successfully navigated. But since his showdown with Hilary Clinton in Selma, AL a few weeks ago, he's been unable to distance himself from his roots in the black community. Now, whenever any issue of relevance to the black community raises to a level of national consciousness, Obama is forced to make a comment, as if the media is trying to make him choose sides.

Today's Post featured an interesting story on how Barry has refined his message a bit to address some of the issues that plague the black community. I cringed just a bit when I heard him talk about "Cousin Pookie" during that Selma address, but then again, pandering is nothing new when it comes to politicians, especially when they're addressing black folks. So, his latest stream-of-conscious, Cosby-lite routine is harmless, maybe even a bit refreshing since it's good to hear the message of self sufficiency and personal responsibility from someone with good intentions, rather than destructive and self-serving ones (Jesse Lee Peterson is a sterling example). I just hope he doesn't take it too far over the cliff and end up with a YouTube moment that comes back to haunt him.

Still, I can't help but wonder why only politicians of color (and women to a lesser degree) are asked to chime in with opinions on an entire group of people, who form only a small portion of their potential voting block. Obama gets besieged with questions about the Duke rape case, Don Imus, hip hop, and his association with Ludacris. Sure, I understand this is just par for the course for anyone in an underrepresented group (witness how many "black questions" Chris Rock gets when he's on Letterman, etc.) whose gettting even nominal shine, but it seems pretty unfair. Does John Edwards get put on the spot for not issuing an opinion about the VA Tech shootings? How many people have asked John McCain to speak about the suburban male pathology that creates a K-Fed? How come Rudy Giuliani, who's been on Imus' show lots of times, gets a pass on that story?

Again, I realize this is all quite trivial in the grand scheme, but something seems a bit unfair about making one man a bell weather for all things black, while his competitors get to focus solely on, well, running for President. What part of the game is that?

Am I right, or am I right?

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