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People Like Obama

With all the continuing Obama hype, I was reminded to go back and find a column by the late Dr. Samuel Francis, who had understood the reason for the enthusiasm for Obama long before anyone else.  In August 2004 he had written [1]:

The reason, Tilove suggests, is that black political style in this country is changing. Sharpton’s overt and in-your-face attack style is vanishing, and Obama’s smooth moves are crystallizing. “I think this is really the end of an era of race and politics,” history professor Angela Dillard told Tilove. “Something’s shifting and changing, and people like Sharpton can’t change with it, and something new and different is being created, and it is about people like Obama.” What kind of people are “people like Obama” exactly?

One reason for Obama’s smoothness and fashionableness is his Harvard degree (Keyes has one, too), but more to the point is his racial ambiguity, a trait that as Tilove notes cuts both ways. Obama, you see, had a father who was a black native of Kenya and a white American mother. “People like Obama” are multiracial people.

His racial identity or supposed lack of it enables him to be both black and non-racial, white and multiracial, at the same time. When he wants to be black, he can be and is. He calls himself black, and the media routinely identify him as a “black” or “African-American.”

But he can also be white or not racial at all, which is useful when he’s presenting himself as “above” race and appealing to the white voters he’ll need if he’s going to be elected or when he’s denouncing his critics and opponents for playing race cards as he himself of course would never do. Moreover, while openly racial candidates like Sharpton or Jesse Jackson helped instigate white racial consciousness—if they can be black, why can’t whites be white?—Obama works against it: If he’s neither white nor black, why should you be white?

Obama, in other words, is both a living testament to the power of black racial consciousness and identity and at the very same time a living renunciation of white racial identity. He joins Tiger Woods and Halle Berry as the model of what the New American is supposed to be—the multiracial utopia where every racial identity is legitimate except that of whites.

As Tilove notes, Obama “can argue for policies virtually indistinguishable from Sharpton’s in cooler, non-racial terms, while still affirming a message of racial identity and uplift implicit in his very being.”

“I think he is talking about race when he’s not,” Dillard says. “Something about the way he pitches things is perfect for this moment.”

And what is “this moment” exactly? It’s the moment when America ceases to be a nation defined and characterized by the white racial identity of its founders and historic population and is transformed into the non-white multiracial empire symbolized and led by “people like Obama.”

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4 Comments To "People Like Obama"

#1 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On December 3, 2006 @ 9:29 pm

Sam Francis had a race problem, among others. Black folks are certainly part of the “historic population” of this country, and pace Marcus Garvey, they aren’t going anywhere.

Obama’s mixed ancestry isn’t the secret of his success; the “one drop” rule still makes him black. It’s his use of General American language and manners, his politeness and apparent decency that are the necessary conditions for his success with white voters.

Many, perhaps most white Americans are aware of slavery, segregation and discrimination as less-than-savory aspects of our history. Perhaps that’s why they want some blacks to succeed, provided, if they are politicians at least, they don’t come off as demagogic or too ethnic.

Hence the appeal of the likes of Colin Powell, Tom Bradley (late Mayor of LA), and Barack Obama. I’m too right-wing to be an Obama fan, but if we must have a center-left Democrat, adding a little racial reconciliation to the mix strikes me as a plus.

#2 Comment By Maximos On December 4, 2006 @ 9:10 am

I’m going to climb out on a limb to suggest that it wasn’t Sam Francis who had a “race problem”. Rather, it is the American people, by and large, who have a race problem, inasmuch as they have extirpated from among themselves every last vestige of an understanding that, generally speaking, each race is the bearer of a distinct culture, that each ethnic division within the respective races is usually the bearer of a distinct culture, and that, to state the matter forthrightly, as is so seldom done nowadays, to replace/displace one of those ethnic groups/races to displace and deconstruct the culture and institutions that they created as embodiments of that culture.

Race/ethnicity and culture are not, logically speaking, identical; and it would be a gross exaggeration to assert that the cultural differences have their origins in the genetic differences between the races – although it would also be implausible to argue that such differences are not a factor at some level. They are, however, highly correlated, and that to such a degree that it is hardly inexplicable that they can be employed interchangeably in many discussions of the failure, nay – impossibility – of societies that lack a majority population. The failure of most conservatives to grasp this is due to their obsession with abstractions and ideologies, which they regard – in a perversion of Richard Weaver’s insights – as the great engines of history, rather than as what they are, in fact, namely, expressions of the cultures and peoples who originated them, manfestations of the self-understandings of particular people enmeshed in the particularities of a given history. Hence, for most conservatives, the “American culture”, whatever it is supposed to be, is something disembodied, capable of instatiation upon the foundation of any assemblage of people whatsoever; this is the logic and origin of the “propositional nation” nonsense, and of all of the mischief that is wrought in its name.

Ethnicity and culture are intimately related, however, as products of history – not of the outworking of some discrete racial essences as they express themselves inexorably within the process of history, but simply as the products of the innumerable and contingent factors which combine to give rise to any historical phenomenon. Ethnicity and culture arise from similar, even analogous, historical circumstances, primarily separation and differentiation between and among respective populations. A population which enjoys a high relative degree of demographic and spatial isolation from other populations, and which maintains a sense, whether cultural, religious, or what have you, of its distinctness and separateness, will inevitably develop distinguishing ethnic and cultural traits and habits/institutions. People prefer their own, because they prefer the familiar and customary. When they are psychologically healthy, that is.

To return to Francis, then, the problem with Francis is not truly Francis’ problem, but the problem of the American people, who have lost an awareness of the origins of their culture and institutions in the history of a particular people, or group of European peoples, and now imagine that by transcending consciousness of those origins, they can at once pepetuate what is vital in American culture and expiate past transgressions. In this respect, Obama is not a symbol of European and African-Americans “coming together” in a shared awareness of their history together in America, but of the multicultural order itself, in which race is ostensibly transcended and cultural differences are reduced to mere questions of preference in cuisine and music. But race and culture are never transcended in any society, precisely because people tend to prefer their own, and their own cultures, from which it follows that the historical significance of multiculturalism is that the cultures and peoples who established the nations of the West – who are the nations of the West – must now enact a sort of secular parody of kenosis while, simultaneously, non-Western peoples assert themselves and their heritages in all of their fullness. That is the meaning which has been impressed upon the symbol of “Obama” in this time.

#3 Comment By Roach On December 4, 2006 @ 12:29 pm

I think Obama’s appeal is somewhat like Oprah’s. He is a virtual friend for liberals who believe, to be true to their principles, they must have a black friend or two, even though most do not. Oprah let’s white suburban women imagine they have this wise, easy-going black female friend who is full of useful advice. Obama let’s white women and men imagine they’re just as open-minded about having a black friend as a white friend.” Seee, look at me. I’m not racist at all. I like Obama. I can really relate to that guy.”

The fact that whites and blacks move in very separate circles by and large, particularly for people over 30, is a scandal for the widely held liberal beliefs of most people. Even conservative and liberal whites may have Asian and Hispanic friends, but not a single true black friend. Oprah, Obama, and other figures in popular culture act as substitutes, and showing fidelity to these virtual friends/leaders/bosses, etc. is the key to psychic health for people that believe in liberalism and it’s denial of all cultural and other differences of blacks and whites.

#4 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On December 6, 2006 @ 9:42 am

This comment was delayed. WordPress was doing something weird with the site. Lesson: always save before you press “Submit.”

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I don’t question that racial and ethnic groups in America differ in language, religion, culture, and genetics. Some of these traditions have shown a surprising persistence, as David Fischer’s [2], for example, illustrates.

Moreover, our dominant political, legal and thought traditions derive from the
British Isles, and more broadly from Western Christendom. To deny or make light of these facts is to deny history and cut the country off from its roots. No doubt parts of Sam Francis’s South are more traditional than say, Phoenix.

With some exceptions, like the Amish, however, few of our groups have remained isolated. They have become interpenetrated and influenced one another, and have been influenced from abroad, in new ways. Our traditions encompass frontier restlessness, perpetual self-reinvention, and borrowing from near and far.

When we surrender reinvention to Hollywood, the ad agencies, and the professoriat, of course, we lose a great deal. When we ignore our history for the sake of mindless “Kumbaya” singing (to flog a cliché) we lose again.

All this is true. Our history of racial conflicts is nonetheless real. That Jesse Jackson is a blackmailer, Al Sharpton a demagogue, and multi-culti hand-wringing revolting does not change that history. For all ltheir limitations, Colin Powell and Obama are no worse than Jim Baker and Hillary. Their presence in places of prominence can a gesture of reconciliation. and need not be a negation of traditions that have their roots in England and Scotland.