Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What it means: Part 6

The Presidency of Barack Obama is not the end of Black politics any more than it is the end of racism or poverty. Al Sharpton? -Your job is still safe. I expect to see you marching the next time someone unjustly gets their ass kicked in my city. Don’t be late.

First of all, Barack Obama is Black. Period.

It may seem crazy, but there are many on the American Left, in the Black Nationalist community, in the African-American intelligentsia and in the nation’s inner cities, especially New York, who maintain that Barack Obama is either not Black or not Black enough.
Interestingly enough, to the bigots of the world he’s the Blackest man they’ve ever seen on their horizon. These are all ridiculous notions in a concrete and technical sense because Barack Obama is as much White, as he is Black. He just gets rounded off to Black or White by anyone who wants to neutralize him politically.

But I’m not here to write about what’s technically true. If I was, my collaborator and I would have run out of things to write about months ago.

To those who maintain that his life experience, education, manners, dialect or actual complexion somehow disqualify him, I propose this silly little test:
Let someone of his exact same height and appearance, manner etc. drive around with me in a car on Fordham Road or Grand Concourse in my native Bronx and let’s see how many times we get pulled over… Hell, let Barack Obama himself actually drive me around as we go pull up at the White Castle near Howard Beach and sidle up to a police car at the traffic light on a Friday night. Exactly.

That is what it is to be Black in this country.

It means that on sight, no matter your upbringing, your financial worth, your education, your achievements, your distinctions or importance to the world, you will be a “nigger” if someone decides you are. Period.

I think it’s crazy that I have to remind people of this, but here we are.

We can never forget that Blackness is first and foremost a political color. That Black people happen to be darker than White people is almost incidental to the motive and intent of calling someone Black. That Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon and other post war political thinkers found it necessary to distinguish between “lights”, “brights” and “almost whites” is not to say that they thought those people were no longer Black. I think Marcus Garvey in particular meant just the opposite. Whatever intentional attempts at “passing” or inadvertent “passing” goes on, the ultimate truth was and is; Black identity was invented to identify Whites as much as Blacks and certainly to stratify both. How skin shade adds up to Blackness and Whiteness may be a question of degrees within the murky spaces of society and the personal sphere… but at the end of any meaningful conflict or negotiation, a person is either all Black or not at all:

They won’t take out a smaller nightstick; -they only show up with one.

A skull will be broken under that higher earning afro, under that Harvard baseball cap or under that just plain lighter skin just the same. He'll be randomly beaten whether the people in his neighborhood think he’s an “Oreo” or not. I don’t know Barack Obama’s mind and specific experience, but I do know that this is the America that Barack Obama has had to navigate. He’s older than me, so he’s seen much more of it than I have, and even as a Hispanic, I have seen fuckin’ plenty.

Barack Obama won this election in spite of his Blackness.

And that’s all it means for any of us, no matter what our own imposed colors may be, White, Black or any of the infinitude of shades thereof. It’s not that racism has ended, or that race doesn’t matter now that Barack Obama is president, it’s just a sign that race doesn’t have to matter.


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