08 Jan 2008

“A Tsunami of Drool”

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Christopher Hitchens correctly observes that “There’s something pathetic and embarrassing about our obsession with Barack Obama’s race.”

To put it squarely and bluntly, is it because he is or is it because he isn’t? To phrase it another way, is it because of what he says or what he doesn’t say? Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is the current beneficiary of a tsunami of drool. He sometimes claims credit on behalf of all Americans regardless of race, color, creed, blah blah blah, though his recent speeches appear also to claim a victory for blackness while his supporters—most especially the white ones—sob happily that at last we can have an African-American chief executive. Off to the side, snarling with barely concealed rage, are the Clinton machine-minders, who, having failed to ignite the same kind of identity excitement with an aging and resentful female, are perhaps wishing that they had made more of her errant husband having already been “our first black president.”

Or perhaps not. Isn’t there something pathetic and embarrassing about this emphasis on shade? And why is a man with a white mother considered to be “black,” anyway? Is it for this that we fought so hard to get over Plessy v. Ferguson? Would we accept, if Obama’s mother had also been Jewish, that he would therefore be the first Jewish president? The more that people claim Obama’s mere identity to be a “breakthrough,” the more they demonstrate that they have failed to emancipate themselves from the original categories of identity that acted as a fetter upon clear thought.

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