Sunday, December 20, 2009

Progressives, Liberals Sideswiped by Obama as First Black POTUS

Some white progressives sleep well when Obama compromises his blackness. Why are they shocked that he compromises in other areas as well?

Everything about that blog post title is a contradiction and confusing, yes, I know. And what I'm about to say is strictly off the cuff and likely to still be confusing to some people. I haven't done any sociological research on the following topic beyond a paper I once wrote on blackness and the art of dissembling as a survival skill. So, I'm about to relay only gut instinct regarding the pressure of being the first African-American POTUS and others' expectations of you.

First: On December 4, I saw a comment on my Examiner post about Obama feeling humbled by the Nobel Peace Prize saying that the prize and Obama were a farce. I tweeted after seeing it that considering the way some progressives felt about Obama since he made his decision to send troops to Afghanistan, I couldn't know if a never-liked-Obama conservative left that comment or a newly-don't-like-Obama progressive left the comment. I've been feeling the political climate shift in liberal circles.

Progressives want to hold this president to what he said while running for office and in the early days of the presidency, and they should. But my question is this: Did they really pay attention to who Obama is or were they so busy feeling good about the sharp, cool black guy being able to win the office that they missed Obama's nature?

Second: This morning I saw this on Twitter this tweet:
ths democrat , liberal, progressive has lost all faith in President Obama- war expansion, sounding lk W. on Iran, & sold healthcare out. (1txsage1957 aka Leslie Blanchard)
I don't know much about Leslie, but I suspect when she voted for Obama, she was hearing the words coming out of his mouth but not observing how he handled himself in the reality of blackness and what that meant. Perhaps, if she read his book, The Audacity of Hope, she also did not see beyond his idealism that he's not a boat rocker, not really. This trait is what made him black but electable.

If some progressives/liberals had seen Obama in full, they would not be disappointed or disillusioned right now. They would have anticipated that his quest for health care reform would be a case study in compromise, prepared for a possible march to war as an instance of changing heart after seeing intelligence briefings, and they would have grasped also that Obama doesn't act in ways that will startle others or himself unless he gets consensus first, which means he will more often than not take the path of least resistance.

My response to her dismay on Twitter was this:
Anyone paying attention knew Obama leans to compromise. Conservatives play him as "very liberal" but he's not, never was. (First Tweet)

And this is where "liberals" didn't understand that being first African-American president trumps all else b/c of expectations. (Second Tweet)

A "first" African-American of something in an inside circle like DC usually doesn't want to rock the boat too much. (Third Tweet)
I didn't get a response, but I didn't expect to since I don't know her or whether she checks replies.

Nevertheless, if anyone would go through my blog, they would see that I've never had expectations that Obama would do some great overhaul of government. I don't care what he said while running for office. I figure it's easy to promise stuff from the outside looking in, and as far as war goes, I knew whatever peacenik people thought he had in him would get washed away as soon as he got his first security briefing. Uh, did you all really think Gen. Colin Powell was rooting for a "never a war ever" kind of guy? I don't think a military man could vote for someone who believed military action is never required.

I talked also about Obama's coolness factor and his charisma, and yet I noted the following:
I think if you're genuinely cool and not just surface cool, then you'll stand up for yourself and the people you love. You won't let others steal your dignity. Obama, however, is supposedly trying to move closer to the center. Center means less of a rebel. Maybe he's going to downplay the cool now. (Obama on Ebony Cover)
Now I'd add, remember that sometimes coolness is only the ability to not over-react and shoot yourself in the foot.

Furthermore, I've talked frequently about how conservatives dealt with Obama's running for office and how they've pointed to his blackness to divide white voters. I wrote as well about his being only human, and I've even talked about the "magic Negro" phenomenon in places other than this blog, not the stupid song that Rush Limbaugh pushed, but the original article by David Ehrenstein.

I'm not saying Blanchard believed in the magic Negro. Again, I only saw her tweet, but I suspect some progressives/liberals did. They wrapped hopes into Obama that have absolutely nothing to do with Obama the man. In addition, while seeing that he is indeed a 1/2 black male who has chosen to identify himself as black, they had no clue as to how this identification, the path he's taken in life, who he chose to marry and the lifestyle he adopted informs who he really is, who he is late at night, talking to his wife or watching his girls sleep.

I fully expected progressives to be disappointed in Obama's performance because they placed too many unreasonable expectations on him in the first place as did some black people. Was it my own blackness that let me see their unhappy states of mind coming? I don't know. All I know is that my feelings on this were in part from understanding the tremendous pressure placed on a black person in two worlds. It's something you don't have to be physically half black to experience. All you need to experience the pressure is enough formal western education and enough exposure to white culture to walk with reasonable comfort in both an all white environment and in an all black environment.

When you're in the all-black environment, you understand the hope laid upon you and the tremendous expectations that you will neither embarrass your people nor betray them by being "too" white or denying the struggle. When you're in an all-white environment, you sense an expectation to prove that you are not that foreign after all while still confirming whatever it is ordinary white people think blackness is, but most of all you know you shouldn't scare white people with blackness if you want to be successful in that world. (This understanding that you don't want to scare the white people was part of the discomfort with recent black writers versus Publishers Weekly "Afro Picks!" cover.)

The thing about being President of the United States, black or white, is in order to be successful you have to maneuver well in a "white" world. The country's success depends on that. So, can a black man be the first black president of the United States without embracing a mental duality?

As the first African-American POTUS, can you only be who you want to be? Your strategy for winning the office, remember, was to compromise not your whiteness but your blackness, to play down what you know to be true and to take the middle road, never frightening white voter, always sacrificing what you know is true about living in brown skin of African origin.

Think back to Obama's "race speech" in March 2008. He had to make that speech because Reverend Jeremiah Wright's authentic anger at America's racial history and current affairs scared white people, and conservatives were using his association with Wright to sway white voters. Yes, I remember even white progressives stepped back and said, "Wait. We do have to question this Wright association?"

That Obama would not denounce Wright immediately disturbed progressive white people more than any of Sarah Palin's ridiculous accusations that he "palled" around with terrorists. Of course her kinds of accusations also implied he was no patriot, fed no-American-flag-pen-on-his-lapel paranoia, and stoked fears that he did not care about national security. His willingness to go to war against terrorists, however, blows that accusation away, I suppose. Perhaps it's better to play it politically safe, err on the side of there might be giants over there, and go to war than to let something explode on our shores again while you're practicing diplomacy.

But let's stay on blackness this post and how compromise is a survival skill learned early by black people who need approval from white people to move forward. Remember when Attorney General Eric Holder spoke his mind and said we were cowards on race? Obama was expected to distance himself immediately. Holder's comment offended white people. "How could he call us cowards? Didn't we just elect a black man to office?" So, Obama tried to smooth over the feathers Holder ruffled."

And then there was the "beer summit" necessary after Obama upset white people by saying something kind of black. That bruhaha proved again that a black president must first and foremost forget that he is black in ways that a white president would never be expected to deny his ethnicity, all to appease the electorate. Obama was pressured to take back his assertion that racial profiling is a reality and that the white police officer behaved stupidly by arresting Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Why? So white people could sleep better and not think that anything actually black, anything psychically black, touched the White House. It's the color blind myth again, that people's ethnic heritage doesn't influence their lives, especially that people of color will not let ethnic heritage influence their lives in public office.

Remember here the Sotomayor controversy. She was not allowed to be a wise Latina influenced by either gender or heritage. So, on the bench, she will be expected to live in duality and to compromise the lessons learned through brownness while whatever white males have learned, however that may be influencing their decisions, is upheld as colorless, having no negative influence. In her case, it was the brownness and womanhood that should not be tolerated as influence. The message is that to be racially "color" blind is to see others and the world as white.

I know there are those people who insist we're post-racial and that they themselves are color blind; however, I submit color blindness is the problem here. It's people who try to say that Obama's blackness doesn't matter who are most likely to be sideswiped by Obama and contradictions because they don't realize what the person in whom you detect no color sacrifices in pretending to be color free. Behaving as though you are color free teaches you how to compromise and those who don't learn this lesson are treated as militants, unstable, angry creatures incapable of holding their emotions in check for the sake of preserving white sanity. When you deny blackness and mention black struggle only in passing, some people call it taking the high road, and Obama's been applauded for taking that road. So, is it any surprise that the first black president is a man of compromise?

The first black President of the United States of America can escape many things but he cannot escape being black and how he's expected to breathe in black skin. He can only give the illusion of having transcended blackness by ignoring blackness, and so he is by his very nature of dual mind, making it easier for him to sway back and forth. Perhaps a second black president can govern free of colored expectations, which ironically would make him more honestly color-free, but not the first, and so, I knew from the beginning it would be impossible for Obama, being the first, to please anyone, maybe even impossible for him to be his authentic self.

With this I do not mean how we see Obama as much as I mean how Obama sees himself and how he as a black man has been conditioned to achieve self-preservation. What I'm saying is that as the first black president, he has been conditioned to compromise his racial identity for the sake of winning and staying in office. White people have been happy to see him compromise this intimate aspect of self that is deeper than skin color. And yet, they are surprised that the same skill it takes to compromise oneself and to keep them happy is trickling into all other areas of policy. I, however, am neither shocked nor surprised. I saw it coming.

To put it bluntly, you understand fully that he must compromise blackness to play the political game, but you're shocked that he has to compromise your core beliefs as well? You call him a sell-out, but is there any politician that doesn't sell out something to get votes. (For the record, I'm disappointed about the watered-down health care reform, but I'm not shocked by it. I'm concerned about his march to war, but I'm not shocked by it.)

The only real change I thought Obama could possibly affect was changing Americans minds to believe that anybody could be president of this nation, even a black man, and that anyone could govern this nation, even a black man. The best way to do that was for him to go in, as I've said elsewhere, and get through without blowing up the lab.

It's up to us, however, to make it possible that anybody can govern America with an iron will, even a black man. It's up to us to one day elect a black person and let that person simply be a human leader, not transformational figure, not a "magic Negro," just a human we think can get the job done. Perhaps Obama could prove this in a second term, but not in a first. In a first, he can't afford to show too much swagger, which would rock the boat too much. Ironically, it's his being double bound to denying himself, his being bogged down by compromise, that may keep him from making it to a second term.

None of this says don't criticize Obama or that a black man can't be the president and do a good job but that being the first black man in the Oval Office has a burden many white progressives/liberals never perceived and one conservatives relish in exploiting. Neither do I give Obama an excuse for falling off his game in any way. I hold him to the same mantra he expresses when addressing black audiences, "No more excuses." Life is what it is and we should live it nobly in whatever skin we walk the planet.

I say to all, keep the president's feet to the fire, but while keeping his feet to the fire, please understand who it is that you're criticizing and that your own expectations may have nothing to do with the facts of life, that more than likely you've projected onto this president unreasonable expectations that ignore his human nature. On top of blackness, he's a politician. Has there ever been a successful politician in a Democracy or Republic who did not compromise? Other than that, if you're disillusioned, I understand. If you want to cry, cry but carry on.

3 comments:

msladydeborah said...

I have to agree with you Nordette.

People tend to not pay attention to how he has moved so far. I think one of his greatest abilities is how he rises to meet adversity without being a major boat rocker.

The blackness aspect is one that we understand-and other people of color will grasp. After that-it just depends on how open minded the other people are on the subject.

If he can win a second term-we might see a different aspect of his personality rise up. At that point in time-what will have to loose? What really gets me is how threatening he is to some people no matter how he handles himself. While on the other hand-he is not coming across as strong enough to many POC's. What'a brother to do?

SjP said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Obama finds himself in a "damned if you do/damned if you don't" situation.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Brilliant.