S. Maxam responds to The Atlantic article ‘Fear of a Black President’
“The thing is, a black man can’t be president in America, given the racial aversion and history that’s still out there,” Cornell Belcher, a pollster for Obama, told the journalist Gwen Ifill after the 2008 election. “However, an extraordinary, gifted, and talented young man who happens to be black can be president.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Fear of a Black President piece illustrates the complexity of race in this country. He touches on racism, Black rage, white supremacy and Trayvon Martin. The component of Coates’ piece I want to expand upon is the idea that the election of Barack Hussein Obama signified a transcendence of race in America. For so long race has the been the proverbial black eye this country has attempted to disguise with a mask of accepting “assimilated” black folks in the modern era – see the overused Cosby family as an example.
The election of a Black president seemed to symbolize two things in this country. To people of African descent it created a temporary sense of euphoria and hope. A hope that the plight of the African-American would actually matter in American politics. For generations Democrats have given lip-service to Black communities. African-Americans faced with the lesser of two evils haved forged an uneasy alliance with the more “progressive” party. For white Americans voting for Obama signified a collective reassurance that racism no longer existed as universal belief system. Yes there were outliers who harbored racist beliefs but they represented an evil of yesteryear.
I think we misinterpret tolerance or acceptance for respect. The nation’s psyche compartmentalizes the various aspects of successful Black men’s identities. Michael Jordan is respected as an athlete who happens to be Black but he isn’t considered a Black athlete. Muhammad Ali is an example of what happens when history, time, old-age or bad health neuters brashness and bravado of Black athletes. The non-cocky negro can be revered or respected in America but outspokenness is frowned upon. The Angry Black man is still a scary sight in America and the white-washing of a strong black identity is a necessity. It is of vital importance to have one’s race overlooked to reach the pinnacle of your chosen profession.
Acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. The community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality and seethes.
I myself have felt this tension of needing to dial down my blackness. I am large dark-skinned black male who has experienced police harassment dozens of times. The death of Trayvon Martin is a tangible fear for many men of color I know. Separating abstract ideals from lived realities is important when we have discussions about the desires we have for this country. Living in a country where race doesn’t matter is unnecessary goal because if culture is synonymous with race in the United States then that is an impossibility for most minorities. Our quest shouldn’t be for a post-racial America but rather for a post-racist America. Let’s see if we can get there.
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