Sunday, October 26, 2008

Obama and Race

The New Republic recently posted a (typically) thoughtful piece by John McWhorter, in which he explores the racial dynamic in "the increasingly unlikely event that Barack Obama does not become president." "Martin Luther King's dream," he writes, "would reveal itself as tragically unrealized 40 years after his death. Not, however, because whites were standing in that dream's way, but because of the black people standing alongside them."

Read the whole thing. Here, I think, is the upshot: "if we truly understand that King's lesson was that black people are whites' equals and not eternal poster children, then we must confront the fact that race is not the only reason Obama could lose."

Speaking of Obama and race: this summer I read Shelby Steele's A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win. (Unfortunate subtitle!)

For a summary of the book, see Alex Chediak's review (part 1, part 2).

The book, I think, has its flaws. Obviously Steele's intuitions about Obama's electability (which is not a major focus of the short book) was wrong. The biggest problem with the book, in my view, is that Steele never gets around to telling us precisely how Obama could/should avoid being a "bargainer" on the one hand and a "challenger" on the other. And it seems to me that an "elephant in the room" with the book is that Steele himself is biracial--but he never quite answers the question of whether he is a bargainer or a challenger, or whether there is a middle way.

With that said--and really quite apart from the Obama issue--I found it to be an eye-opening, fascinating exploration of the personal and social psychological ambiguity of being biracial in America. It is definitely worth reading.

In January 2008 Steele was on Bill Moyers Journal talking about the book. The show is a half hour in length. You can read the transcript, or watch the videos below: