My President Is Black

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

One reason that Michael Eric Dyson's critique struck me as weird is his insistence that Obama have  a particular "Black People Policy." I've thought about this some, and come to the conclusion that that would be both bad politics, and perhaps even a bad idea. Dyson argued that black people suffer from some particular ailment that Obama's "rising boats" formula doesn't address. If that is indeed the case, then I'm open to the critique. But I didn't really hear in his criticism exactly what that ailment was.  From what I can tell black people generally suffer from what most Americans suffer from--but times ten. Frankly, I'm beginning to even doubt that statement. In other words, is it our demographic makeup, race aside? Or is it our blackness? I don't know.

But more than that, I think if you supported Obama because you thought he'd have a specific "Black People Policy," you weren't really paying much attention to his speeches, and you clearly didn't read the section on race in his second book. I'm not even convinced that I want a president with a "Black People Policy." I definitely want one who's going to explore the wealth gap. I definitely want one who's going to make education a priority. But I'm straining to think of specific issues, which only afflict blacks, that I want Obama to address.

I hate writing this--it's such a sinister frame, and it distorts how black voters actually think about issues. It flattens us out--like we don't care about the economy, or foreign policy. I guess I can only speak for myself. I voted for Obama because of the speech he gave today, because I think he is the best soldier for our side that I've seen, because he has a deliberative mind, because he can walk and chew gum, because he is ruthless politician.

I can tell you without a moment's pause that if he were white, I'd have voted for him in the primaries over Hillary Clinton in a minute. That's a preposterous statement, I know. Were he white, he probably wouldn't be who he is. But my point is that my thinking about his blackness, while fun, didn't have a direct bearing on my thinking about his foreign policy.

I get Glenn Greenwald's critique on civil liberties. I get Andrew's critique on DADT and gay marriage. I get Dayo Olapade's critique of the Office of Urban Policy. But it's really tough to evaluate the claim that Obama won't say Martin Luther King's name. What is that? How do you even begin to seriously address it?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2009/06/my-president-is-black/18799/