The President Is Black

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The interesting about Herman Cain's claim that Obama has "never been part of the black experience in America," is that wasn't actually initially his claim, but the claim of radio-host Neal Boortz. I think it's worth considering some of Boortz other commentary on the black experience, specifically in reference to Katrina:

That wasn't the cries of the downtrodden; that's the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them. "It's somebody else's job to get me out of here. It's somebody else's job to save my life. Not mine. 

Send me a bus, send me a limo, send me a boat, send me a helicopter, send me a taxi, send me something. But you certainly don't expect me to actually work to get myself out of this situation, do you? Haven't you been watching me for generations? I've never done anything to improve my own lot in life. I've never done anything to rescue myself. Why do you expect me to do that now, just because a levee broke?"
I don't know if Herman Cain agrees with this species of insight, or not, but forgive me if I don't take my cues on race from someone who considers New Orleans "a welfare city, a city of parasites." 

And you'll forgive if I don't take any cues on "blackness" from people who opportunistically draw boundaries for this little nation, just beyond their interests. Sadly, this one of the actual instances when the "both sides" analysis is actually accurate. The official assessors of presidential blackness run the gamut from Michael Moore to Cornel West to Rush Limbaugh to Herman Cain to Stanley Crouch. 

What's most interesting about Obama's alleged lack of blackness, is that very few black people actually seem to agree. To them Obama is final face on that great black Rushmore --somewhere next to Harriet Tubman, Martin Lurther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. There's a barbershop on 116th and Lennox where I sometimes go for a cut. The walls feature Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali. In the center is a picture of Barack Obama.

This has very little to do with what Obama did on the bailout, or what he didn't do for the public option. I'm all in for a conversation about the import of his policies. But in terms of black people, I  find it hard to credit any critique which claims that an ethnic group which has included everyone from Walter White to Marcus Garvey (and basically Teena Marie) can't make room for Barack Obama.

I'm always amazed that we spend so much time criticizing black kids for attacking other black kids for not "being black enough" or for "acting white." Meanwhile, actual adults -- of all races -- regularly inveigh against the blackness of one of the most popular and positive image of black manhood in a generation. It's amazing -- sort of how we hector about individual acts of homophobic bullying, seemingly oblivious to the kind of mass societal homophobic bullying which we elevate to law.

Meanwhile, I hear back on the South Side they're selling a T-shirt that read "Obama 2012," with a print of his birth certificate underneath. 

I want one.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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