Super-Cool Obama, Super-Hot Christie, and a Book by Harper Lee

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Following my cover story in the current issue, and this message from an African-American professional woman, Nancy Wallace, about the Jackie Robinson-like pressure on Obama not to "let down his race," a few more. One reader writes: s-OBAMA-large.jpg

Obama is also demeanor-constrained in the opposite direction from showing hot anger:  he can't even be seen wearing sunglasses in public, since that would be seen as looking "too cool" - in  the Malcolm X sense.   

As it happens, Obama has actually been criticized on this score!

Reader Michael Harrington writes:

I  am glad you ran that supplemental post that mentions how the president's demeanor may be sort of a construct due to the possible unfortunate implications of him getting too angry or emotional and fulfilling some awful stereotype. I am assuming that he is walking quite the tightrope a lot of the time, lest he scares America with his fury and we as a country decide he might not be able to "deal with the pressures of the job".

This is something I have been thinking about lately, partly because I am a Black man that works mostly with non-Black people in a leadership capacity and have to walk that tightrope, partly due to discussions I have been having with white associates outside of those professional settings, and partially due to reading Toure's latest book (Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?) and thinking about what he said about some of the most recent Black politicians, including President Obama.

I do not know if you read that book (I think everyone should, regardless of ethnic origin) [JF: I have not yet], but he makes the salient point that to be successful in politics or business as a black person (I feel this applies to Latinos as well), you have to be as inoffensive as possible, lest you make people feel uncomfortable or guilty. I am not surprised that the woman who emailed you the other day had a nervous breakdown, since this puts a lot of strain on Black people that I assume (I don't know if it is true) most white people don't have to deal with. I also found that talking about this with non-white people, even in a casual setting upsets them a lot. I brought up this point in regards to the president, and I was either scoffed at, talked over, or was ignored. I cannot imagine what the president and his family are going through, but I assure you that he knows very well that it is in his best interest to seem as rational and objective in public as possible, since it is apparent that many people in this country still have deep issues with race and the perception of how certain groups play out their "racial roles"...

Even though I am Black, I don't blindly support the president because of his race; I support the president because I am an American citizen and I am glad that the representative of the country is a rational, brilliant person who seems to want to learn more. I suppose most people that become the POTUS are exceptional by definition, but it is interesting that Barack Obama has to be both exceptional and for all intents and purposes, as flawless as possible. It almost seems like he has to stifle his humanity due to the color of his skin.

After the jump, one more, on the Chris Christie/Harper Lee angle.

A reader writes:

[Reader Nancy Wallace] said this about Jan Brewer: "Jan Brewer claimed that the president was being "threatening" toward her, and I believe she probably did feel threatened because there was a tall black guy in front of her who didn't look all that pleased."
 
Actually, Jan Brewer initially claimed the president was whiny and sensitive.  She didn't introduce fear until later, and after pundits tried to assert that the finger-wagging Brewer was somehow being threatened by the President of the United States.  "Bin Laden's gone; who's next?"
 
When I've wanted to illustrate the President's weakness around issues related to race, I think back to the Henry Gates-induced Beer Summit.  I simply cannot imagine another president being forced to have a beer with someone they've insulted (justly or unjustly).  Christ Christie is a great comparison point here.  Think of his outbursts to questioners, most of them questioners.  The response among the cable television was far from condemnation and closer to praise.
 
What's interesting to me is who the enforcers were for the Beer Summit.  Sure, Republicans were giving Obama the whatfor, but if it was absurd most media types would have taken a pass.  Instead, they took and they ran with it.  My guess is because they felt Obama had overstepped.  That was the angle of the story and he had overstepped racially.  Something he knew instinctively, that Gates shouldn't have been arrested outside his own home and that race probably had something to do with it, was not something known instinctively by the people who cover him.  Thus days of pressure until the Beer Summit.  Obama had to make it right with the officer and with the press.
 
The same press threw the race flag on Obama when he referenced his grandmother as a typical white person.
 
Reminded me of Tom Robinson's misstep in his testimony in To Kill a Mockingbird.  "I felt right sorry for her."
 
Yes, the leader of the free world - in black skin - must still know his place.
 
And he does.  So does his wife.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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