The estimable Leon Wynter writes:

Sorry, but I wouldn't entirely dismiss the role of grievance in black identity—BLACK POLITICAL IDENTITY— as a "joke". I don't know how old you are, but I was "there" when the erstwhile Stokely Carmichael christened the modern embrace of the very term "black" for us ex-enslaved Africans in that moment between the end of the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of identity politics.
It was, in fact, primarily about the grievance. Afrocentricity and other cultural nationalisms, including Hip Hop, would come years later.

You may have an issue with the one-dimensionality of this characterization of black identity. But I think Obama's departure from this founding pillar is going to be a much bigger deal for black America than it also happens to comfort whites. It will be THE challenge. Once again, it's not fair that we should have to bear so much of the burden of this challenge, but that's the nature of still being defined--to ourselves as well as by whites--as a minority group.

Before I write, some words about Leon. Many years ago, when I was young buck learning the craft, he published a book called American Skin. The thesis, as I recall, was that the market was basically integrating black culture into American culture, and thus closing the racial chasm. Leon can correct me if I have that wrong. Anyway, I was horrified by this conclusion and said so in a review. But the world is a small place, and as it turns out Leon's editor on that book was a young up and comer named Chris Jackson. Chris Jackson is now also my editor, and we recently revisted Leon's thesis. The fact of the matter is the years have borne his thesis out, and I am now a believer. I say that to say that I was wrong in a debate with Leon once. I may well be wrong again.

But let us have at it: The problem with this argument are manifold. First the original piece didn't specify "black political identity" is simply attempted to look at this idea that people may perceive Obama as too black. But even if we accept that it was narrowly discussing "black political identity" the argument is weak, because it assumes that, say, cultural identity isn't important in politics. And yet Obama has spent the last three months being lectured about not understanding the cultural mores of the white working class. You must understand that while Mitt Romney's positions may be anathema to black America, yelling "who let the dogs out" around a bunch of black kids also produces a strong emotional distaste. Obama's great gift is that he rings culturally true to African-Americans. People who thought he would not tend to be those who think that black identity begins with Al Sharpton and ends with 50 Cent.

Furthermore, as influential as Stokely Carmichal was on my life, in particular, as influential as black power was on black pols in the North, especially, it is a real reach to suggest that black power and black nationalism is somehow the end all and be all of black political identity. I would love to know who all those people were marching with Martin Luther King. The debate between black nationalism and integration is an ancient strand in black thought. But the idea that "nationalism" is more "black" cedes ground to a sort of jingoism. It's like accepting that if you were patriotic you were for the Iraq War. Furthermore, it's false to conflate "black nationalism" with "black grievance." The integrationists had just as much of a grievance with white people as the nationalists, arguable moreso. In fact, I can't think of a single political movement that is grievance-less. The pro-lifers have a grievance--the fact that abortion is legal. The pro-choicers have a grievance--the fact that abortion isn't better protected. Anti-taxers have grievances. Cuban-Americans have grievances. Feminists have grievances. Gays have grievances. The whole nature of politics is built around that. If we want to argue that "black grievance" is taboo, than fine--but that's a much more subtle argument, and it says more about WHITE America than it says about black people. We're the normal ones, if you accept that argument.

And again, if black grievance is so essential to black political identity, I'd love to know how Barack Obama routinely captured 90 percent of the black vote? I'd love to hear why Bill Cosby is considered a good influence on black America by some 87 percent of black folks? Why was Oprah sent to South Carolina? It's either one or other--either we're obsessed with making white people feel guilty, or we're not. The fact is that--and people still don't get this--Obama IS black. That's obviously not all he is, but it's not all I am or all any black person is. But to the extent that he takes a much more pragmatic approach to politics, to the extent that he's more obsessed with, say, the economy, than the confederate flag, he actually reflects political disposition of African-Americans. It's who we are. It's who all Americans, at this moment, are.

I am 32 years old. I was raised in house where Malcolm X was what Jesus Christ was in a lot of other houses. But if I learned anything living in West Baltimore, it's that my own political beliefs should never be confused with the broader body, that a debate about what was blacker made no sense when everyone in the neighborhood was demonstrably black.  It is a vicious caricature to cast all of black America in any one mold--be that MLK, Malcolm, Stokely, Sharpton, Gates, West or anyone. It does the most sinister work of the racists--robbing us of our humanity. We are people, and if I'd demand anything from media it's that we be treated as such, that the coverage of us reflect the great vibrancy, contradiction, comedy and tragedy that flows through any Martin Luther, down any Lennox Ave.

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