Black people--whiners

I find this piece by Johnetta Rose Barras problematic. I should say I have great respect for Barras--she was actually quite instrumental in my early years of journalism. But I think her Outlook essay on Obama is, no disrespect, riddled with issues.

Obama isn't like the leaders who have traditionally spoken for black America. As president, he's unlikely to embrace the confrontational identity politics that have defined black activism for so long. He won't tolerate an African American brand of racism or a culture of violence. Nor is he likely to be patient with the long-standing narrative of victimhood that has defined black America to itself and to the mainstream for more than a century.


Obama is already constructing a new black political and cultural narrative -- gathering together the best of the past, including the coalition politics that characterized the early civil rights movement and an image of strong black males that doesn't involve bling-bling or hip-hop misogyny. He has decried the low-hanging pants fashion so popular with young black men, blasted rapper Ludacris for offensive song lyrics and called on fathers to take responsibility for their families.

Are African Americans ready to accept all this and respond positively? Are they ready for a truly post-racial America?


One thing seems clear: Domestic issues such as health care, resolving the mortgage crisis and creating jobs in a recession will seem piddling compared with the treacherous task Obama faces of traversing the rickety bridge between mainstream America and the various factions of black America.

Is she serious?  Does Barras really believe that a dude who just won 94 percent of the black vote, whose tee-shirt they're hawking from hood to hood, will have more trouble with black people, than with resolving one of the biggest financial crisis in American history?

We could go through these item by item, but there is, I think, a big overarching problem that plagues nearly every point Barras makes. She isn't grapping with the most understated force in African-American life--organic black conservativism. Leave aside the fact that the notion that dissing Ludacris for calling a Former First Lady and sitting senator a bitch, or telling kids to pull their pants up is going to draw ire of black voters is belied by the very facts of this election. Barras is basically invoking this cliche image of black people as cabal of bacchanal, 50-Cent listening, baby's momma dissing, white-man blaming, layabouts.

But let's go to the tape, shall we?

On the popular culture front, large majorities of both blacks and whites say that rap and hip hop have a bad influence on society...

Three-quarters of blacks (76%) say that Obama is a good influence on the black community. Even greater numbers say this about Oprah Winfrey (87%) and Bill Cosby (85%), who are the most highly regarded by blacks from among 14 black newsmakers tested in this survey. By contrast, just 17% of blacks say that rap artist 50 Cent is a good influence...

A 53% majority of African Americans say that blacks who don't get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation, while just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, black opinion on this question tilted in the opposite direction, with a majority of African Americans saying then that discrimination is the main reason for a lack of black progress...

On the issue of immigration, blacks and whites agree that most immigrants work harder than most blacks and most whites at low-wage jobs. Also, blacks are less inclined now than they were two decades ago to say that blacks would have more jobs if there were fewer immigrants...

From a TIME magazine piece a couple years ago:

Blacks do see more racism in society than whites but, contrary to stereotype, seem disinclined to blame the system for their disadvantage. In fact, they are more likely to attribute it to individual causes like a lack of hard work--77% did so, compared with 62% of whites. "We think of U.S. minorities as less engaged in American individualism," Hartmann says, "but they are maybe more so."

The fact is that if black people ever lived in the "excuses zone"--and I don't think we did--we exited it a long time ago. No one knows this better than Obama who was shrewd enough to see that he could be applauded in churches for dissing deadbeat Dads, and then doubly praised as courageous by pundits who still think this is 1968.

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That really is the core problem with Barras's piece. There's this tendency for writers to fit Obama into whatever hustle they've been running for most of their career. I don't understand that. How you have a black man, who could not get into the Democratic convention in 2000, win all the battleground states that his party failed to win before, win southern states that they've repeatedly lost, expand the map to western states, dominate among virtually every demographic, and then fix your pen to spit the same game you were spitting five years ago is beyond me. These folks love to talk about what Obama means for black people. But what does Obama mean for them? Is it just a chance for them to say how right they were? Is that what it's all about? I'm not interested in what they're teaching, until they tell me what they've learned...