Days of Future's Past

Barack Obama is the President, not the host of Soul Train.

--Jelani Cobb

Stanley Crouch salutes Gates' piece:

With intellectual honesty as his intent, Henry Louis Gates Jr. set off a bomb in the black wing of "victim studies" that has long bedeviled higher education and created a lucrative arena of complaint. That is no small hustle, for there is no better business in America than the supposed consciousness raising that goes with self-help. If one is either clever or ruthless enough, a successful career can result. 

Overstatement, melodrama, militant distortion and absurd academic theories have dominated the business of racial complaint since the early '60s. Then, James Baldwin and Malcolm X were sought after speakers nationwide, on and off television. One provided eloquent weeping and moaning, the other, impotent saber-rattling. Baldwin encouraged guilt for a long tradition of injustice, the X man terrified as a conveniently impotent boogey monster in the horror movie of race. Intentionally or not, each became an entertainer.

One factor that I neglected to mention yesterday was the generational one. We saw some of this during the campaign--writers and thinkers who came of age during the identity wars of the 70s, 80s and 90s, basically examining Obama through the same frame. My sense, again, is that very few black people voted for Obama hoping that he would weigh in on reparations. My sense is, also, that I've seen very few activists/writers/thinkers assert that Obama should weigh in on reparations. Crouch inveighs against "victim studies" which is fine. But again, the inability to give specific names of those in the victim studies business and quote their specific arguments is telling.

We talked about this in comments some--suggesting Obama open a debate about reparations feels very twenty years ago, and maybe not even right then. But if we're really going there, let's go there. Obama should also host a debate on rift between the blacks and the Jews, weigh in on Affirmative Action at Harvard Law School, and finally settle the question that's nagged the whole world for so long: Can blacks be racist?

I'd also suggest that Obama address the portrayal of black men in The Color Purple, and declare a national holiday to observe the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March. Iran can wait. Climate change wait. Financial reform can wait. Black Studies departments the world over hang in the balance--not to mention that awesome, if unresolved, argument you had in your freshman dorm circa 1991.

Que the militant hip-hop...