Last night I gathered with some friends in Brooklyn to watch the Iowa Caucus’ unfold. Mostly black queers, and mostly Obama supporters. We all talked about his candidacy, this election, and what the word is on the street from friends and family members about Obama.
Almost all of us shared stories of knowing other Black folks who thought it would just simply be impossible for him to win–that many white people would simply not vote for him.
Well that was proven wrong, in what can be nothing short of an upset: Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus. Not only did he win, but he beat the second place John Edwards by 8% points, and Hillary Clinton by 9% points. The fact that he won in a state with only a 4% black population is incredible.
According to the pollsters, it was the youth and Black vote that supported Obama in Iowa. The older you were on the Democratic side, the less likely you were to vote for Obama. There were apparently twice as many people who showed up to caucus than in the previous presidential election, and they carried some serious weight on the Democratic side. Also, more than 40% of independents voted for Obama. People forget Obama was an community organizer, and it seems as though his team’s strategy to turn out their voters was a huge success.
While it is true that no other Black candidate has been able to win Iowa and his victory is historic, I hated listening to the CNN anchors talk about his win. They talked about his being a “uniter, and not angry or bitter” which are code words for being the “right type of negro” who doesn’t threaten white people. They’re so glad that they can call an end to Black people being mad at them. NOTE: Listen to William Bennett’s commentary on CNN.
Well I hate that that’s the narrative he’s riding in on–being the person whose going to unite the country and all. But has he stated implicitly or explicitly that he is trying to distance himself from traditional Black leadership or struggle? Or is the media forcing that interpretation? Undoubtedly there is a schism happening in the Ole’ Civil Rights Leadership about Obama. Perhaps they resent the media’s notion that they’re just nagging white people about problems that are long ago solved. I have many problems with the old civil rights leadership and wish that most of them would just retire and get out of the way so some new work can be done (the only thing they love to do more than march is to gate-keep). But I can understand why they’d be pissed at hearing how everything their friends fought and died for is irrelevant all the time.
But I actually think some of their early support for Hillary Clinton is more insidious than that (I think the same can be said for the unions backing Clinton as well, but that’s another article entirely). I think they feel slighted that Obama doesn’t bow to them–the same thing has happened to me with that generation of movement men, and I know they feel that every Black person born after 1965 should kiss their ring and ask for permission to do any work. More importantly, they will actually hold on to power, and have continue to enjoy their place as interpreters for the race, which they do not have (I am assuming) with Obama. They see Barack, perhaps, not as the culmination of their work, but as the signal that their status as racial middle men is over. Integration, like it or not, meant that there’s a lot more Black people who’ve been socialized around white people. (It’ll be interesting to see how they all position themselves if Obama wins more states–especially South Carolina.)
But whatever they may think of Barack’s relationship to the Civil Rights Movement, his victory speech last night bore the distinct character of someone who’s been studying the rhetorical style of Dr. Martin Luther King very closely.
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