Iowa Part 2: Thoughts on Barack’s Victory

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.

Want more analysis of the Obama win?

The Black Snob

Mother Jones

The Nation

New York Times

The Politico

6 thoughts on “Iowa Part 2: Thoughts on Barack’s Victory

  1. Please bear with me a minute? I’m white, but my best friend in high school was black. She told me that I could never know what it’s like to be black unless I could live in her skin. She said we should celebrate our differences. To be totally honest, when I first started supporting Barack, I really never gave any thought to what his skin color was. I’m so happy America has grown up enough so that a black person can be president, but I support him because I agree with his ideals.

  2. kip – that’s great for you, pat on the back and all, but let’s not pretend you’re colorblind.

    and i also heard the MLK resemblance and am wondering if anyone has heard pundits’ comments on it…

  3. Hey, just came to your website. Enjoyed reading the entries — esp, the political ones RE the candidates this cycle.

    I’ll be in New Orleans for the CiC meeting next week, so lookin’ forward to meeting you then! 🙂 You, RJ, Jeremy, a good mix of other folks and I = much fun to be had in NOLA. 🙂

  4. Unrelated to my comment above, but kinda of related to your most-recent post on Obama, here’re some links to some post-Iowa writin’ in the “New Yorker”:

    1) writer Ryan Lizza on Obama’s good night in Iowa and Hillary’s immediate future — http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2008/01/14/080114ta_talk_lizza

    2) political commentator Hendrick Hertzberg on the Obama victory speech (scroll down a few entries to find it) and on the likely result in NH — http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/hendrikhertzberg

    and

    3) writer Jeffrey Toobin on the inherit racism of anti-“voter fraud” efforts — http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2008/01/14/080114ta_talk_toobin

  5. I heard the cadence of Dr. King as well. What a role model when it comes to oratory and message. The old guard definitely feels threatened because Obama won’t kiss butt. However, this is a new day.

    With all due respect to those who fought and died so that I can be here today, we need a new and fresh approach to the movement for equality & justice in America.

    Danielle

  6. I’m glad you brought up some of the more problematic aspects of the white media’s perception of Obama being a “uniter” – and perhaps his own intent on being seen this way. With all of the comparisons to MLK I worry that our community is pinning too much on Obama’s campaign and him himself as far as it representing some definitive moment in civil rights history. We may find that if he is elected civil rights struggles will actually become MORE difficult at the grassroots level because people will assume that if a black man can be elected president than racism truly is a thing of the past – although we know that is BS. Whites who are already skeptical of institutional racism will once again be able to abdicate responsibility for racism and blame black “pathology” and “laziness” for all the probs in our community.

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