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

What Is the Iowa Caucus to The Black Radical?

Every few years, at election time, I feel very conflicted. I was raised to understand the importance of voting, and more directly, Black people lost their lives for the right for me to do so.

My mother made sure me and my sisters watched Eyes On The Prize on PBS. That documentary chronicled all the different ways Black people in the 1950’s & 60’s organized to fight desegregation (of which protecting/restoring their right to vote unencumbered was a part), and the myriad number of ways white citizens, the states and the federal government were involved in keeping them disenfranchised.

So with a heavy heart full of gratitude and sagging with the debt of my ancestors, I usually find myself treading into some mildewy church basement or pissy school gymnasium to exercise my God-given right pull the lever–an excercise meant to turn the tides of 500 years in one fell swoop.

And so here we are. It’s 2008 and not only can we now vote (mostly), but we have the first viable Black candidate running for president. Barack Obama’s ascendancy to this place, seems rife with all right thoughts of “fulfilling the dream” and “keeping America’s promise,” which has certainly been helped by his PR machine. That’s not to say he’s a phony or a fraud. I have never met him but I do, like most of the people who seem prepared to cast a ballot his way, seem to trust he believes what he says most of the time, which is more than I can say for any of the other frontrunners.

But there are others who feel that this very narrative, the Moses/Jesus/Lincoln/MLK-like prophet come to deliver the people and the nation, is the thing they despise about what he represents most. There are people who feel as though his election will say to the nation and the world, “The US is now beyond race (at least beyond the black & white paradigm). Racism is over. They’ve gotten the Presidency. Now, stop complaining and get to work. Come On, People!”

There are others who feel that he, whose “Black genes” trace most directly to Kenya and not Kentucky, is not Black enough to be even considered the first Black president.

There are more of us, knowing too well that he is Black, who feel he faces the certain and decisive bullet of an assassin if elected.

There are some of us who simply feel the US Presidency will never be a place to transform the United States. Some of us would in fact, rather undo it.

So, if his election may be fraught with such tension, hope, ambivalence or disillusionment for Black people in America, why should I vote? Why should any Black person in America vote?

I don’t honestly know the answer to that question. I don’t know why I do vote most of the time. But I know that there isn’t an easy answer to how the descendants of chattel slaves should position themselves trapped as we are in this strange paradigm. But as much as I feel–in the deepest core of my being–somewhat anxious about Obama and wanting to see him do well, I am under no delusion that his Presidency (nor Clinton nor Edwards nor any of ’em) will save any of us.

And so I will watch the Iowa Caucus tonight, and all the other election broughaha over this year, with a good deal of hopefulness and anxiety, highly skeptical that freedom can ever be found in a ballot box, but knowing full well that budgets, laws, and public policy can shrivel or spread misery.

The choice is yours.

May the ancestors be with us.