Michelle Obama’s ambivalence about America, and what it portends
From a CNN story:
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN)—Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, Friday called questions early in the campaign about whether her biracial husband was “black enough” to appeal to African-American voters “silly.”Now that’s a sentiment that would probably seem unobjectionable to most of us. The general American culture has no stake in black people’s obssession about whether individual blacks are “black” enough. Anyone who considers himself black, regardless of how black his ancestry or how “black” his personality, is black, period. And Obama in particular is a black man who is not (or so we’re told) presenting himself or running for President as a black man, and he should not be made to give an account to anyone about his blackness.
But then, a little later in the article, we run into this from Mrs. Obama:
“I don’t think there is a person of color in this country that doesn’t struggle with what it means to be a part of your race versus what the majority thinks is right.”Meaning that non-white people experience a conflict between their racial minority identity and the majority identity, which of couse is associated with whiteness since America has been a majority white country for its entire existence.
According to Mrs. Obama, then, blackness is not a problem for black people, but the American majority culture is a problem for black people. Blacks (and other racial minorities) do not feel themselves to be a part of that culture, or they feel only half a part of it. Their blackness tells them that one thing is right; the white majority tells them that something else is right, and they must negotiate between these conflicting voices.
These considerations return us to something I’ve said before. The President of the United States and his spouse are symbolic representatives of America. How can they properly fufill that role, if they do not feel themselves to be fully a part of America, if they are ambivalent about their membership in this country—if, perhaps, they don’t even like this country? They cannot. The only way that they can make themselves comfortable as symbolic representatives of America is to change the very idea of America into something more like themselves, by re-casting America in the image of their own racial ambivalence. The struggle they experience, between “being a part of their race and what the majority thinks is right,” will manifest itself in an ongoing racial psychodrama, a constant assertion of their racial identity against America’s mainstream historic identity.
If, as I’ve written, the large-scale presence of conspicuous racial minorities in a democratic society creates a powerful tendency for a nation to redefine itself as a multicultural society, in order for the minorities to be seen as fitting into the society, will not the even more conspicuous and symbolically charged presence of a racial-minority Presidential Couple create an even greater tendency in the same direction?
We know from recent experience that a minority individual who seems clear of any anti-American consciousness can turn out to be carrying a troublesome minority identity. Condoleezza Rice used to speak of not wanting to be seen as a black person but as an individual. And that was the way she came across, as an all-American woman who happened to be black, not as a black American woman. It was on that basis that Republicans and conservatives welcomed her as part of the fold. But when she became Secretary of State she put her blackness front and center and used it constantly as a weapon, before foreign audiences, to tear down and diminish America for its racial oppressions, while exalting herself as a symbol of racial progress. America is sinful, and Rice in her elevation to high office embodies the goodness that (only provisionally and partially) clears America of its sins. So, if the apparently and refreshingly non-racial Rice could suddenly morph into a “race woman” as Secretary of State, what would Mrs. Obama—who is already overloaded with burning racial anger (as I’ve discussed here)—be like as First Lady? She would use that position to chastise and belittle America with her racial ambivalence and resentment.
The lesson is that unassimilated persons—persons who lack a simple and untroubled sense of identity as Americans—should not serve in high government or national symbolic posts in this country, for the simple reason that they cannot represent this country with a whole heart.