iOS app Android app More

John Ridley

John Ridley

Posted: November 13, 2007 04:29 PM

Michelle Obama and the Slumbering Black Masses


There could be any number of reasons why Barack Obama trails Hillary Clinton among black voters. It could be Senator Clinton's name recognition, her political experience... It could also be as simple as the fact that Blacks are not automatons that will unthinkingly vote for a person of color.

To Michelle Obama, the wife of Senator Barack Obama, the reason for her husband's lag is the "fear of possibility" owned by those hold-out blacks; scared flesh in their racial memory from being told too often that we are "not ready" to achieve. Mrs. Obama holds, however, no fear. In an interview with MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, Mrs. Obama believes that soon the straggling blacks will "wake up and get it."

I talked about Mrs. Obama's statement today on "Morning Joe," also on MSNBC. I don't disagree with the notion that for some people of color there is a "fear of possibility." When she ran the Underground Railroad Harriet Tubman used to carry with her a gun. Not so much to use against bounty hunters. She used it to occasionally throw on blacks so frightened by the journey to freedom they wanted to run back to the plantation thereby endangering all. But I would not say that fear of possibility or change or the future is either limited to blacks, or the prevailing attitude among us. Were that true, we would all still be, at best, sharecropping and at worst having our teeth checked prior to sale to the highest bidder.

For Michelle Obama to claim that in terms of voting for her husband black America will one day "wake up and get it" is to imply that any person of color who does not vote for Obama is somehow slumbering or stupid. That Obama need not earn the black vote, but rather our votes must be given out of racial fidelity.

I would add that earning the black vote does not mean pandering to the idea of "black issues," as any issues that affect blacks -- hate crimes and discrimination and lack of housing -- are not restricted to a particular race. And to suggest that those are "black issues" is to intimate that the credit crisis and the war on terrorism and rise in oil prices are of no interest to or do not affect people of color.

Instead, I would say that Obama needs to earn his votes through consistency of message. He can't pass himself off as an agent of change, then pander to the homophobic crowd. He can't claim to stand against the war, then continually vote for its funding. He can't send mixed messages as to whether or not America would actually use its nuclear arsenal to protect itself.

The same as with most black people; emotionally I want Barack Obama to be president yesterday. However, also like most blacks, I'm "awake" enough to know that Obama deserves to be evaluated on his merits, and not just on the color of his skin.