03/01/2007 05:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Of Opinion Polls and Self-Hating Blacks

The headline over at was dire: IS BLACK AMERICA READY TO EMBRACE OBAMA? Despite the fact that a Washington Post poll has Hillary Clinton leading Obama by a mere eleven points - a twenty four point swing in a matter of weeks with only, mmm, a year and a half until the election! - CNN is beating its favorite drum: black America doesn't like Obama (for comparison, the headline at the Post read: BLACKS SHIFT TO OBAMA, POLL FINDS). To justify this stance CNN continually taps into some of the most oddly self-hating rhetoric that can be found in black America.

From CNN: "Blacks, in part, may be slow to warm to the candidacy of Obama because, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll suggests, they are less likely than whites to believe that America is ready for a black president."

Also from CNN: "George Wilson, the host of XM Radio's 'GW on the Hill,' hears doubts about Obama all the time from his black audience. 'There is this doubt: but is America ready for a black president?' Wilson told CNN. 'And the overall consensus from my callers is that America is not ready for an African-American president.'"

So, if I've got this right; segments of black American don't want to elect a black man president because they think other segments of America aren't ready.


If we check history real carefully I'm pretty sure America wasn't ready when we as a people wanted to quit slavery and be free, when we wanted a full and complete Reconstruction. They weren't ready when we were tired of Jim Crow or when my parents, among millions of others, spilled out into the streets demanding civil rights.

They weren't ready for Jack Johnson or Fritz Pollard or Jackie Robinson or Muhammad Ali or Dr. King, Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm, Oprah, Tiger, Kenneth Chenault and I'm sure they weren't ready for Dick Parsons to be head of the world's largest media organization, which makes CNN's constant and beguiling racial stance so very odd.

The very fact that blacks aren't going to automatically vote for a black is not news. Beyond the fact that we are intelligent individuals rather than a monolithic voting block should be obvious. But recent history alone is evidence of our singularity. In 2004, presidential candidate Al Sharpton ran second to Howard Dean in the Washington, DC primary. A district that is 70 percent minority and 60 percent black. In South Carolina only one in five blacks voted for Sharpton and he won just one of the state's 55 eligible delegates.

But nobody took Al seriously, not even other blacks, so his dismissal passed with little notice.

Obama, however, is for real. And he has a real chance, which is why it's so painful to see other blacks turning on him for reasons other than pure politics. South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford recently said that if Obama won his party's nomination, then "every
Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose - because he's black and he's top of the ticket. We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything."

So, Obama is too black to help other candidates win, but not black enough for the likes of Ford, or Stanley Crouch or others who feel that if your family wasn't directly descended from slaves you don't get to be an African American even if you are an African American.

Is that really the message we want to send to young people of color: don't bother trying because you're going to fail anyway.

If it were up to self-haters like Ford the rest of us would still be living on the plantations.

There is coming into sharp focus a divide between Old Schoolers and the New Black America. I was reminded recently by another New Black American commentator of stories of Harriet Tubman guiding slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. She used to carry a gun with her. Not to use against the roving bounty hunters. Not
exclusively. Every once in a while Harriet would have to throw her gun on wayward blacks who got scared, decided they didn't want to be free, were ready to run back to massa thus putting all in jeopardy.

When I hear the belly aching and self hating of Robert Ford and his ilk, I have to believe it's up to people like Obama to draw out a metaphorical gun and force them into the future.


Or maybe we should just let them go running back to the plantation.