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What Obama's Candidacy Will Mean for Black America

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Now that Barack Obama's presidential candidacy is official, the puditocracy and bloggerazzi will examine his life to find out if he has what it takes to be the leader of the free world. Questions, intelligent and otherwise, will be asked and, in some instances, lies will be printed as fact. Some will wonder whether Obama can bridge America's racial divide and win over enough Whites to be a serious threat to win the nomination. Others will want to know if his relative inexperience will be a net positive or negative. Still others will want to know why he is raining on Hillary Clinton's parade. All of these are legitimate and reasonable questions. However, the most interesting question to me is what his candidacy will mean for Black America. Obama's candidacy, for all its promise, will prove to be an uncomfortable test for African Americans because it will force Blacks to accept someone who is so different from the civil rights-based Black politics to which they are so accustomed.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that Barack Obama, politically and socially, sits firmly in the mainstream of Black America. I also believe that the overwhelming majority of Black America will rally around Obama once they get to know him. Universal health care, technological improvements for poor and rural communities, reforming the political system to make it fairer, energy independence, and ending the war in Iraq are all ideas that will play well in Black America. My point is that Obama, thankfully, represents a different picture of blackness. He is a worldly, well educated Black man married to a strong, well educated Black professional woman. Most rank-and-file Black people haven't had the variety of experiences that characterize Obama's life.

The extent to which Obama's candidacy is resonating with White America is amazing and seems to represent a sincere desire for something new and better in our politics. It also reveals a willingness among White voters to embrace someone who has Black skin, but is not seen as overtly Black - a sure disqualifier in American politics. Consequently, Obama will have to campaign in a deracialized way that doesn't scare Whites. That, of course, means that Black America will have to share him with the rest of the country in ways that may make some will make Blacks uncomfortable. This also represents the compromise that Blacks and Whites will have to make: Whites will enthusiastically support a Black candidate that is not "too Black," while many in Black America will have to support a Black candidate that some may see as not "Black enough."

There is no doubt that the sea of White faces that greeted Obama as he launched his campaign made some Blacks wonder how committed he is to Black people and why he didn't announce in his own home city of Chicago. The fact is that his campaign would have been dead-in-the-water had he announced on the south side of Chicago because the crowd would have been overwhelmingly Black, which would have scared many Whites around the country who are just getting to know Obama. That is an unfortunate and inconvenient truth that represents the tightrope Obama must walk as he seeks to straddle and battle his way to the White House.

These are some of the racial dilemmas that Obama's candidacy presents. Let's hope that all parties are up to the task of dealing with them honestly and fairly. This is a unique opportunity for the country to take a big step toward embodying many of the ideals that we seek to project to the world.