From Powell-mania to Obamarama

"Obamarama" can be defined as the cult of personality surrounding the young senator from Illinois -- Barack Obama -- and his "leadership potential," specifically the fad fantasy that he could be the first "black" POTUS.

Apparently, Colin Powell-mania is officially over. Maybe Condi-palooza is right around the corner?

I put "black" in quotes not because I question Obama's authenticity, smoothness, eloquence, or blackness (whatever that means), but only to note the inevitable (and irritable) racial debate Obama's candidacy will inspire in living rooms and barbershops across the country.

Would he really be the first truly "black" president? His father is Kenyan and his mother is white. His forbears weren't slaves in America. So, he may be 'a person of color,' but this isn't a story of a descendent of slaves rising to the most powerful office in the nation, etc.

The other national race discussion Obama's candidacy will spark is whether the "color-blind" anti-affirmative action crowd actually sees him as "black," which brings with it a host of unconscious, often negative, associations, manifested in coded language like "is he really the most qualified?" As we get closer to campaign season, watch how much "serious" commentary you'll find raising questions about his "qualifications," as if affirmative action opponents didn't vote for Bush. Twice.

Of course it's possible that a white majority may vote for a black president. But Condi's a more formidable candidate than Obama. A black woman running against a Democratic opponent? How do PC Democrats go after a black woman and win?

Still, if the historical record is any indication, Obama winning the White House in '08 would be nothing short of absolutely shocking, a few steps down the ladder from discovering alien life on Mars. True shock and awe, on my part, at least.

If Obama were to somehow prevail on election night, I would be OJ Simpson-acquittal shocked. Add to it my surprise at how surprised most of my fellow Americans seemed to be that terrorists actually attacked the United States after all these years of U.S. "interventions" and that's how shocked I'd be.

The awe part wouldn't kick in until a few months later. Let's say Obama is elected. If he actually lived aaaall the way from election night to the inauguration, I would be so awed I'd lead an anti-affirmative action protest in front of the NAACP's national headquarters.

What would be most surprising isn't the possibility that a majority of white Americans would cast their ballot for a black presidential candidate, which must be the case given present demographics. No, the real surprise would be if a majority of white America voted for a black Democrat with pragmatic-progressive values and policy ideas.

Because the undeniable record is: black leaders who don't come from the Booker T. Washington "safe Negro" tradition never reach the pinnacle of their political potential before they're either marginalized or killed, whether we're talking about Martin and Malcolm, Jesse and Al or Shirley Chisolm and Paul Robeson, superficial style aside.

Robeson's life is instructive, actually. As my friend Stew Goodwin has convinced me, Robeson is one of the most accomplished Americans of the 20th century, whose life boasts elite accomplishments in sports, theater, music, oration and activism. Progress? Yes, but here we have probably the pound-for-pound most talented African-American ever and most folks reading this right now are saying Paul Robe-who?

That's not an excuse for black politicians and civic leaders to throw in the towel. As the legendary Detroit activist Grace Boggs once told me, "You just never know."

One thing we do know: As important as responsive politicians are in creating a better America, it can't happen without an organized, energized, visionary and multi-racial citizen movement, no matter who's in the White House. Instead of obsessing over presidential possibilities, it would be more fruitful to focus on social movement possibilities.


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