Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama: Blackness Redefined

This week Amy Goodman's Democracy Now broadcast featured a discussion with Reverend Jesse Jackson that focused on race and the primary elections.

Much of the conversation centered on the Reverend's support of Barack Obama, and the perceived split of support among Black leaders and celebrities for various candidates. But what was really intriguing was Jackson's take on Obama's political handling of racial issues and his relation to the civil rights legacy which paved the way for his historical bid for the Presidency.

Death to the scary Black man

Goodman kicked off the sequence with a clip of William Bennett trumpeting the rise of the new Black man via Obama's Iowa victory.

"97% in fact, Iowa, rural white, farming state. Barack Hussein Obama, a black man, wins this for the Democrats. I have been watching him. I watched him on Meet the Press. I watched him on your show, watched him on all the CNN shows. He never brings race into it. He never plays the race card. Talk about the black community, he has taught the black community you don't have to act like Jesse Jackson, you don't have to act like Al Sharpton."
If you have been around racial politics long enough, you recognize the subtext of this argument. Obama's not a scary black man. He won't make white people confront racial inequities, deal with issues of privilege or the structural racism that undergirds this country. You get your chocolate without the calories and perhaps, without the nutrients as well. Reverend Jackson attributes the Iowa victory to the "maturing of America." I can buy into that thinking up to a point. After all, when white Iowans went into those voting booths they did punch the card for a brother. But was that a calculation that he was a safe bet? It takes me back to that scene in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, where the Italian, Pino, says of Black celebrities that he really likes, "They're not really Black." In the minds of white voters, is Obama really Black?

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