Saturday, December 01, 2007

Is Hillary Clinton "blacker" than Barack Obama?

The man to ask is author, Shelby Steele. He has penned an intriguing article about the problems that Barack Obama has in selling himself to whites or blacks, because he is not able to please both. Steele divides the black camp into "bargainers" and "challengers". Bargainers are those blacks who, as Steele puts it,
make a deal with white Americans that gives whites the benefit of the doubt: I will not rub America's history of racism in your face, if you will not hold my race against me.
Steele offers Oprah Winfrey as the ultimate example of a bargainer. The other group of blacks are the "challengers", whom Steele describes as such:
Challengers never give whites the benefit of the doubt. They assume whites are racist until they prove otherwise. And whites are never taken off the hook until they (institutions more than individuals) give some form of racial preference to the challenger. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are today's best known challengers.
In the end, Shelby Steele admits that politically, Hillary Clinton is indeed more "black" than Barack Obama. How can this be possible? Notice I said "politically", not "physically":
Barack Obama is a plausible presidential candidate today because he is a natural born bargainer. Obama--like Oprah--is an opportunity for whites to think well of themselves, to give themselves one of the most self-flattering feelings a modern white can have: that they are not racist. He is the first to apply the bargainer's charms to presidential politics. Sharpton and Jackson were implausible presidential candidates because they suffered the charmlessness of challengers. Even given white guilt, no one wants to elect a scold.

But the great problem for Obama is that today's black identity is grounded in challenging. This is the circumstance that makes him a bound man. If he tries to win the black vote by taking on a posture of challenging, he risks losing the vote of whites who like him precisely because he does not challenge. And if his natural bargaining wins white votes, he risks losing black votes to Hillary Clinton. Why? Because Hillary Clinton always identifies with black challengers like Al Sharpton. This makes her "blacker" than Barack Obama.
I mean, why not? Don't forget that Bill Clinton was the "first black president". I guess Hillary Clinton would be the second.

Good Day to You, Sir

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