Arts & Culture

Obama Just Threw on His Du-Rag! For Black Americans, This is the Moment of Truth

Until today, black America's excitement about Barack Obama reminded me of an old Eddie Murphy skit: everyone was falling for the Obama in the tailpipe. Obama's served as a lovely symbol of racial transcendance, but until today's speech he hadn't … Read More

By / March 18, 2008

Until today, black America's excitement about Barack Obama reminded me of an old Eddie Murphy skit: everyone was falling for the Obama in the tailpipe. Obama's served as a lovely symbol of racial transcendance, but until today's speech he hadn't said anything white politicians haven't said. And how many black people in jail = one Obama?

Because if Obama's relevancy is tied to disavowing his candidacy as "The Black President," then he sacrifices his relevance to the black community.

But today Obama threw on his du-rag, gold fronts, and dookie gold-rope chain to keep it real and say, "YO! F this 'race doesn't matter' bullish. I'm black and I'm proud, bidges!"

Fact is when anyone says race doesn't matter, a black person somewhere loses a piece of fried chicken. And it hurts a little. The bottom line is: there is a black experience. And a white experience. And an Asian experience. And so on. For a black person, race is a matter of permanent importance the same as if you had a pig's foot growing out of your forehead. It is impossible to ignore.

When people choose to be "politically correct" and act like you don't have an appendage on your forehead, it doesn't feel right. It feels patronizing. Yes, there are harsh truths related to having a pig's foot growing out of your head. Cops might beat you up. Snooty white girls might not sleep with you on principle. Snooty black girls too! And Asians (disclosure: no one sleeps with me). But would the pig's foots on your head make you a lesser person? Well, in terms of having the respect of the populace at large, yes.

So, ok, luckily being black isn't quite like a pig's foot in your head. But sometimes it's close! And the conversation on race in America often plays like our political system: a chess game not about divining the truth, but about not saying the wrong thing. A war of passive-aggression, where people sidestep and play defense until someone passes out from exhaustion and in so doing crosses the line.

But Obama's speech today was an aggressive move to checkmate:

Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

This is not "postracial." Or at least not the kind of "postracial" everyone is trying to sell. Obama is not a "transcendent" candidate, there is no such thing as "transcendence" in government.

As Hillary likes to point out—and this is why, until today's speech, I had supported her—there are problems, and there are solutions. Race is a problem, and someone who deals with race everyday is needed to deal with it.

Obama is the Black candidate, and is now trusting that such a distinction matters to the people of America. In today's speech he didn't try to placate the political mainstream—and that might make all the difference.

For Black people, anyway, there's no more Obama in the tailpipe. This is the moment of truth. We either matter or we don't.

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