SECTION REDIRECT: newsREDIRECT SECTION: opinionREDIRECT SECTION: opinionla

Jonah Goldberg: Obama and the shifting ground of race

Barack ObamaBusinessSocial IssuesMedia IndustryTea Party MovementCrime, Law and JusticeRepublican Party

Princeton's Cornel West, one of the most famous black intellectuals in America, says that President Obama is afraid of "free black men." Because of Obama's atypical upbringing, West says, "when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow [sic] and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a de-racination."

With whom does the rootless cosmopolitan-in-chief find himself most comfortable? Jews and rich white men, says West. No surprise given the professor's view that Obama is a "black mascot" and a "black puppet" for Wall Street and corporate America.

Meanwhile, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, offers a far more familiar if no more persuasive take: "The president's problems are in large measure because of his skin color."

If forced to choose, I'd say West has the slightly more plausible position, only insofar as there's an argument to be made that Obama has been a puppet of Wall Street. What that has to do with his skin color is beyond me (a community organizer with a phobia about "black folk" married to a black woman strikes me as the makings for a hilarious Tyler Perry sitcom).

Still, I find the whole thing fascinating. Here are West and Clyburn, two of the most influential black people in America, bitterly clinging, as Obama might say, to ideologically racial views — He's not black enough! He's too black for racist Americans! — that have less and less relevance. This is not to say that there is no racial animus against Obama. Of course, there is. But is it significant, as Clyburn suggests? Well, certainly not enough to keep him from being elected president of the United States (!) or being the establishment favorite to be reelected.

Clyburn's take strikes me as the left-wing version of the right-wing theory — popularized by Dinesh D'Souza — that everything Obama does can be explained by his allegedly "post-colonial" worldview. Simpler explanations are available. Obama's a liberal Democrat. He does things a white liberal Democrat would do, and he receives mostly the same opposition a white liberal Democrat would receive. If a President John Edwards (shudder) had rammed through the economic stimulus or "Edwardscare" the same way Obama did, Republicans wouldn't say, "Well, since he's white, it's OK."

Take the "tea parties," which have been accused of racism by the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, mainstream media outlets and such entertainer-activists as Janeane Garofalo, who proclaimed they are "about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up." So, after nearly two years of "experts" telling us that the typical tea party member is two holes in a white sheet shy of being a Klansman, guess who is arguably the most popular tea party candidate for president? Herman Cain, a black businessman.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the changing racial landscape comes with voting patterns, though not at the ballot box. Blacks — particularly among the young and educated — are voting with their feet by leaving cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit in huge numbers and moving to places like Atlanta, Charlotte and Dallas. Clement Price, a Rutgers history professor, told the New York Times, "The black urban experience has essentially lost its appeal with blacks in America."

(One reason that might be the case: Black entrepreneurialism skyrocketed from 2002-07, according to the census. Perhaps the rise in black-owned small businesses breeds disenchantment with big city bureaucracy?)

For years, liberals have glibly smeared the GOP as racist because it is disproportionately Southern. Obviously there are historical reasons behind the charge, but in 2011? If the region is so racist, why are blacks so eager to flee to the less "progressive" South?

Blacks are still largely lock-step Democratic voters and will probably remain so for a while. But when you listen to the likes of West and Clyburn, never mind silly white liberals like Garofalo, one cannot help but be reassured that the ground is shifting under their feet as inexorably as it shifted under the feet of racists more than a generation ago.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Barack ObamaBusinessSocial IssuesMedia IndustryTea Party MovementCrime, Law and JusticeRepublican Party
  • UCLA's drive for diversity
    UCLA's drive for diversity

    After failing three times in previous years, the faculty of the UCLA College of Letters and Science recently approved a proposal requiring future undergraduates to take a course on ethnic, cultural, religious, gender or other “diversity.” Critics immediately derided it as a...

  • Near Ferguson, a struggle that begins before kindergarten
    Near Ferguson, a struggle that begins before kindergarten

    While the nation was focused on Ferguson, Mo., this summer, my attention was on a St. Louis kindergarten classroom not far from where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer. Within weeks of her East Coast college graduation, my daughter, Casey, made an unexpected detour,...

  • So what if the Flash now has a black girlfriend?
    So what if the Flash now has a black girlfriend?

    Like a lot of baby boomers who grew up reading DC comics, I watched the premiere of “The Flash,” a re-reimagining of the “Silver Age” version of the Fastest Man Alive. Tuesday’s episode on the CW network aligned at several points with the 1956 origin story in the...

  • No Wilson indictment -- yet no vindication for Ferguson police
    No Wilson indictment -- yet no vindication for Ferguson police

    There's understandable disappointment in many quarters over the decision by a Missouri grand jury not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown. After hearing testimony from 60 witnesses — some of whom apparently...

  • Shame on Texas and the U.S. Supreme Court
    Shame on Texas and the U.S. Supreme Court

    In allowing Texas' voter identification law to go into effect, at least for the November election, the U.S. Supreme Court last week showed the nation precisely what it meant in 2013 when its conservatives struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County vs. Holder.

  • The problem with the 'R' word? A Muskogee/Creek Indian explains it all for you
    The problem with the 'R' word? A Muskogee/Creek Indian explains it all for you

    As a mixed-blood Muscogee/Creek Indian, I would like to commend Washington, D.C.'s professional football team on its tasteful logo. The American Indian in profile with two eagle feathers is dignified and respectful.

  • Asian Americans would lose out under affirmative action
    Asian Americans would lose out under affirmative action

    A recent Field Poll claimed that most registered voters and Asian Americans in California support affirmative action. Based on the poll data, Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside, indicated that the intense opposition to State...

  • Daniele Watts, in her own words
    Daniele Watts, in her own words

    Some experiences stay with us. When I was 16, my father was driving me home from a school play when we saw flashing lights. We hadn't been speeding. I remember my father asking the police officer what was wrong. The officer ignored his question and demanded identification.

Comments
Loading