Note to Al Qaeda: If you insist on trying to insult Barack Obama, the United States’ first African American president-elect, falling back on the tropes of an America that no longer exists simply is not going to work. “Field Negroes” and “house Negroes”? Come out of the caves, blink in the sunlight of a new era and get it right -- that’s “White House Negro.”
It’s not quite the same, is it? That’s because Obama isn’t moving into the attic or the basement or the butler’s pantry of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.; he’ll be in the Oval Office. And although it’s a given that Al Qaeda is stuck in a time warp -- video capabilities notwithstanding -- for Ayman Zawahiri to call Obama a “house Negro” shows how fervently the terrorists cling to an out-of-print edition of American history.
This isn’t the America of 1963. In the decades since Malcolm X divided blacks into those akin to slaves who worked in the fields (abused and rebellious) and those akin to slaves who worked in the master’s house (comfortable and servile), the racial complexities and the racial complexion of the country have changed dramatically. We are more diverse and more integrated. Waves of immigration have brought millions: Koreans and Filipinos, Mexicans, Iranians, Russians and Africans from all over the continent.
That said, our enemies are not alone in their outdated understanding of who we are. Europe, for example, has long maintained an air of moral superiority by casting racial issues in the U.S. as ossified. (Of course, it’s not only other nations that are confused by our improved race relations and greater diversity -- the Republican Party is still scratching its collective head.)
But Obama won 95% of the black vote -- there was no “field/house” division. He won 67% of the Latino vote. He won the Asian vote, the Jewish vote and the Catholic vote. He won women of all ages and the overwhelming majority of young people. True, he didn’t win a majority of the white vote, but he won more white votes than John Kerry did in 2004.
When Malcolm X referred to house Negroes, he mocked Martin Luther King Jr.'s insistence on nonviolent protest. His unyielding eloquence electrified audiences from mosques in Harlem to Oxford University. America could grant blacks equality and get a carrot, he warned, or he would be the stick, ready to strike. And for years, even after both men had been killed, that’s how it was: Malcolm or Martin, anger or faith.
So now Zawahiri is quoting Malcolm X. On Nov. 4, however, Obama quoted King, affirming that the “arc of history” does bend toward justice. And if that’s not good enough for terrorists, capitalism also has spoken. The hottest-selling T-shirts right now do not say, “By any means necessary,” they say, “Dream realized.” But then, maybe Zawahiri has never heard of EBay.