Obama’s African-American Race Hecklers
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 8/1/08
“Why have you not one time spoken . . . not one time . . . to the oppressed and exploited African-American community?” a young black man asked Obama today in Florida.
Of course, he has, but he sometimes didn’t say what they wanted to hear. It was the soaring rhetoric from the mid Sixties, but derivative, imitative and absurd. Obama in a word, told the heckler that this is a democratic dialog which gives him the option to vote for someone else, but the only way we are going to solve our problems in this country is for all to come together.
And incidentally, the first Black President, Bill Clinton, is this week in Africa, where he has many friends, trying to grasp shards of a racial legacy that is rapidly sinking into the twilight.
This is a good moment, because if offers opportunity to see the two faces of race which have emerged and institutionalized themselves here since integration.
What the Clintons, he and she, have offered throughout their co-career, such as it is, is a vision and model of victimization. But it is a patronizing vision when it is coming from white folk, and especially so when it comes from an Arkansas governor and his missus.
Clinton fully endorses the views of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. All of Bill Clinton’s major black supporters are in the matriarchal tradition of the Deep South. They are either elderly women writers of accusatory and racially outraged prose, or black male preachers. Vernon Jordan aside, Bill Clinton has almost no other black friends.
Bill Clinton obviously hates Obama. Bill hates Obama because he took away his opportunity to play again in the White House as a kind of male Eleanor Roosevelt, acting as Hillary’s legs – going around and giving speeches everywhere while she takes care of business.
Jackson – Bill’s pastor and conspicuous confidant – also hates Obama. But he hates Obama because Obama suggests and demands that black people, like all people, hold some responsibility for their present state and destiny. In essence, Obama treats black people as equal to white people. Jackson and most all of Bill’s other black preacher friends (and his celebrity priest friends in Africa) seek and find with Bill a special relationship and a very different status of responsibility.
Bill, Hillary and myself grew up with the fierce people; the best and most beautiful among us died before 30 and if they didn’t die of their own passion they were gunned down, like Malcolm X and John Lennon. But strangely enough, the fierce ones, more than the rest of us, seemed to die anyway, like Otis Redding, killed in a plane crash and Jerry Rubin, run over by a car. So today it is odd – even tiring – to see a generation remembering itself through this phony Arkansas governor and his wife.
But what I want to know is how did a group of black Baptist preachers in the South unite to show their support for Hillary at the historic moment when a black man was running a juggernaut, in the words of David Brooks, to the Presidency of the United States. They have shifted now to Obama but only because they were relentlessly hounded by the press as “Uncle Toms” and as a “black boy network.”
He’s forgotten now, but in the days of the fierce people, Malcolm X, the fiercest of the lot, used to call people like this “House Negroes.” Bill’s got the silver hair. He plays the saxophone. And he loves the colored girls – Malcolm’s phrasing - don’t cha know. Andrew Young’s ill conceived and ill-spoken comments in support of Bill Clinton and his preacher man pals showed an attitude long familiar to the South and to readers of Southern history. Such a man – quite often called Governor by the slaves - is the pride of Malcolm’s “Mr. Big” – the slave put in charge of the blacks in the plantation culture to keep them in line. It shamefully showed pride in a white politician clearly because of his arrested sexual attitudes and the disconnect between sexual behavior and love and the responsibility which naturally flows from these relationships.
Welcome to the old school. This is precisely how “massa” behaved to the disgust of the civilized and thoughtful black and white in the Old South, like Mary Chestnut, whose astute observations are faithfully reported in C. Vann Woodward’s publication of her wartime letters. “Massa’s” black mistresses are a theme which runs through the whole of Southern literature. All the “mullato” children of the “House Negroes” – the favored of “massa” who are brought into his parlor, clearly bear the same facial features as the white children, and the Governor showed no public disgrace, but a pride in his virility; a pride shared by his fellows.
“The Governor” and “Mr. Big” are symbiotes. “He loved his master more than the master loved himself,” Malcolm said of the “House Negro,” and the house slave identified fully with the master: “If the master was sick, the House Negro would say, ‘What’s the matter, boss, we sick?’”
Malcolm X, banished today, was not afraid to die and not afraid to live. He was the “Field Negro”, he called himself, who came to push the “House Negroes” out of their fawning, complacent and submissive spot in the white man’s parlor.
Obama is no such man. He has his own originality and authentic power. His is a new moment. A moment of maturation of attitudes. Even if he is not elected, it is too late for Jesse Jackson and Bill’s special friends and their “special relationship.” They have lost their special place in the Governor’s parlor.