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June 05, 2008

Barack Obama Is Black

“Presumptive” is a word that rolls around every four years to fill out the gawky space between presidential primary and convention/coronation. Personally, I find it to be a prissy, legalistic word. We know he’s not officially the nominee because we haven’t had the convention blah blah blah. But it’s kind of like getting on an airplane and hearing the guy flying it describe himself as the “presumptive pilot” because it hasn’t taken off yet. (On a separate note, I imagine my fictional pilot’s name to be Chuck Majors because that seems like an excellent name for a fake pilot.)

I would prefer that, instead of “presumptive,” the news media adopt the sexier word “alleged.” It’s a little more edgy with its connotations of criminal behavior, and it just sounds a lot cooler to be an “alleged nominee” versus a “presumptive nominee.”

Last night, the Democrats finally got their shit together and pushed Barack Obama over the top. He is now the alleged Democratic nominee for President of the United States. As I was watching CNN with the sound off while playing poker at three in the morning last night, I kept being reminded of Geraldine Ferraro’s ugly remark a few months ago. This is what she said:

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

In other words, if he weren’t black, he’d be nobody.

At the time, those comments provoked the expected and deserved outrage because she appeared to be denigrating whatever accomplishments and qualifications Obama the person has, and saying instead that he is just Obama, the Negro straw man.

But what I never heard articulated from any of the punditry was the fact that, to a large degree, I think she’s right. We are caught up in the concept of an African-American presidential nominee. We do respond to the concept of his race the same way we were caught up in her gender when she was the first female Vice Presidential candidate. Would Geraldine Ferraro, an obscure Congresswoman from New York’s 9th district, have been selected to be Mondale’s running mate if she weren’t a woman? Me doubt it. Her gender was the point. Does that take away from the full portrait of the person? Of course not.

But I think that misses the larger point. To say that he wouldn’t be where he is today if he were a white man or a black woman is not only patronizing but it is also ludicrous. None of us would be where we are today if we weren’t who we are. It’s circular logic. To say that he wouldn’t be where he is if he wasn’t black is the same thing as saying he wouldn’t be who he is he was somebody else. It’s like that old saying, “If my aunt had a dick she’d be my uncle.”

Barack Obama is black. And that is important. Because his race, along with a host of other factors, contributed to the complete person that is Barack Obama, just like the fact that I am the white, Jewish, left-handed son of a lesbian made me who I am (which is to say, awesome).

I love that B.O. is black because I love that our country, by supporting his candidacy, is also attempting to move beyond the racial schism that divides so much of our nation. Yes, his race undoubtedly has played a helpful role in getting him to where he is, but that’s a good thing. Because in Barack, I think we see a symbol: a half-black, half-white, African-American (literally), who overcame a difficult home life to become the standard bearer for his political party and the face of his nation. In that, he represents what American on her good days is known for throughout the world – opportunity. From a symbolic point of view, isn’t that the kind of face we want representing America to ourselves and to the rest of the world?

Obama has said it himself; “ In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

Obviously, the Presidency is more than a symbolic position, but that does not diminish symbolism’s importance. America has always been rife with symbolism: the Statue of Liberty, the flag, David Hasselhoff. Symbolism is crucial to the American identity because America is as much an idea as it is a nation. That’s, I think, what we mean, when we talk about “American ideals.” You never hear anybody say anything about “Canadian ideals,” “Mexican ideals.” That’s not to say that Canadians and Mexicans aren’t idealistic, but the American ideal is so strongly felt at home and around the world because America itself is such a powerful symbol of human aspiration. Wouldn’t it say something profound to the world when the band strikes up “Hail to the Chief,” and President Barack Obama emerges from Air Force One? In a sense, to diminish the important symbolism of a black man becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party is to diminish the essential American ideal.

(The same could also be said of Hillary Clinton if she had gotten the nomination. So much of Clinton’s support is rooted in her symbolism: a woman attempting to become President. She would not be here today if she were not a woman, and I say that as a good thing.)

That said, obviously a President is more than just a pretty face, even a pretty black face. I mean, I don’t think America is so excited about Barack just because he’s black. If we just wanted to elect a black guy, Alan Keyes would be President today. When I go down the checklist of what I want in a President, Obama’s got it all: good judgment, good practical ideas, good communication skills, and a hot wife. Throw in a couple cute kids, and you’ve got yourself Camelot redux.

After eight years of the Imperial Presidency, a new face is exactly what America needs. Change is what America needs. My personal opinion is that, right now, Barack Obama is what America needs.

Yes, Barack Obama is black. And yes, he wouldn’t be in this position if he weren’t. Or maybe it would be better to say, it wouldn’t mean as much. But none of us would be where we are if we weren’t who we are. Just like George Clooney wouldn’t be where he is if he looked like this guy:

Uglyguy5

In one of my recent posts, I mentioned that I was playing poker with a conservative and presumptive alcoholic. While trying to articulate why he dislikes liberals and progressives, he said that they all hate America. He was wrong. I am a liberal, and the ascendancy of Barack Obama is one of many reasons why I love my country.   


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geoff

You are awesome. Thats really all I have to say. Outstanding read.

geoff

You are awesome. Thats really all I have to say. Outstanding read.

geoff

You are awesome. Thats really all I have to say. Outstanding read.

that stoner kid

Michael Ian Black, these opinions are very becoming on you. I love all the recent political entries. They are extra tasty.

Yum.

.

One of your comments seemed a little americentric for my taste.

You wouldn't expect to hear "Canadian Ideals", or "Mexican Ideals" living in the U.S., would you?

I'm a Canadian, living in Canada and I hear talk of "Canadian Ideals", "Canadian Identity" and the like often enough to think it worth mentioning. Our sense of national identity is as real as yours.

norm

You are awesome. That's really all I have to say.. not..
You are useless and I want to rip your head off and parade your mutilated body around the major cities of the world for wasting my bandwith..

Steve

Michael, i never usually comment on blog posts, but this one was too outstanding to not say anything.

I am an aussie and am following this election almost daily because i share your sentiments on what it means for a black man (and even a woman) to be serious contenders for presidency.

Everyone i know has an opinion on the election, and that is pretty amazing for a little country like australia that won't even have a say in November. To me, the fact that so much energy, discussion and passion is being put into the selection of the president is infinitely more important that who is actually chosen (but personally, Go Obama!)

Great post, can't wait for more

loquacious

I was thinking about this the other day.

I had no idea Obama was black when I first started hearing about him and reading about him. It just wasn't an issue to bring up in word-of-mouth conversations, and I get most of my news from text, or radio, so visuals really didn't come into it until he started gaining more attention.

I just liked what I was hearing, and what he was reportedly saying. That's it.

Just as it should be.

hawkins

Obama happens to be one of the most inspiring orators to ever show up on the recent American political scene and that in itself might have given rise to the possibility that he would come to prominence in any case even- if he was a lilly white WASP. It is even more so in regard that any comparison with the speaking ability of GW is positively jarring.

Ty

"...To say that he wouldn’t be where he is today if he were a white man or a black woman is (not only patronizing) but it is also ludicrous..."

Can you please fix that? Those parentheses just don't really belong... Otherwise, good read.

I would like to touch our your proposed substitution of the word "presumptive" with "alleged"...

Alleged? I don't know... Today's usage of the word alleged kind of swings towards the negative (i.e. "he allegedly stabbed his wife seven times"). Also, I think the word kind of implies a lack of proof, we know Obama has the delegates needed (though not officially pledged till the convention) and we have a decent amount of proof that the person in the uniform sitting in the pilots seat making announcements over the intercom is more that likely the pilot. It is very likely that he is the pilot. In contrast, I could walk onto an airplane and say "hey everybody! I'm the pilot!" at which point, I become the "alleged pilot", no proof necessary.

Anyway, all of the preceding is mostly to say: Wouldn't the word "likely" be a lot better than either "alleged" or "presumptive"? I mean, that way, even politically aware third-graders could follow your blog.

Sam

Brilliant post, had to take exception to this though:

> You never hear anybody say anything about “Canadian ideals,” “Mexican ideals.” That’s not to say that Canadians and Mexicans aren’t idealistic, but the American ideal is so strongly felt at home and around the world because America itself is such a powerful symbol of human aspiration.

The biggest reason for the disparity is you being an American, these things certainly exist in other countries.

People outside America are certainly familiar with the concept of 'American ideals' too, I'd imagine this is mostly because of the US's role as a economic/military/cultural superpower ('we buy your TV').

America is certainly more nationalistic than many countries (thus the country as a symbol of aspiration), and so beliefs that tend to be treated as 'human ideals' elsewhere become 'American ideals', but nationalism is present everywhere to varying extents.

(I'm assuming you weren't claiming Americans weren't actually more idealistic than other people...)

SEO Ranter

Presumptive isn't even a word!

Gareth

Do you guys know that John McCain still called the presumptive nominee?(http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/results/candidates/#1701) And can I remind you that he only got the required delegates this week?He and McCain are only the nominees when the conventions vote.Don't blame the media because of the messed up democrats nomination proccess or the fact that the DNC did not solve the florida michigan situation earlier. learn your politics people.

Todd from australia

I love your balls. You should honestly think of doing this for a career, you could go from town to town and read preprepared articles (like such), interspersed with a few more jokes - I think you'd really be good at it :)


Ps. Bad joke, I know

Therese

I'd been waiting for your observations on the good news, and wasn't disappointed.

Guyinthenextcubicleover

Me thinks Geoff thinks you're awesome.

Nice Alan Keyes comment. I think I've voted for him in the last 3 primaries.

I agree that he is who he is because of his race(and agree that it's an inspiring story), but can't help but wonder if he would have won if it wasn't for his race. He pretty much swept the South on the strength of the black vote...just as he lost in places like W Va and PA due of the lack of one.

Michael Ian Black

I never comment on comments, but I thought I would make an exception this one time because I wanted to clarify something. When I said that we never hear about "Canadian ideals or Mexican ideals," I wasn't suggesting that these countries don't have pride or identities. What I meant was that the "American ideal" is so strong that the term exists all over the world. Granted, it may have negative connotations in some places, but the "American ideal" is almost an international marketing term for the USA. Yes, it's nationalistic, but I also believe it's true.

I also corrected the parentheses. Thank you Ty. And the suggestion that we use "alleged" versus "presumptive" was meant to be a joke.

Reen

Wow Michael. Fantastic.

You're one man who really gets it.

This entry brought tears to my eyes.

Thank you.

Really good student

I think it is important that Obama is black. I think this because for people who are deaf, illiterate and can't understand sign language won't know his political standpoint, but they can see he is black. Everyone can see who he is (except the blind), which is black, and that is what really matters.

AmbroseKalifornia

Great post Michael. I'd neve have pegged you as being so patriotic, what with you being a white, Jewish, left-handed son of a lesbian and (allegedly) awesome.

natron

Man.. the State was so awesome.

Matt

How much did BO pay you for that endorsement? Did he pick Package B?

Nice post. Great read.

Susanna

You have your finger on the pulse of America and I salute you.

Camille

Well written! I'm glad you're not one of those if-so-and-so-wins-the-election-I'm-moving-outta-the-country celebrities.

Ralph

I must say that I appreciate all the critical comments and inter-commenter disputes have really raised the bar on this blog.

As some of you know, I had a problem with the people who commented on this blog. Not that I am anyone to have a problem with anyone, but the comments and bloggings have really moved to the next level since conception a few years ago and I thank you all.

I also like how MIB has responded to comments on his other blogs to write this B.O post and then went another step and replied to comments with changes and explanations.

Thanks again, Michael Ian Black.

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