Some place in the prints this morning, I saw President Obama characterized as bi-racial. It led me to thinking about the way we read men and women with different proportions of blackness in them. Pretty much up to now, it was the Nuremberg Law model: a little bit of Jewish blood, you're Jewish … a little bit of black blood, you're black.
A few weeks ago, in an extraordinary piece, John McWhorter parsed the meaning of "African-American" and found it utterly useless or, worse yet, a lie. "Black" is less and less a scientific category and becoming less and less a sociological category, as well. But, as a political term, the word has a tonic resilience because there are rewards in the system for those who can or want to rely on them. And, hey, I'm not getting morally huffy. If bankers can arrange for affirmative action, there's no reason that descendants of slaves or people who think they're descendants of slaves should be prevented from sharing in the small potatoes that status provides. Whether there is internal and intrinsic justice in that system is another matter altogether.
In any case, Sheryl Gay Stolberg published an article, "For Obama, Nuance on Race That Invites Questions," in Monday's Times. From the headline, you could discern nothing. But the piece revolved around how their black brother, the president, was treating their problems and their issues. Alas, many of the people referenced by Stolberg wreaked of deceit--which testified to the accuracy of her writing.
The Rev. Al Sharpton is cited--I'd guess at his own suggestion--as "working with Mr. Obama to close the achievement gap in education." What possibly could that phrase mean? Obama is not out of his mind, and neither is Arne Duncan. In any case, Sharpton gave the president a pass: "[He] says the president is smart not to ballyhoo 'a black agenda'." Sharpton is now a heretic to his own beliefs. Of course, he is also a charlatan and a crook.
Others are harsher with Obama: Representative Elijah E. Cummings; Georgetown sociologist Michael Eric Dyson, whose scholarly credentials are inversely proportional to his monstrous output; the black writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson sums up the president's critics in characterizing his strategy as "disingenuous at best, and an insult at best." In my eyes, these constitute a big compliment for Obama.
Unquestionably, however, there is a rift opening up between the White House and the black population. I'd like to see this studied, with an eye to grasping whether the rift is equally evident across the rungs of blackness. I have no guesses. We will already see some of this in the Congressional elections. Two questions to pose: Will black Americans vote against their economic interests? Or will they just stay home?
Nearly a year ago, Attorney General Eric Holder did a little incendiary work of his own by calling Americans "a nation of cowards" on racial matters and saying that we should start a public conversation on the subject. Apparently, his boss has had no intention of doing this. So maybe Holder should start his little confab with the prez. But there are character matters inhibiting such an initiative. As John Judis proved to me the other day, Obama “is a yuppie," not the sort of fella to start big chatter about race.
Now, my guess is that Holder will be the first administration official (after poor, devoted, and innocent Greg Craig) to be asked to walk the plank. After all, the AG is the one responsible for arranging to hold the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in half of lower Manhattan; he's persisted with the Guantanamo fantasy; and he was also the official who turned baby-face Abdulmutallab into a civil prisoner with a civil trial, Miranda rights and all. Yes, Obama sanctioned all these actions. But you don't expect him to walk the plank, do you? That's for underlings.