In Obama and Our Post-Modern Race Problem, Shelby Steele once again hits some nails solidly on their heads. He continues with his observations on Barack Obama's role as the important cultural symbol so desired by whites. Eager to display their "sophistication" on the race front, whites joined themselves, writes Steele, "to an obvious falsehood in order to achieve social acceptance." The election of Barack Obama, he claims, was essentially "a national exercise in seeing what was not there and a refusal to see what was there." These blinders were purposely worn by whites "to escape the stigma, not of stupidity, but of racism."
A year before the 2008 election, Steele did not believe that whites would allow their propensity for what he terms "guilt" (but what I call cowardice and fear), to compel them into electing a colored to the White House. This was because whites would probably come to perceive the "dreamy post-racial and post-ideological kitsch" in which Obama dressed his evangelism of "hope and change."
In this current article, Steele claims that Obama was an "invitation to sophistication that America simply could not bring itself to turn down." He calls this tendency on the part of whites "sophistication." I call it vacuousness.
Nothing has pleased the typical race-indoctrinated white more than being able to claim that he "made history" with his vote that helped to put a black man on the ascendance. Look, says this white man, thanks to me, there's goes a black man coming out of the White House, heading for the Presidential helicopter ... Thanks to me, the world is calling a black woman "The First Lady" ... Thanks to me, all those white men sitting around that conference table are subject to that black man ... Thanks to me, that black man gets to vacation not only in Martha's Vineyard, but also at Camp David! And, thanks to me, that black man's portrait will hang alongside the portraits of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Aren't I a wonderful person? Look what I've accomplished, exults the white man. You can never again call me a "racist." [Speaking of cultural symbols that make whites feel oh, so good about themselves, see the equivalent of this national frenzy in an earlier New York City mayoral race here.]
Steele describes Obama as the Emperor with no clothes, and writes, "You would think that in the two solid years of daily campaigning leading up to his election this nakedness would have been seen."
Last year, I dropped in on the Secular Right blog and was in for quite a surprise. For some unfathomable reason, I expected this to be a place of rational thinkers. Surely, people who declare themselves free from attachments to conventional, sentimental religions are also free from other kinds of religious attachments, such as those of the Multicultural/Diversity variations. Nothing could have been further from the truth. With just a couple of exceptions, these people were hooked big time on the emotionalism of Barack Obama's rise to prominence. Not only were most of the blog's team of posters thoroughly steeped in Obama-hype, so were most of the commenters.
It happened to be Obama's Inauguration Day and a discussion on the subject was in full swing. The chatter began with reflections on a post quoting remarks from another blog, whose owner is associated with a "science" foundation. Well, Mr. Science admitted that he had "wept," as in cried, while watching the Inauguration ceremony. Secular Right's commenters fell all over themselves to describe their "feelings" as well, and one after another reiterated how touched he was by the Significance of the Moment.
So, here were these white folks weeping all over themselves, and chastising me for failing to be enthralled by "the wonderful significance" of this election. One poster claimed that he knew "plenty of people who cried at this historic moment," and that anyone who did not "should get out more." Whatever that means. There was no expressed concern for the prospective policies that might emanate from this new President. And why should there be? After all, this black man had fulfilled his mission as the ultimate symbol of whites' exoneration from their evil, racist past.
One could almost hear the breathlessness of one of the team posters as she proclaimed her joy that "a majority white nation is now presided over by a black man." A fact she found "overwhelming." See, at last the tables are turned – a black man is now the Boss Man. You can't beat that for righteous symbolism!
It appeared that the only idea to which this site's participants applied their logic is the one that questions the existence of immortal gods. There was clearly no questioning of that which Steele calls Obama's "empty political slogans." Yet, shouldn't political objectives be one's primary concern about a politician – any and every politician?
I wanted to know from these people if we are expected to go through this emotional routine again, if a woman is elected President. How about the first Hispanic/Latino? And when do the Hmong get their turn? Since Latinos are the largest minority group, will these whites work to make them the next symbolic gesture? Will they get all teary-eyed as the first Puerto Rican or Mexican walks up Pennsylvania Avenue on his/her Inauguration Day?
I also wanted to know what difference it would make if Anglo-Euros were to serve as Presidents throughout the rest of this country's history – a country founded by Anglo-Euros. Is the office "owed" to every distinctive group? When I suggested that the blog's posters and commenters were caught up in sentimental, media-staged hype, the angry retorts made it clear that it was time to clear out and leave those good white folks to their Obama love fest.
Shelby Steele is right when he concludes that Barack Obama is "a president come to us out of our national insecurities." And, perhaps, out of our national childishness?