Bamboozled. That word leapt to mind as I read the article in the July 21 issue of The New Yorker — the one that fueled a media firestorm for featuring on the cover Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle looking like a Muslim radical and a 1960s militant black power feminist, respectively. Does it play into the hands of the right-wing and racist segment by depicting a slew of ignorant images, or does it shrewdly deconstruct them?
Doesn’t matter. The article inside poses the real question: Do we know who Obama is and what motivates him, and are we really looking to find out?
This election season will be one for the history books, from the primary-season battles between Obama and Hillary Clinton to the fact the next president will be the oldest ever or the darkest ever. In between, we learned more about Obama’s now ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright than we needed to know; people got pissed that Obama mentioned some white folks were bitter and clinging to guns and religion; and civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson got caught on Fox News expressing desires to crush Obama’s sensitive man parts. This election can only get crazier before it’s over.
Despite the heat Obama has taken, when it comes to his past, the media focuses on his humble “American success story” roots. But is that really him?
Yes, he gives dazzling speeches and says the right things. But does he really want to change the world? Even in working as a community organizer many years ago, was that part of a calculated plan to further his career aspirations? I did a stint as an organizer back in the early 1990s and I know firsthand it’s a great way to get connected.
While I understand that black folks want to see history made with Obama winning in November, and I understand why they don’t want to say or think much that would smear his squeaky-clean image, I wonder what has kept many whites from being more vocal about doubts of his sincerity.
White guilt, I think, is the answer. Many progressive and liberal whites know that racism is still a real problem and they don’t want to appear unenlightened when it comes to race matters, so many of them say nothing. Yet the New Yorker article shows Obama to be a shrewd man, a man who thinks strategically and even cold-bloodedly.
Knowing how race is lived and looked at in this country, I think Obama has used guilt to his advantage to create buy-in from whites. That doesn’t make him bad, but it means he might be just as calculating (and perhaps self-interested) as any other politician, Democrat or Republican. Fox News plays up lies and half-truths about him in its single-minded mission of conservative media bias, but most other media outlets — often torn between conservatively minded owners and a big ideological melting pot of editors and reporters — are often skittish about asking some of the hard questions that The New Yorker has now posed.
We must let neither guilt nor racial pride be the driving factor in determining our actions. Obama is a politician, and clearly a good one. So look at what he’s done, as well as his opponent, and decide if he is the person you want to run the country for the next four to eight years. Personally, I think we as America made a bad choice with the current president. Let’s think more critically this time.
Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.