I don't know why I struggle to keep posting. There is such an embarrassment—literally—of racial folly riches to be mined from the daily headlines. My favorite local talk show recently kicked around the apparent refusal of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to consider admitting a white member. It's not personal, as newly-elected Tennessee Rep.Steve Cohen has discovered, it's principle: Only African-Americans can truly (read: authentically) represent the interests of black people.
Which means that black folks were really just kidding about Bill Clinton being the first black president. Which means we’re only tolerating our most beloved white mayors, congressmen, governors etc., Democrats (generally) to whom we reliably and often enthusiastically give upwards of 80% of our votes.
One right wing blog couldn’t contain its glee that Cohen, who is white and represents the 60% black Memphis district recently vacated by Harold Ford Jr., didn’t qualify for CBC membership, based on the color of his skin. (Which, by my eyes, can’t be much lighter than Ford’s!)
"Segregation," the blog chortled. "It's the new affirmative action."
I started using the phrase in 1987 or so, when I was a reporter in the Wall Street Journal’s New York Bureau. It was near the start of the new conversation on the meaning of race in America, one that soon introduced a lot of new terminology applying to nonwhites — diversity, multicultural, African-American, Kwanzaa, people of color, black community, etc.
But we never did get any new ways to talk about the institution I started calling 'white folks'
At college in the early '70s, 'the community' meant the black ghetto just a few blocks northwest of the Yale campus. We black students weren’t part of the community (unless we took the bold step of moving there). We were its guilty but earnest and concerned cousins. To be closer to the cause of 'the community' we felt compelled to disavow relationship with Caucasian classmates. Except, of course, the ones who were even more bent on expunging their 'whiteness' than we were. Those were the whiteboys and whitegirls we got high with.
Only we didn't call them that to their faces, usually. Twenty-five years later I was stunned to see them referring to each other that way.
(STILL THINK OBAMA'S NOT BLACK? SEE MY 2008 UPDATE ON THIS HERE.)
My great thanks to Debra Dickerson for pushing the plunger that officially blows up the Barak Obama and race spot. The well-regarded essayist and author went "there" in too many ways for one post, but let me begin with just one aspect of the most obvious of her bombs: “Obama isn't black.”
Let’s leapfrog for the moment the obligatory and deserved howls of "why you (of all black pundits) have to go laying down rules for who is and isn't black?" The first fifty or so of the more than 350 (and rapidly counting) letters in response to her January 22nd Salon piece bombed her back pretty good on this score.
Instead of contesting her assertion that Obama isn't’t black, let me call her on it and raise Dickerson one rhetorical point: so what?