This bloggingheads.tv segment, part of a longer dialog between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury speaks volumes about the race-political moment— on the literal and meta levels.
Here's the telling exchange:
Loury: I wonder if the throngs of black people who are voting for Barack Obama have any idea that they are voting for this transformation ... of the significance and understandings of race that you just got through enumerating.
McWhorter: I doubt it.
Loury: I seriously doubt it. In a way, you’re talking about the end of race as we know it. A whole new day: Race-over!
Yes, yes, and then some. And the question, for another post, is are we ready. All of us.
McWhorter is a former Wall Street Journal editorial page columnist and a fellow at the conservative-to-libertarian Manhattan Institute. Loury, an economist now at Brown University, is best known as the black star (or 'star black') "movement” conservative who fell hard off the wagon a few years ago when he discovered (not necessarily in order of importance or time):
- His own personal brokenness and unresolved character flaws
- The true brutality of the hard right’s view on race issues
- That the “movement” may have used his black skin to “screen an anti-black agenda,”
- Jesus, and his infinite mercy and forgiveness
(Quotes are from the excellent 2002 New York Times Magazine profile “Glenn Loury’s About Face.”)
The meta part is the unspoken, personal hallelujahs shouting between their cordial lines. Because neither man has much investment in race as we have known it. These guys have been looking, perhaps in vain, for a reason to call race 'over' that would actually stick for a long time. Now it's time appears to be here.
I have been professionally acquainted with McWhorter, though I don’t know him well. (Full disclosure: he wrote a slammin’ review of my book, “American Skin,” in the Wall Street Journal). Yet I suspect he too has been somewhat liberated from the racial expectations of white conservatism. I may be projecting, but with age I too feel increasingly freed from the ideological expectations of whites who dominate the liberal/progressive space that I call home..
Actually, I also suffer feelings of abandonment by politically correct, multi-culty pundits and gatekeepers of mainstream media. But I’ve been getting over it; and now there is Barack Obama.
So the three of us, united by our history of apostasy from white and black thinking about race now agree on two things:
- Black folks may not realize the true intellectual and historical impact of the lever they’ll be yanking come November.
- The white folks yaking on radio and TV and mainstream print don’t get it either.
In fairness to black folks, like most Americans, they do deserve credit for common sense discernment, in the long run. You don’t need a Harvard phD to distinguish between what Al Sharpton says about the meaning of being black, and what Barack Obama’s candidacy actually does to the meaning of being black.
I’ll go out on a limb: hard-core white Obamaniacs also deserve credit, if only for knowing that wherever it is that their white political elders have led this country on race—from Regan to the Bushes to the Clintons—it’s about time to go somewhere else, fast.
As I’ve been saying ever since my first post on Obama in 2004 (this blogs third ever post) the reality of his candidacy, the meaning and the power of it, is a shock wave directed at the main pillar of American racial identity. It's nothing about his policies, ideology or even his character in the conventional sense. It's everything to do with who he is, and what he is not.
Not black, like Homer Plessey was ruled black in 1896, the ruling that defined the American Negro (and thus the American white) race for generations to come. Not white, as Plessey had plead in vain. He is standing on being authentically American in a way as no white man running for president—or Hillary—has ever done before.
Yet it's still so, so hard for this to sink in. Why?