I’ve said from the start that Barack Obama’s candidacy is good for America if for no other reason than that it gives us a good excuse to have some frank conversations about race in this country. The recent “hot mike” remarks made by Jesse Jackson highlight at least two interesting topics regarding how blacks should conduct themselves in this society.
The first issue is whether or not blacks should castigate other blacks in front of whites. When I watched excerpts of Barack Obama’s “Father’s Day” speech, I must confess to some discomfort. While I fully agreed with Obama’s call for responsibility among black men, I wondered to myself when have we ever seen a white politician telling deadbeat white dads to get their act together on national television? All I could do was picture a bunch of good ‘ole boys watching his speech and saying “yep, even the colored guy knows how lazy and shiftless his colored brothers are. Heck, if he’s saying it, it must be true.” I have struggled with my feelings about this. It smacks of airing dirty laundry outside the “family”. On the other hand, how do we fix problems in any community if we don’t discuss them? When Bill Cosby gave the same message not long ago, I didn’t think twice about it. Perhaps it was because he is an entertainer. Obama is auditioning for leader of the free world, and President of ALL Americans so perhaps I’m upset to see him singling out one group for admonishment? In any case, Jesse’s comments resonated with me on a certain level. Yet I’m not comfortable about it.
The second issue involved Jesse’s use of the “N” word during his whispered comments about Obama’s social perspective. This prompted a heated debate on “The View”, a show that I don’t typically look to for intellectual stimulation. However the following dialog is worth discussing. (The video is a bit long but ultimately worth it.)
Who should use the “N” word? Absolutely no one! In this face off on The View I was astounded to find myself at first on the same side as the too-young-to-know-better conservative Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Sheree Shepherd and Whoopi Goldberg’s old argument about how “owning” the word somehow disinfects it is just so much horse manure. The word is hateful and has no place in public or private discourse. But the argument does take an interesting turn when Hasselbeck suggests that “we all live in the same world.” To this, Whoopi angrily pointed out that life for blacks and whites in this country is not the same. Hasselbeck, who more often than not comes off like a spoiled brat who lucked into a reality show and a football player husband, was dumbfounded (and outright hurt) by Whoopi’s reaction. Sadly, Hasselbeck naively believes that her Utopian view of the world is reality. For this she badly needed a wake up call from Goldberg. Whoopi’s only mistake is in thinking that the way we deal with our lot in this country is to “take ownership” of words that demean us.
As I expected, Obama’s candidacy is sparking debate among blacks and whites about racial politics in America. More interestingly, a road map is being drawn for how to conduct oneself as a black in 21st century society. Are we truly in a post-racial period? If so, then blacks criticizing blacks in a public forum might be completely appropriate and part of that criticism ought to be the complete and utter rejection of the “N” word.