the guy next door
July 8, 2009 § Leave a comment
this is a great article by coates on the significance of obama to black communities and why to us he is very much like the guy next door. not despite obama’s brilliance. but because of his brilliance.
For most of this country’s history, being black and brilliant was not something that set you a part from other black people–it was something that could get you killed by white people. A study of this country’s history reveals to not be hyperbole. This notion that white people of medium talents could rise to rule the world was not simply “the democratic ideal,” it was the tyranny of our lives–with depressing, disastrous effects. The idea that mediocre white people could rise to incredible levels of power was not so much an ideal for us–it was the whole point of white supremacy.
We obviously live in a different era. But still, one of the most depressing things about being black and “making it” is the incredible randomness of it all. I have said this many times–I was a terrible student. To the extent that intelligence is measurable, I sat in classrooms with people who were smarter than me, worked harder than me, and studied longer than me. I was not without my own gifts–I possessed an obsessive and singular curiosity. I had a vivid imagination. I was creative. But I was also immature and lazy, and if not for the steady prodding/pushing/spanking/cajoling of my parents, I don’t think you’d be reading this blog.
When you’re black, and likely when you’re Latino, and likely when you’re a kind of white, you see brilliant people all the time–and they get taken out in the most horrific ways. They have kids too soon. They get shot on the way home from school. They get hooked on crack. They go to jail. And then there is that one kid who makes it, who despite the wages of race in this country, goes on and does something big. To many black people, that person is Barack Obama.
god this is the story of my life. who makes it and who doesnt. is so random. it exposes the lie of the american dream and the protestant work ethic. and the nature of success.
To the broader country, Barack Obama is exotic. From a black perspective, he is certainly atypical. But what has to be understood is that the whole point of white racism was to lump all black people together. Thus we’re quite use to “exotic” black people. Malcolm X’s mother was a biracial woman from Grenada. W.E.B. Du Bois was from overwhelmingly white Great Barrington, Massachusetts and traced a mixture of dutch and black ancestry in his family. Arturo Schomburg, the great chronicler of black diasporic history and culture, was Puerto-Rican. Marcus Garvey was Jamaicain. And so on…
Perhaps if you are white, Barack Obama represents the end of the idea that your next door neighbor could be president. But you should consider that just because Barack Obama isn’t your next door neighbor, doesn’t mean he isn’t mine.