Written by CLEO MANAGO
THE IRONIC MEDIA 'BLACK OUT' WHILE A "BLACK" MAN RUNS
America has always been a peculiar place to live for a thinking person. For instance, it purports to be a democracy, yet it was built on a particularly cruel brand of slavery, oppression and genocide. Chapter Four of its Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. Yet, women are not mentioned at all, and black people – at its inception – were deemed to be less than human. I realize that at this point in history, many view these as resolved issues, better left in the past. Even at present day, the United States is still a peculiar place to live for a thinking person. For example, currently, Barack Obama, a man with a black African father is running for president of the United States. This is occurring while the American media is still severely racist.
While a "black" Obama is running for president, African American perspectives on this issue have been all but absent from prime-time television. Logically, blacks would be increasingly intrigued by Obama's campaign, especially after his Iowa win! Yet, black voices have rarely been among the popular pundit discussions that followed. It is true that on a daily basis we can observe black news anchors delivering scripted coverage on the election. The likes of Anderson Cooper, Larry King and Dan Rather, for example, have voices NOT determined by a script. These high profile white male icons can and do articulate their spin on political issues during their own popular television shows. What black person in America can say the same? Not one.
Let's face it! Free, self-determined, unscripted speech, during prime-time television hours is not had by black people in America. Prime time is 6:00 to10:00 p.m. in Eastern and Pacific time zones and 7:00 - 11:00 p.m., in the Central and Mountain time zones. These times zones represent when television networks, such as ABC, CBS, NBC or CNN, have the most viewers. For example, Tavis Smiley's show is broadcast around or after midnight on PBS. The prime-time media and news reporting landscape where non-scripted speech can occur is still exceedingly white, and this has always been true. But the fact that Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama—a man with a black African father—has forged a viable presidential campaign makes this fact particularly ironic. Particularly to those that think.
There are no people of black/African American descent who are long-term fixtures in prime-time media with the privilege of free, impromptu expression. The last black person to literally take that license was rapper Kanye West in 2005. West was being urged by NBC to read a scripted commentary for a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser. Instead, he displayed rarely seen black male courage and blurted, "[President] George Bush doesn't care about black people!" The following day, the same 95% white panel of pundits, from CNN to all the major television affiliates, made attempts at strategically downplaying this historically unusual (and embarrassing) occurrence.
IS OBAMA'S PURPOSE TO HEAL AMERICA'S POST-SLAVERY RACIAL WOUNDS, OR TO DEFLECT BLACK IDEAS OF RETRIBUTION?
As Americans observe Barack Obama's now white-Iowa-acceptable bid for the White House, the black community needs to be in dialogue about this (we likely are, off camera). This writer is concerned that some may be too stunned and enthused by the idea that this man "of color" could become president (we definitely aren't use to this). We may be going into a state of shock and delusional self-hypnosis. Blacks may be convincing themselves that Barack Obama's being in the White House would mean one of us, the descendants of former slaves and Jim Crow, will finally make it to the presidency.
The fact of the matter is Barack Obama's presidency would create opportunity for America to have its first black first lady, Michelle Obama, who is the descendant of American chattel slavery. This is not Barack Obama's history, and white America is fully aware of this! Obama is not necessarily seen by whites (or by this writer, who is black) as the potential African American president. Obama is half-white and half Kenyan, not half African American. The New York Times, among other mainstream newspapers, all have referred to Barack Obama as the biracial presidential hopeful. Barack Obama's mother is a white American, and his father an African from Kenya . That he is not just black or African American may partly explain his win in Iowa , a 90% white state.
FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET
Historically, in this country, up until now, many among whites—particularly those directly in power—have feared strong, independent or influential black or African American leadership. African American male leadership, in particular, has always been resisted, marginalized, assassinated, incarcerated or vilified. This done in an attempt to keep the black masses intimidated, distrusting of each other and/or otherwise occupied. Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, among others, and more recently H. Rap Brown and Minister Louis Farrakhan and Reverend Al Sharpton have dealt with the wrath of white fear of black power (and retribution) in America (in this writer's career, he has dealt with this too). When Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton ran for president, to eclipse the message of their brilliant platforms, especially Sharpton's, they, too, dealt with perpetual attacks on their character. Not even incumbent President George W. Bush—a straight-up liar and lawbreaker—ever had to deal with this harassment.
In 1988 when Jesse Jackson and Lenora Fulani ran for president, and again in 2004, when people, mostly white people, actively fantasized about General Colin Powell running for president, I made a prediction. I predicted that when and if a black person did become president, either they would look white, or be half white. This, because of a need among whites to both deflect the reality of ripe racism in America (and their resulting privilege) with the right "black" person running as president. It would be important to ensure that this person have enough white identification and historic black American disassociation to make whites feel comfortable.
This reminds me of an actual experience I had as an undergraduate student in San Francisco. I worked with an ultra-leftist organization. Their office was actively multi-cultural with people of African decent, Latino, Asian, and of course European descent as well. What stood out for me was that all of the "black" people working there were from Africa: Kenya, South Africa or Cuba and South America.
Except for me, and clearly that was an experiment, none of the black people there were descendants of chattel slavery or oppression in America. After developing an association with one of the white women who ran the organization, I learned from her what I figured was true: that whites, including industrial strength liberal or radical types, feel less intimidated, guilty or self conscious around blacks from other countries. Because the festering 'America enslaved blacks holocaust - elephant in the room' wound is not there, but the appearance of black inclusivity is. They prefer to fill their quota of black people with biracial (half-white/half black) people, black people from other countries, effeminate black gay identified males or black interracialists (blacks who prefer whites as intimate partners). Black people in these categories are considered less likely to initiate or intensely spark challenging conversations about race or racism. Their objective is to avoid the resurrection of white guilt, irresponsibility or re-exposure of white destruction, cruelty, injustice and especially privilege.
San Francisco happens to be a city that finally had its first black mayor last term, Willie Brown. Interestingly enough, Brown, while being politically brilliant, is pro-black. This too, in my estimate, was an experiment. Now that the experiment is over, the city is now back under its almost 100% non-black, mostly white control. San Francisco now faces a major decline in black residents.
This writer believes that recent history (including that there are still no independent, self-determined black voices on prime-time television) indicates that there is fear among whites of an influential black person, especially male, swaying the black masses to exact retribution on whites. Obama's popularity among some whites may embody that agenda.
I am not suggesting that we challenge Mr. Barack's bid for the White House, or that we not support him. I will be voting for him myself. That will be my experiment. Yet, I believe it is important that we are clear on Barack Obama's relationship to who are now called African Americans, and that history. If Barack Obama is the next president of the United States, and it is possible he will be, this may be the beginning of a new American aesthetic. But, it won't necessarily be on terms that heal or transform black American wounds, or make up for hundreds of years of particularly brutal enslavement and racism in America.
If Barack Obama wins, will he really be America's first African American president, or the convenient arrival of a half-white, black presidential symbol to deflect white fear of black retribution in America?
Cleo Manago is a self-described "social architect," a popular speaker, community organizer, behavioral health expert, and the author of several influential essays. He has appeared on numerous national television programs and his work profiled in many publications including the Black Scholar-Journal of Black Studies and Research, American Journal of Public Health, Ebony, Ebony Man, Clikque, and Black Diaspora magazines. He has been featured in most of the nation's newspapers, including the Final Call, Los Angeles Times, Black Star News, Amsterdam News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, and several scholarly journals and books. Books include: Atonement (collected stories from the Million Man March) and Male Lust (an anthology on male sexuality). His views are presented in the Bell Hooks’s book: We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. You can view his website at www.CleoManago.com. You can send him email at CleoManago@aol.com.