African plus American does not equal African-American
For somebody who doesn’t like to talk about race, I’ve certainly done a lot of it this week. Eh. Here goes. This article in the American Spectator touched on something that I’ve thought a lot about in the days since Obama’s Pastor Wright problem surfaced: the profound hostility that often exists between African Americans of different shades of brown.
Check out this widely circulated picture of Wright and Obama together. The two men don’t have a hell of a lot of melanin between them. Wright is the paler of the two; he could easily pass for some variety of Southern European. Obama isn’t much darker, and he has an added problem: he’s no more descended from slaves than I am.
I’m guessing both men have been deeply pained by identity problems in their lives. Wright tried to solve his and cement his group identity by wearing dashikis and peddling the most vitriolic hate-whitey creed he could get away with. Obama tried to solve his and cement his group identity by cleaving to Wright — and, clearly, Obama would rather throw his typical white grandmother under a bus than renounce the relationship.
Is he going to skate on this? I don’t know. I watched the Race Speech live and thought it sounded polished and thoughtful. But he’s gotten this far by promising white folks he’s something new. This week, he felt compelled to reassure black folks he’s something old and familiar.