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March 18, 2008

Shelby Steele: The Obama Bargain

When Limbaugh and Slublog both tell me this is "outstanding," it gets a link before I've had a chance to read it.

How to turn one's blackness to advantage?

The answer is that one "bargains." Bargaining is a mask that blacks can wear in the American mainstream, one that enables them to put whites at their ease. This mask diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being white in a multiracial society. Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America's history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer's race against him. And whites love this bargain -- and feel affection for the bargainer -- because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist. So the bargainer presents himself as an opportunity for whites to experience racial innocence.

This is how Mr. Obama has turned his blackness into his great political advantage, and also into a kind of personal charisma. Bargainers are conduits of white innocence, and they are as popular as the need for white innocence is strong. Mr. Obama's extraordinary dash to the forefront of American politics is less a measure of the man than of the hunger in white America for racial innocence.

Indeed. And it's an empty promise, of course. Obama doesn't tell us how he intends to heal us all; he can't. He has no such plan.

And of course he passed up on a rather large opportunity to put his healing talents to good use in letting his very good "friend" tell his flock that the US of KKK A exists primarily to murder black people.

But soft-headed white liberals can take solace in the fact, as they always do, that by making gestures of trivial effort, such as pulling a lever for a politician, they are helping to change the world and thereby demonstrating their superior, if not supreme, moral and intellectual standing.



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posted by Ace at 01:15 PM

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