People tend to forget that Barack Obama wasn't instantly embraced by black folks. Some of them even said that Obama wasn't black. Today I was reading Joan Morgan's insightful essay "Black Like Barack," which discusses among other things the meaning of being "black" in America, and was struck by a 2007 New York Times quote from a 58-year-old barber in Washington DC:
"When you think of a president, you think of an American," Mr. Lanier said. "We've been taught that a president should come from right here, born, raised, bred, fed in America. To go outside and bring somebody in from another nationality, now that doesn't feel right to some people."
There's more than a little similarity in this comment to the beliefs underpinning the "birther" movement. (I know people who still aren't convinced that Obama is a citizen.) Now, of course, black folks overwhelmingly support Obama.
Randall Kennedy offers an analysis in his book "The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency." I urge you to read it for yourself. But here's a hint, from Kennedy: "Having decided to be black, Obama had to determine what sort of black to be. He made himself black enough to arouse the communal pride and support of African Americans but not 'too black' to be accepted by whites and others."
What a difference an election makes.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com