Many years ago, I attended a meeting of a local NAACP branch. It had long been adrift. Its president and general secretary wanted to turn the organization from formulaic protests to issues that actually mattered to the local black community, such as schools and health care. The rank and file committee members, however, were on a different page, more interested in making embittered speeches. The meeting was supposed to last from nine to five, but there was a small street protest in the city starting at one.
At Barack Obama’s inauguration, John Roberts’s adverb trouble, subconsciously driven by a “blackboard grammar” quest to deflect faithfully from “splitting” the verb execute from the auxiliary will, was a rather gorgeous example of how educated people can be tripped up by unworkable hoaxes about how language works. (“To boldly go where no man has gone before” is “bad” grammar?).
One does not expect to see New York’s school Chancellor Joel Klein on the same stage as Reverend Al Sharpton. Klein is infamous for his emphasis on test scores and shutting down schools that fail to measure up. Not so long ago, Sharpton was in the barricades with Russell Simmons protesting mayor Michael Bloomberg and Klein’s plan to cut New York City’s education budget. Yet these days the two are teaming up for the Education Equality Project, which seeks to close the achievement gap between white and black kids in public schools.
Blacks’ heavy support for the proposition banning same-sex marriage in California pointed up an awkward disjunction between progressive ideals and majority black opinion. And, similarly, Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to do the invocation at his inaugural ceremony forces us to attend yet again to the sometimes discomfitingly partial overlap between Blue American bona fides and black authenticity.
Calling attention to the fact that black nerds are often teased by black peers for “acting white” elicits predictable reactions, such as claims that the problem doesn’t exist. Two reactions I have encountered, however, have thrown me.The first was some years ago, when I was on a panel with Ronald Ferguson of the Harvard Kennedy School. Ferguson, who is black, argued that black nerds should reassure the teasers that they don’t think they’re better than they are.
The Bradley Effect. “God damn America!” “Kill him!” “Why can’t he close the deal?” “Isn’t he a Muslim?” The “terrorist fist jab.” The New Yorker cover. Michelle’s chimerical “whitey” speech. After all of the aggrieved musings and smug insistences, the deal is done. And now, let’s celebrate. Don’t talk about how Obama didn’t win by enough points. Okay: There are whites out there who didn’t vote for him because of, or partly because of, his color. We heard all about them in a thousand earnest newspaper and magazine articles all summer and fall. We were told to worry. We did.
In the increasingly unlikely event that Barack Obama does not become president, Martin Luther King’s dream would reveal itself as tragically unrealized 40 years after his death. Not, however, because whites were standing in that dream’s way, but because of the black people standing alongside them. Yes, black people.
It was almost inevitable that Obama's acceptance speech would be a bit of a letdown. The simple fact is that no one, not even him, could top the magisterial peroration on race that he made in March. Plus some of the novelty has worn off.The speech was hardly a dud. But if the idea was to put the kibosh on the charge that people--or at least a certain crucial subset thererof--don't know "who he is," then the ones who were having a hard time gleaning that are still in the dark. Who, for example, told Obama as well as his wife that it was important to stress that they value "hard work"?