I wrote this piece before Rev. Jeremiah Wright started speaking out publicly against his detractors, creating a media storm that lead to Barack Obama fully breaking from the man. This story is about Obama and is about race, but it could also be tied to the Wright drama as both are about Obama’s relationship with black America and the impossible bind he is in to stay true to his roots while trying to be all things to all people.
Papa Snob has been playing this game with me for months now called “Spot the Black Person Working for the Obama Campaign.” It’s become an obsession. First it was just about Barack Obama’s Secret Service detail that initially didn’t always have a black officer embedded with him.
My father thought this was incredibly dumb, since Obama stood out so obviously with five white guys in suits surrounding him.
But things quickly shifted to staffers on the Obama campaign. While we regularly saw established black political surrogates backing him on TV and lots of black volunteers on the ground, my father was interested in paid staff, the political upstarts who gravitate to an political star’s esteem to become the speech writers, the press secretaries, the policy wonks and the many other people who make up the Executive Branch.
Many politicians, black and white of both parties, have nourished black political talent from within, creating a launching pad stunning careers. From TV pundit Amy Holmes, a former speech writer for Senator Bill Frist to super Clinton fund raiser Ron Brown, appointed to be the Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration. There are countless black politicians/activists have been mentors to young people, like Democrat Jesse Jackson and former US Congressman Bill Clay.
So my father was interested in the fact that when CBS News did a story on Obama’s War Room, not unlike legendary War Rooms who launched James Carville and Karl Rove to infamy, there was nary a brown face in sight.
Unless you count Michelle Obama, in the video the majority of staffers were youngish white males, some older, ex-Clinton pugilists and some women, also white.
Papa Snob made the observation that while he realized Obama couldn’t appear to be blacker-than-black in his quest for the nomination, he was a little disturbed that he’s seen no black person, besides oracle of commerce Oprah Winfrey, show up as a integral part of his staff. He said if Obama can’t afford to be too chummy with black people now, why is there any impression that he will be more sympathetic than past presidents. And traditionally the members of his War Room now, will make up his war chest in Washington.
Papa Snob is even more pragmatic and less prone to flights of fancy than myself and thinks black people are being a little deluded if they think Obama is going to devote much time to black issues in his administration. And he found this particularly galling since everything in Obama’s background before now demonstrated he was deeply involved in and committed to black people.
My take? Obama does have some black senior staffers (including Cornell Belcher, Cassandra Butts and Eureka Gilkey), but they aren’t as widely known or as omnipresent in the media. But I think there is a larger issue at play. How far will the right, the media and detractors on push Obama until he goes a Sister Soulja too far. As an optimist, I want to disagree with him, but as a pragmatist, I think he’s on to something. I always thought it would be difficult for Obama to tackle “black” issues head on, lest the press and the Republicans start race baiting or worse, start pushing for a tougher stance on controversial issues like Affirmative Action, accusing any Negro who comes within 300 yards of Barack of being an unqualified, “Kill Whitey” hire.
I think Barack will be able to shape some issues as being broader than blackness, like poverty. But some things, like our abysmal public education system and health issues, have a definite black and brown component.
So, is my dad right?
Do you think Barack is going to give us the cold shoulder if he makes it to the White House? And if my dad is wrong about Barack’s staff, I’d love to tell him the names of paid staffers who are black who are playing a major role in his campaign. So feel free to let me know below. I’m not quite sure how to get “Obama black staffer” out of the Google.