Obama: A Bound Man?

A few people have sent me this video of Cornell West and Julianne Malveaux discussing Barack Obama’s historic acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

In this interview with Tavis Smiley, the duo express disappointment, felling Obama dismissed the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by not “saying his name.” But their cries are really about Obama not wrapping himself in the Kente cloth of “The Movement.” But their logic is flawed. Obama has never presented himself as part of the Movement. He’s merely the byproduct of it. He never was a Civil Rights Activist, unlike Jesse Jackson, Obama is pure politician. He has some street cred as a community organizer, but his business, by and large, has been the business of any politician who’s aspired for higher office.

This almost returns us to the territory of the “is he black enough” question. It’s true that black people are often enamored with or drawn to political figures who make their mettle by getting into verbal fist fights with the establishment. They want to hear acknowledgment for those who cleared the path Obama has glided down. But when the prospects of becoming the “first black president” still conjures up images of fear in some, (Papa Snob often references Negrophobic nightmares of Michelle and Barack hosting the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for Christmas dinner at the White House, causing some white people to faint away.), Obama can’t afford to appear like the ones who came before him. He has to be different.

As much as I’d love to see him kicking ass and taking names in the name of “The Movement,” I understand today’s political realities. West and Malveaux shouldn’t hold their breath waiting on Obama to talk about “The Movement.” That talk is likely to never come. He cares, obviously, about minority issues, but to win this election, he can’t play on his minority status. He will always be a man bound in his efforts to ascend to the highest office in the land — just like any other candidate.

What do you think of the video?

23 thoughts on “Obama: A Bound Man?

  1. I think Malveaux and Smiley are full of it. If he were running to be the new MLK they’d have a point. He wants to be president, a politician and I don’t hold him to any different standard than I’d hold any political candidate to. I don’t expect any politician to invoke the CR movement so why should I expect it from Obama.

  2. Barack Obama simply can’t win for losing. The dude had a tremendous amount to accomplish in his speech, and unfortunately he had to make a conscious decision as to what exactly he could, and could not, include. Barack possibly could have dropped a few shout-outs to Dr. King, as well as many others, but then people would be only mentioning those moments instead of focussing on the very specific policy positions that he was trying to place before the public.

  3. There’s an entire generation of these types—these failed and frustrated politicos, these imaginary revolutionaries, these tenured humanities professors of unmarketable sciences—which I want so desperately never to see again.As long as I’ve paid attention to the political discourse in the country, I’ve watched these people—and their ilk—and heard them make the same twenty-tiered, nonsensical arguments over and over and over again, peppered with the samemulti-syllabicity. As if somehow rhyming, or sounding like you rush-ate a Thesaurus, is the same as having a well reasoned solution to a problem. Well enough of that shit. I don’t wonder anymore whether or not they truly want to solve the social problems they speak so passionately about ending. They don’t. We know that. Probably our parents knew it too. Let’s be honest. There’s a good living to be made by exploiting the guilt felt by the majority in this country surrounding the suffering of black people. Reverend Al needs black kids to keep killing each other over foolishness. Jesse needs companies to shiver in their boots at the mere mention of a boycott. Food don’t jump in the fridge by itself! But I do wonder—man, do I wonder now—how incredibly afraid they are that they’re time is passing right before their eyes. The end is coming. And these scardy-cats know it. It might not be this year, but it’s coming. Sooner rather than later. And it’ll leave them looking around in disbelief, wondering where the hell their constituency went. And that is a very, very good thing.

  4. The scene is a copycat of the 1960s, early- to mid-1970s so-called black power revolutionaries. Folks who denounced the ‘white power structure’ while choosing only non-black romances. Isn’t it something that all of them gloriously praised Bill and Hillary Clinton, but found something tremendously wrong with Obama. I’ve admired Malveaux and West; yet, this focus with Smiley who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama, seems to be Smiley’s revenge.

  5. I heard that Cornel West was married to a white woman? Is it true? And does it/should it disqualify him to speak on behalf of black folks? Sandy

  6. anonymous 10:51 am: I think it was easier for them to embrace Bill Clinton (and I say Bill, not Hillary as she was really getting by on his cool pass with black people), because Bill was of their generation. He was a witness to the racism of the deep South and “renounced” it through his works as a politician. He talks their same talk, only parroting, co-opting the movement in an effort to gain black votes.Bill speaks their code, their language, hence the praise.Barack is like me and countless other educated black folk who benefited from the movement who don’t talk the same “Race Man/Woman” talk. We perceive the problems differently and our new view is threatening to the one they maintain. Rather than working together, they have no desire to cede the ground to any mentees or aspiring activists/politicos. Youth is to be feared because they don’t “get it.” Anyone who was born after Selma doesn’t “get it.” Because they weren’t there when John Lewis got his head bashed in. That’s what they are telling Barack. You aren’t one of us. Show your fealty to us and we will support you. Bow down to us and we will have your back.He won’t do it. So they won’t shut up.

  7. Ok, I only watched the first 4 mins before I had enough. Bottom line, while I may not like it, Obama has to walk a fine line. If he did as West and Co. suggested he risked being seen as only in it for the Black folks and the harsh reality is he cannot be viewed in that light. I also as a Black woman in my 30’s, see Barack as part of a new generation. We most certainly never forget those who forged the paths ahead of us but at the same time we cannot live in that past.

  8. We can’t sugar coat it. This is jealousy plain and simple.Obama has done more to motivate and inspire youth in his candidacy and life than these two with all of their race-baiting and posturing. Yet, they have sold a great many books by keeping us divided. Maybe they sense the end of their gravy train if Barack is elected. SHAMEFUL!!

  9. I figured that Obama’s content wasn’t heavy on the MLK-this and MLK-that b/c he risked being seen as presumptuous (again) for attempting to claim Dr. King’s mantle, or assert that he represents the achievement of King’s dream. The same people in that video might have had his head for such an assertion. I thought it smart of Obama to avoid that.

  10. No he didn't mention MLK by name. But MLK marginalized Ella Baker and a host of other women who fought just as hard for Civil Rights. Why don't they ever talk about THAT? Besides what have they actually done for the Black community – seriously? How many scholarships has Cornel West given to students so they attend Princeton? I expect Dr. Malveaux to speak about the women who were asked to step aside for the good of the race and were left in the dust. It's not as if they don't know this. I get their point but they are not doing anything to help the situation. I have not heard about them having voter registration drives or holding fundraisers or anything. And to praise Hillary for invoking Harriet Tubman! Hah! It was pandering to Black women after the way Hill & BIll behaved. They only add to the conflict. They need to STFU.

  11. @ad.That is probably the most poignant comment that I’ve ever read regarding this “Obama ain’t black yall. black yall, ain’t blackity black. black black yall” fiasco by the black gentry. Tavis. You disappoint me. You disappoint yourself. The way he had those moderators talk about him you would think that Obama was tryna beat a case or a drug charge instead of focusing on winning the presidency.

  12. I think that one day, black folks will understand that to be definitively American and to have staying power in positions of power, we’ll have to look beyond the needs of our communities and think in national and global perspectives.

  13. I truly understand the points being made here, but when I watched the Senator’s speech, I had some of the same sentiments as Dr. West. He did more than mention is white mother (who of course raised him without his Black father) and her parents and their struggle to obtain the American dream. Yet he merely alluded to Dr. King and “The Movement”. People are right: he doesn’t have to fawn over the likes of West and Jackson, etc., but I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t acknowledge more fully the Black history which he comes from and has benefited from. (@faith: I wholeheartedly agree with your point about the marginalization of women in the Civil Rights movement. Thank you for bringing that up.)Because of that, I lost some of the gravity of the nomination. I get it, but I didn’t feel it. And like roslynholcomb said at the top, the Senator is – at the end of the day – a politician, so I can’t expect more from him than his desire to win an election.But ultimately, it makes me sad to think that he has to walk such a fine line as to not intimidate whites or make assurances that he won’t be “that” Black president. Yes, he’s a politican, but you don’t see McCain or even Biden forced to toe the line when it comes to their history and heritage. No one is afraid of their cultural traditions and what the White House might look like if either one gets elected. This in and of itself speaks leaps and bounds to the (lack of) progress this country has made when it comes to race.

  14. About the need for Obama to verbally give props to Dr. King–IMHO I think it was quite moving and very significant that he “chose” to give his acceptance speech on the anniversary of The Dream speech. Worked for me. I mean my gawd, what more do people want???You’re so right about the political game part of it. If he had “gone there,” we wouldn’t be blogging about him as the nominee right now. As somebody else said, “Can’t win for losing.”Sigh!

  15. these fools need to shut up and sit down…i won’t watch the video…smiley is still mad that the angry black masses called for his head when he talked mess about obama not showing up at his event…

  16. talulazoeapple said…”Yet, they have sold a great many books by keeping us divided.”co-signing.i explained this very thing on another blog that they are banking on black people’s insecurities of “the others/white people”. why wouldn’t they want to hear the same message MLK was speaking of? where we’re not judged by the color of our skin, but the content of our character. and here barack is saying “we are one nation all pledging alligence to the flag” and the only thing they took out of his speech was that he barely mentioned MLK, but clinton mention harriet tubman? are you serious? they are a joke! did they even bother to even listen to the speech?omg i hope tavis gets another blacklash for this. yes he has the right to critize on obama but do it w/ merit not because your sippin on your own kool-aid.

  17. This is my take on it. Barack ascendency causes these kind of folks to redefine who they are? Not only in how they make a living, via. “pimping black victimhood” and explaining black folks to white folks, But the actually who they are to conceive of make a living pimping black victimhood and explaining black folk to white folk. but the capacity to be define self as black as being normative. Obama is the only public figure that I know that self define his Blackness as normative they way that white folks define whiteness as normative.He is not pimping victim hood (Jesse and Al and Star Parker) He aint teaching whites about ways of Black Folk (Cornell West and Stanley Crouch) He is not an “other” entertainer (any popular Black MSM entertainer will do) and He is not public figure who make concerted efforts mute or deny his race/ethnicity or (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan). And he does not denigrate the ethnic/race which he belongs to (Whoopi Goldberg, BET rappers, Juan Williams, Clarence Thomas)And he was able to reach the pinnacle of world power while portraying that be Black is a normal and natural as breathing. And we have never witnessed that. Our collective identity of being Black has been everything other than that and it is being turned on its head. It is painful to see Obama attain it that way and that they never can. And deep down that is all these people ever wanted. It is painful to have invested every being of their fiber the default/marginalized race, because that’s is how they were conditioned. Now Obama who demonstrated that their definition of Blackness is not real. It is a construct. They do not know what to do with themselves. Who are they now as Black People . How do they define themselves as Black People. How do they define themselves in relation to whitenessThey have held on to that definition of Blackness for so long it has become the natural order of the universe for them. When you show the “high priest or priestess” that their world view is incorrect, that their truth is not THE truth… well needless to say they will take kindly to it.

  18. All of these folks are terrified that they will be out of a job if Obama wins. If Obama wins that means that any black person can do anything they want in this country and no more excuses for failure. Will all of black people’s problems go away? No, but a whole lot of excuses for trifling negroes will. Baracks candidacy has done more to inspire a generation of young black folks, males especially, then any of the talking and pontificating that any of these fools has done. My grandmother does not beam with pride, joy and hope when she sees any of these people the way that she does when she sees Barack on TV. My nephew doesn’t jump up and down when he sees these folks on TV as he does when he sees Barack.Barack ain’t the Messiah, but he is the truth. The truth that we can and must do better. And the key word is “do”. And he is delivering that message through the action of actually getting off of his ass and doing something to change this country instead of talking about it. No one thought Barack could do this at first but him and it turns out that was all he needed. He is best example of what belief in ones own self and self motivation can do that I’ve ever seen in my 29 years in this earth.I don’t care what kind of policies he pushes or inacts while in office. A beautiful, intact black family occupying White House will be the most profound thing to happen for African-America in a generation. Snob, you once said that Barack Obama is a walking, talking, living weapon of mass inspiration and that’s what black kids need as much as anything else. Just black kids believing in themselves is half the battle we are fighting. Barack and Michelle make being smart look cool. They make marriage look cool. They make black love look like the best damn thing in the world. Our people and our kids need that as much as we need new policies and and more than any govt program. Tavis and all of these other so-called “important” negroes need to back up off Barack. They can’t critic or advise him when they never believed in him and never helped him. Thank God they are irrelavent enough that he didn’t need it.

  19. Educated Black fools…..not only was I furious and disgusted at Malveaux (especially as she seemed to be enjoying her negative tirade) and West’s comments, but I was decidedly confused! What side of the tracks are they on! Seems like it was a loud condemnation for Barack especially when Malveaux said that Hillary’s speech was effervescent in comparison!! OMG! Was she serious? And did like 5 people mention King during the days events in speeches?…. and are there enough black people in this country, who can vote to make sure that Barack gets elected? And can we tell that Barack is all about King’s legacy just because he’s black? And (I could go on….)Somewhere along the line these 2 forgot that it is going to take a lot of other people believing in Barack to get him in office. Thank God that is happening! I agree that Barack is the Truth, he represents humility and strength and I am not mad that he loves his black wife and daughters and it shows!!Cornel and Malveaux have big blacks mark against them, as far as I’m concerned, for adding to that old POW’s rhetoric…….

  20. I agree with this post wholeheartedly. Though I couldn’t view the clip…it’s gone to the YouTube graveyard. I find it ridiculous that anyone could find fault with Senator Obama’s acceptance speech. There was no need for him to say MLK’s name out loud. Everyone watching knew who he was referring to when he mentioned the historic nature of the speech and referenced the “I have a Dream” speech. This type of criticism is unnecessary and I wish it would end. If he has any chance of becoming our president, He must be more of a politician and less of our people’s representative. He must show the nation as a whole that he can represent us all. Barack the Vote!Ms. Smiley

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