It’s ok to vote for Barack Obama because he’s black

There are many, many things wrong with liberalism, especially as it relates to identity politics. This piece is a prime example. Lowlights:

Feb. 26, 2008 | I admit it: I’m voting for Barack Obama because he’s black. Yes, I’m voting for him because he’s qualified, intelligent, charismatic and competent — and because unlike Hillary Clinton, he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. But if he weren’t black, and Hillary had opposed the war, I’d probably vote for her because of her greater experience. In any case, it’s a moot point, because if Obama weren’t black, he would not be the Democratic front-runner.

I believe that most of Obama’s supporters are voting for him for the same reason. Like me, they’re drawn to his idealism, his youthful energy, his progressive politics. But it’s his blackness that seals the deal.

And that’s OK. In fact, it’s wonderful.

There’s a lot of resistance to this idea, and a lot of discomfort about even expressing it. In online discussions, many whites vehemently deny that Obama’s race played any role at all in their decision to support him. They insist that his color doesn’t matter, that they decided to support him simply because he’s the best candidate.

This reaction is understandable. It feels more racially enlightened. To baldly proclaim that you support Obama because he’s black seems to diminish his real qualities and achievements — his stellar academic career, his work in the urban trenches, his liberal voting record, his ability to inspire. Foregrounding Obama’s ethnic heritage implies that you’re unhealthily obsessed with race, and make artificial decisions based on it. It can be seen as patronizing, as a merely sentimental, pie-in-the-sky gesture.


Obama’s charisma, which is his unique political strength, is real, but it cannot be separated from the fact that he’s black. When Obama speaks of change and hope and healing divisions, his words carry an electric charge because of who he is: He embodies his own message, the very definition of charisma. As a black man offering reconciliation, he is making a deeply personal connection with whites, not merely a rhetorical one.

So white enthusiasm for Obama is driven by his race. But there’s nothing wrong with that fact. Those who criticize it are simultaneously too idealistic and too cynical: They assume that it’s possible to simply ignore Obama’s race, while also imputing unsavory motivations to those who are inspired by it. The truth is that whites’ race-driven enthusiasm for Obama is an almost unreservedly positive thing — both because electing a black president is a good thing in its own right, and because of what that enthusiasm says about race relations in America today.


As for the right-wing dismissal of Obama as an unqualified recipient of a national affirmative action program, that argument is absurd because Obama is qualified. If he is indeed the beneficiary of a kind of affirmative action, it is one that he earned, and that is given freely — it isn’t mandated or coerced. White Americans have been waiting for a chance to bridge the racial divide, to affirm a universalist ethos. Obama has tapped into that need, and it turned out to be a gusher.

It’s true that voting for Obama is in some ways a symbolic gesture, one that won’t instantly solve America’s race problems. But it will help. Symbolism is powerful. The racial politics that started at the symbolic plane can and will trickle down to real people. Having a black president would give the country a deeper comfort level in talking about racial issues. It would help Americans of all races break out of the sterile guilt/victim dialogue, or the fear of falling into it, that too often inhibits real communication. It could radically change our entire racial landscape, in ways we can’t even predict.

Read the whole thing – if you have the stomach for it.

Comments are closed.