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April 12, 2008

A Bound Man

Why We Are Excited About Obama And Why He Can’t Win
Shelby Steele – ISBN – 9781416559177

This essay is in keeping with, and a specific expansion upon his book White Guilt (published in 2006, a review of which is available on this site.)

Here Steele elaborates upon those same observations, but applies them specifically to Barack Obama in his quest for “blackness” and the presidency. The pair might have been published together with the title “Black vs. White in America, Fostering Greater Understanding.”

He notes that in order to advantageously position themselves in America blacks have had two options: challenging (currently Jackson or Sharpton, and previously the Panthers: Newton, Carmichael & Brown), or bargaining (Winfrey or Obama, and previously Poitier or Cosby). With the former there are implicit threats to--and demands upon—whites; the latter accept and trust that fair treatment will be accorded in exchange for mutual pleasantries pursuant the negotiation. Challengers get no gratitude, but do achieve power and money; bargainers gain affection and love, and commonly money as well as power, albeit of a different sort. Moreover, they are likely to be acknowledged as equals. A person can be one or the other persona but not both.

As an example he observes that for years Cosby was a bargainer, but his recent change is viewed by other blacks as hostile. He has become a challenger, and worse, since he challenges blacks. He now voices the rational societal rules which require discipline and responsibility for success, insisting that blacks have to improve themselves instead of depending upon whites to alleviate their problems. Now he is seen as being in the enemy camp, no longer a hero to his race.

Obama risks black wrath when bargaining, which is necessary to gain white acceptance, as he risks white rejection if he challenges. He cannot do both. Like Prometheus he is bound (hence the title.)

Barack has largely rejected his manifest ability to join mainstream society in questing to be black, and seems to be attempting to be in both camps, as he attempts to be all to everyone.

Steele sights numerous quotations from Obama’s prior writing to support that observation. Amongst myriad others, an early love of his life, also of mixed race, challenged Barack to explain why she had to choose to be black, noting:

• “It’s not white people who are making me choose. Maybe it used to be that way, but now they’re willing to treat me like a person. No—it’s black people who always have to make everything racial. They’re the ones making me choose. They’re the ones who are telling me I can’t be who I am.”

• “The chance to be yourself, racial self-acceptance—is not with blackness; it is in the same American mainstream [from whence you came.]”

She emphasized her trust in mainstream America more than black America to respect her for who she is and wishes to be.

Barack, intent on establishing his black “credentials” has chosen to disassociate himself from this mainstream position, diligently working to fit within black society and radical bastions, making it virtually impossible for him to be a bridge candidate and a healer of divisions. He has become just another liberal politician. Indeed, the most liberal in the Senate. While potentially an Icon, he is squandering his real potential as a candidate, and denying himself the opportunity to be who he really is—or is capable of being.

The rest you’ll have to read . . . and you definitely should, since it is as much about the black dilemma in America as it is about Obama himself.

It is enlightening, expository, insightful, and extremely well written.

Posted by respeto at 4:13 PM

April 8, 2008

Empire of the Sun

J.G. Ballard – ISBN – 9780743265232

Immediately after Pearl Harbor the Japanese launched all out war in the Pacific, beginning in the Philippines and in Shanghai where Ballard’s family were English merchants. This novel encapsulates the experiences of its English author, an adolescent prisoner in a Japanese prison camp in China during WWII. It is a first person narrative embroidered with reliable hearsay into a metered exposition of the horrors of China itself, the war, the loss of fear in some situations, and the longing for death in other circumstances, when incarcerated and alone, as he was at the time.

He begins by describing the life of the expatriate communities (representing virtually all western countries), and does so largely in flash-backs. As well, he provides graphic descriptions of the ghastly life of the Chinese peasants of the era. This is an enlightening discussion of the “facts on the ground,” woven into a personal narrative of survival in an era and in a culture which most of us have never known much about, and never explored. It is informative, colorful, eloquent, fulsome, and engrossing. Much of the account describes the savage nature of Japanese occupation and the inherently punishing culture of the Chinese.

While not always an easy read, he explores the consequences of twentieth century technology in relating the flashes from the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as he lays the groundwork for an understanding of the fact that, co-extant with WW II was the internecine war amongst the Chinese. He explains that as WW II war ended, the Chinese immediately began their separate war between Mao Tse Tung’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.

It is a worthwhile read, and reminds of Give Us This Day (ISBN - 9780393319217), Sidney Stewart’s non-fiction account of experiences in Japanese camps and ships after his survival of the Bataan Death March.

Incidentally, I heartily endorse the latter book, the better to understand the horrifying experiences of American prisoners of Japan during that conflict. Reading both expands one’s historic appreciation of the grisly nature of the mid 20th century which is now being repeated in the Middle East. It is obligatory and productive to understand the nature of the enemy now as then.

Posted by respeto at 12:57 PM