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Blagojevich Mon Jan 11 2010

The Real Ignorance Behind Blago And Reid's Comments

I've been waiting for someone to analyze what's common about Harry Reid's comments and Blagojevich's but none of my regular writers have seen the pattern like I have. Basically, both comments illustrate what some white politicians think a black person is. If you synthesize the comments, a black person is someone who is poor, "shine[s] shoes", and has a "negro dialect" (presumably meaning somewhat inarticulate). The real tragedy behind both of these comments is they betray a perception of what it is to be black.

The truth is, for these guys simply being black isn't enough to qualify as being black, one has to fit the stereotype. President Obama is exceptional and thus not black in the usual sense because he's not poor and articulates his words. But that would make a lot of black people (me included) not black. But I'm regularly classified as black. People I meet at first think I'm black. On most documents that others fill out for me, they check the black box. My mother is black. By Reid's or Blagojevich's definition though, I wouldn't qualify as black even though I am, by definition, black.

In short, what those comments show is that being a black person is not singly having black skin, it's matching a stereotype.


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Ramsin / January 11, 2010 11:07 AM

I was talking about this with someone this morning. It's the problem with identity politics overall: you have to meet certain criteria to be "truly" Black, Latino, Assyrian, whatever. And those criteria are completely subjective. It's ridiculous.

The same way an old white politician from Nevada associates "being black" with certain features, so would black nationalists accuse a person who identifies themselves as black as being "not black enough" based on who they fall in love with or who their friends are.

The Blago comment is worse in my mind because to him, the fact that Obama did not end up shining shoes or living in a five room apartment means he isn't "authentically" black (when what he means is that he isn't authentically working class). So explicitly associating shoe shining with being a Black man is some old school Birth of a Nation racism.

Daniel / January 11, 2010 11:52 AM

The irony, of course, in the Blago criteria is that Obama is by definition black since he did grow up in a working-class surrounding. If he were to still insist that Obama isn't truly black that would mean to be black is to be working class etc.

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