Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gangsta, Minstrel, & House Negro: Race and Obama's Critics on the Left

An observation on the racialized critique of the President from those on the left.  The new left fashion is bashing President Obama, see here, here and here.  It is still two long years away from 2012 and many in the President's own party have started writing him off.  My crystal ball is not working today, so I can't say what will happen in 2012. If I were a betting man, I would bet on the President.  After all, the man did pull the country back from the brink of financial disaster, not to mention other significant accomplishments such as the historic healthcare bill.  And until a serious Republican challenger emerges, Chris Christie?, the odds should favor the Obamas holding on to their current abode for a another four years.

There's nothing wrong with criticizing the President and many of us would not be honest if we did not engage in good faith criticism of the President.  But some of the criticisms of President, and I mean to single-out the recent criticism from the left, have a particular racial tincture to them that leaves me quite uncomfortable. These types of critiques rely upon certain familiar racial tropes: the gangsta or thug, the minstrel, and the house negro.  An example of the thug is from comedian Bill Maher's explicitly racial critique, where he complains that the President should be a real black man and start shooting up people.  Recently, Maher followed up his early critique with the following:
"I thought, when we elected the first black president, as a comedian, I thought two years in, I'd be making jokes about what a gangsta he was, you know?" Maher said. Instead, Maher said we've got "President Wayne Brady."
For Bill Maher, Suge Knight is his vision of who Obama should be.  Interestingly, his vision of Obama is actually another racial stereotype, that of the black jester, the minstrel.  While few critics have been as explicitly racial as Maher, many of the left criticisms implicitly rely upon the gangsta/minstrel stereotype: We expected a black gangsta as a President, instead of we got an effete shuckin' and jivin' president.

There is another set of criticism that is less overtly racial but perhaps just as troubling.  In this set of criticisms the President is chided for not being sufficiently progressive.  These writers tend to talk down to the President as if he's a schoolboy who did not learn his lesson.  They remind him that the only reason that he is the first black president is because of them and their good graces.  Otherwise, he'd be another Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.  The President is not viewed as the pragmatic politician/scholar that he is, but like a house negro.  These folks are constantly reminding the President that if he does not behave, they'll return him to the field.

The house negro is both good negro and servant.  You expect the house negro to be a grateful negro because he knows (or should know) that your good grace is the only thing that preventing him from being a field negro.  And if the house negro ever gets out of line, your remind him that he is one step away from the field.  You expect the field negro to lead the revolt, but you expect the house negro to be docile and obedient.

If these critics were coming from the right, many of these same folks would be crying racism because it would politically expedient to do so.  I'm not ready to cry racism, but some of the President's critics need to be more thoughtful; their racial bias is showing.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    While I agree that racial biases are unthoughtful, I do not understand what the point of this article was. It clearly did not falsify the position that people with racial biases have. Just because calling Obama house negro is not thoughtful does not eliminate the possiblity that he might just be. While I do not agree with Maher's words, it might just be true that the many black people who voted for him did so expecting him to represent them and act in a certain way. Instead it seems Obama just takes the blame as he tries to reinvigorate the status quo structure and is busting his balls off to fix problems which have no direct impact on many who voted for him. If this doesn't bring forth some thoughts of house negro, I do not know what does.