Stephanie Griffith, AFP, Dec. 21, 2006
US political darling Barack Obama has received enthusiastic support for a possible 2008 presidential bid — except from fellow African-Americans, a group many believed would be among his staunchest backers.
In contrast to the effusive reception Obama has received from white Americans, many US blacks so far have been cool, saying that while they may share skin color with Obama, they do not have a common culture or history.
“Obama did not — does not — share a heritage with the majority of black Americans, who are descendants of plantation slaves,” wrote African-American newspaper columnist Stanley Crouch last month in an article entitled “Barack Obama — Not Black Like Me.”
Obama draws enormous, mostly white crowds, even though the first presidential primary election is more than a year away, and is he seen as a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But Crouch said that the first-term US senator — the bi-racial progeny of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother — does not share with most American blacks the painful legacy of slavery, repressive Jim Crow laws, and civil rights struggles.
“While he has experienced some light versions of typical racial stereotypes, he cannot claim those problems as his own — nor has he lived the life of a black American,” Crouch wrote in his New York Daily News column.
Political analyst Ron Walters said that Obama is a black whom many whites find reassuring, with his Harvard pedigree and law degree rounding out his half-European ancestry.
“If you take this in almost anthropological terms, there’s a sense in which whites are more comfortable with blacks who they believe reaffirm them,” Walters said.
He said other whites apparently view Obama not so much as a black trailblazer but as a multicultural figure, with his racially-mixed parentage and childhood spent in Hawaii and Indonesia.
African-Americans however, who are are accustomed to leaders who emerge from the civil rights movement, sometimes appear to struggle to relate to Obama.
“For some African-Americans, he has not really affirmed their identity. He has affirmed his own mixed identity, but he has not strongly affirmed the right and the claim of African-Americans in this society to equal treatment,” said Walters, a professor at the University of Maryland.
A CNN poll last week found that 60 percent of Americans said they have no reservations about voting for a black president, although experts caution that polls are not always a reliable measure of racial bias. Some wonder whether whites who now are urging him to run will be as enthusiastic in the voting booth.
“There are individuals who say one thing publicly, but time and time again has shown that when . . . they’re in the privacy of the voting booth, they do something else,” said Wilson.
Despite the adulation he has received from Democrats around the country, some blacks said it will be nearly impossible for Obama to win the White House in 2008 without massive support from the African-American community.
“The American population is not ready — despite of what Barack says — to have a black man be the president of the United States,” Wilson said.
“When it’s all said and done, if he declares, then he will have to convince African-Americans to support him, and just his color alone is not going to be enough,” he said.