I know, I know, Barack Obama is the post-racial candidate — he, and we, are past all that deplorable old race stuff, went through it and came out the other side, doesn’t matter, don’t care, couldn’t possibly be less important.
Yet the evidence is plain that Barack and Michelle Obama both belong to that subset of educated black Americans to whom their own blackness is of obsessive interest, or at very least was up through their college years. Barack famously wrote “A Story of Race and Inheritance”, about his own long struggles with his racial identity.
Now here’s Michelle Obama in the current Newsweek cover story. She graduated from Princeton in 1985 with a major in sociology and a minor in African-American Studies. Sociology, huh? At first sight that’s encouraging — I mean, at least she didn’t spend her entire college career obsessing about her blackness. Then Newsweek tells us the title of her senior sociology thesis: “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” (I have this mental image of her thesis adviser saying: “Michelle, isn’t there some way we can squeeze another ‘black’ into that title?”)
Look, I’m willing to make allowances. Both these people grew up in the Me Decade when self-obsession was for a brief horrible moment as American as apple pie. Still, 1985 was over two decades on from the Civil Rights Act, three from Brown v. Board of Ed.. Far from being barred from life opportunities, black Americans were being given a hand up — affirmative action was in full swing. Countless black Americans of the Obamas’ generation found something better and more useful to do with their lives than fret 24/7 about their own blackness. Some of them even went into politics.
Maybe I’m jaded, but I really need persuading that when I look at Barack Obama, I’m not just seeing Al Sharpton minus the pompadour and the attitude.