Recently, I wrote an article in which I contended that Barack Obama is a “Blackist,” an adherent of “Blackism.” The latter, I explained, is an ideology. As such, it differs in kind from both biology and what has been called “black culture.”
Skin pigmentation is an accident of birth. Culture, consisting as it does of a complex of traditions that are years and years in the making, is an acquisition. Ideology, though, is the product of choice. What this in turn means is that the Blackist is a fundamentally different sort of being than the person who happens to be black.
It would be a mistake, though, to think that there is no relationship between the ideology of Blackism, on the one hand, and black culture and biology, on the other.
A Blackist must be biologically black. This is far from a sufficient condition for subscription to Blackism, but it is necessary.
This is how the ideology in question is related to biology.
It is related to black culture, however, in the way in which a grammar is related to the language to which it belongs.
A language’s grammar consists of propositions embodying rules and/or principles. The grammar is a truncated version—an extremely truncated version—of the language from which it is an abstraction. What this in turn means is that the intricacies and nuances that distinguish the language as the language that it is, those of its particularities that have been shaped by all manner of contingencies, are inescapably lost in its grammar.
Similarly, Blackism is an abstraction—and a distortion—of black culture.
Now, that a grammar or an ideology distorts the language or culture from which it is derived is not itself a terrible thing—as long as this is recognized. As long as we refuse to conflate the caricature with the person of whom it is the caricature, no harm is done. In fact, the caricature may even draw our attention to features to which we may have otherwise remained oblivious.
But the ideologue is not likely to grasp that it is a caricature with which he is dealing. He is much more disposed to think that between one end of the ideology and the other, all that is worth knowing can be found. Moreover, the ideologue is wont to put the cart before the horse: the ideology he will treat as a timeless Truth by which the temporary and topical are to be judged.
Yet it is the tradition, (the language, the culture, etc.) that comes first; the abridgement (the grammar, the ideology) follows.
Just as the rules of a grammar can be sandwiched between the covers of a textbook, accessible to anyone and everyone, a moral ideology too is designed to accommodate those who have not embarked upon the far more time consuming and formidable task of acquiring a genuine education in a moral tradition. For example, the ideology of “natural rights” or “human rights” or whatever we are calling it these days is a small set of propositions that anyone can easily confine to memory. Yet it is the distillation of a rich, centuries-old English political-moral tradition into which only a relatively small handful of the Earth’s inhabitants have been educated.
The ideology of Blackism is a drastically oversimplified distillation of black culture. The latter is a way of life. The former consists of a few basic propositions. Any black person is eligible to endorse Blackism. Not every black person, though, has immersed him or herself in black culture. Thus, Blackism provides a fast track for any black person in search of racial validation: all he or she has to do is affirm the tenets of the ideology and, presto, he or she is declared “authentically” Black!
There is no one for whom the ideology of Blackism is better suited than our President. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it is a contrivance for people just like him. Black culture is as alien to Obama as it is to any white person. In fact, Obama was further removed from black culture than many whites (like me) who were raised in predominantly black cities. Obama, let us not forget, was reared by whites. The vast majority of his friends growing up were white. Not only did he never attend a public school, he attended nothing but the most prestigious of private educational institutions—all of the way through law school.
A correspondent leveled two criticisms against my analysis of Blackism and Obama’s allegiance to it.
First, he thought it curious that I would feel the need to devise a new word—“Blackism”—to reference an old concept—“racial consciousness.” After all, it is to black racial consciousness that I refer, correct? So why not just say so?
This objection misses the mark.
“Racial consciousness” is a term that means very little because it can mean so much. In a multiracial world, it is impossible for anyone to literally be devoid of all racial awareness. We learn about ourselves as much from who we are not as from who we are. Thus, any black person, like every other person, has some “consciousness” of the race to which he or she belongs.
Moreover, racial consciousness is one thing; racial absolutism is something else entirely. The Blackist differs from the black person not in having a greater degree of race consciousness. The difference between the Blackist and the black person is a difference in kind. The Blackist is one for whom racial consciousness consumes every other conceivable sort of consciousness, if you will. More clearly, for the Blackist, the creed of Blackism trumps all other considerations.
The term “racial consciousness” simply fails, and fails quite abysmally, to do justice to a reality that is significantly more complex that it would suggest. “Blackism,” in contrast, accommodates crucial metaphysical and moral distinctions that the vague “racial consciousness” never acknowledges.
My critic also objected to my description of Obama as a man who differs from Jesse Jackson, Louis Farakhan, Al Sharpton, and Jeremiah Wright only stylistically—not substantively. While Obama does indeed possess “racial consciousness,” he claimed, it is unfair to lump him into the same class with these other “race men.”
I admit to being more than a bit stunned by this last. Let’s think about this.
Like the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson, Obama too worked as a “community organizer” while living in Chicago. And like Sharpton’s and Jackson’s enterprises, Obama’s community organizing consisted of “organizing” blacks. And like their enterprises, Obama’s required for its execution the routine employment of intimidation tactics that he brought to bear against banks and other businesses.
Obama, like the foregoing Blackists, never fails to affirm the cardinal tenet of Blackism: Every act and every utterance, whether overtly or covertly, must preserve and strengthen the narrative of perpetual White Oppression and Black Suffering. Subscription to this tenet explains virtually everything that Obama has done since he has been President (to say nothing of what he has done prior to this juncture). From Obamacare, his treatment of business, and his handling of the economy, to expressing solidarity with blacks regarding those racially-oriented incidences that never should have been national news to begin with, Obama has proven that he is bewitched by an ideology that insists upon rectifying, “by whichever means necessary,” the historic injustices that Whites have been forever inflicting upon Blacks.
But there is much more proof in the pudding for my contention that Obama is a Blackist, substantively indistinguishable from other nationally known Blackists.
Obama—once more, a man with no roots in black culture—entitled his first memoir: Dreams from My Father: A Story of RACE and Inheritance. Obama’s is a story of a man on a quest for racial authenticity, i.e. Blackness. From beginning to end, Dreams is chockfull of anecdotes of indignities and injustices that blacks—mostly in the person of Obama—have to live with on a daily basis.
This in and of itself, I would think, would be sufficient to make my case.
Yet there is one final consideration not to be overlooked. Let us never forget that for over two decades, Obama belonged to Jeremiah Wright’s church, a church seeped in Black Liberation Theology. He donated large sums of money to this church, and he had Wright baptize his children. Obama referred to Wright as his “spiritual mentor.” Wright is a man who is good friends with Louis Farakkhan. He once endowed the latter with his “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Though Wright considers himself Christian while Farakkhan regards himself as a Muslim, as far as their views on white/black relations are concerned, there are scarcely any differences.
Now that Obama was as close to Wright—his pastor and “spiritual mentor,” mine you—as he was for all of that time renders inescapable the conclusion that he thinks along the same lines as the latter. And, for that matter, he thinks not all that differently from Farakkhan when it comes to racially-centered topics.
The charge that I am guilty of employing a disreputable “guilt-by-association” tactic against our President is easily met.
Wright is a Blackist extraordinaire. Obama sought him out and remained under his “spiritual” tutelage until it became politically inexpedient to any longer do so. Still, twenty years is a long time, and there can be no question that Wright—with his Black Liberation Theology—exerted a tremendous influence over Obama’s intellectual development.
Blackism is an ideology distinct from “black biology” and black culture. And Obama is a Blackist.
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Jack Kerwick, holds a BA in religious studies and philosophy from Wingate University, a MA in philosophy from Baylor University, a Ph.D. in philosophy from Temple University, and is currently professor of philosophy at several schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Mr. Kerwick writes from the classical liberal perspective inspired by Edmund Burke. He blogs at www.jackkerwick.com. You can contact him at [email protected]