Obama and the Myth of the Black Messiah
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
November 13, 2008
Some excerpts :
The truth is that the dominant conversation in the black community today is not about racism or victimization but about self-improvement. In a 2007 Pew survey of black America, Bill Cosby was rated second among public figures believed to have the best influence on African Americans; Oprah, not exactly a doyenne of black complaint, ranked first. That same year, a study of young people by the University of Chicago found that while black kids consumed more rap videos than their white counterparts, about 60% of them thought the portrayals of black women were offensive.
In this post--civil rights age, with the media hungry for a single black narrative, there is a strong desire to have one voice speak to--and for--us all. But that impulse is wrong, whether it's focused on Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Barack Obama. It's wrong because it distorts and flattens the very complexities and contradictions that ultimately make black people human. In 2006, this magazine reported on a University of Minnesota study that found, not surprisingly, that blacks were more likely than whites to see racism in the world. But the same study also found that blacks were more likely than whites to blame the lack of black progress on individual factors like hard work.
The truth is that the people create the conditions for the leader, not the other way around. Obama isn't bringing moral values to the black community; he's responding to the community's own innate, quasi-conservative embrace of those values. Thus the question of what Obama has to teach black people is exactly backward. The real question is what black people, through Barack Obama, have to show America and the world.