Saturday, January 31, 2009

Racist or realist? Pointing out the emptiness of Barack Obama can lead to trouble

Last week I was condemned as a racist. A little surprising for me in that I'm often criticized for wanting to forgive almost all African debt, prosecute arms dealers who sell weapons to African nations and have North America and Europe launch a massive investment campaign into a continent we have raped for centuries.

But none of this matters because I dared to say in print and on radio and television that Barack Obama may well be an empty vessel and that his inauguration speech was shallow and jarringly rhetorical.

The bombardment of spiteful, threatening and misspelled e-mails hasn't stopped since.

I shouldn't be obliged to justify or prove that I am not a racist simply to expunge some vague accusation tossed by the irrational.

Indeed even defending oneself proves to the contemporary accuser that there is something to defend. About as unfair as the literacy test applied to potential black voters in the south in the 1950s: "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

Of course the protective firewall around the man is partly understandable. The iconic symbolism of an African American becoming president is not lost even on stupid white people. It's the culmination of the great journey from incarceration to triumph and -- important this -- it's seen as a collective achievement.

Now, however, a black politician is judged not more but less harshly because of his race, which surely is not only an attack on equality but patronizingly racist in itself. Race must not disqualify black people from office but cannot disqualify white people as critics.

On inauguration day Obama stood just yards away from George W. Bush and announced that for the first time the United States would come to the aid of the developing world.

It is acknowledged even by ideological liberals that Bush, one of those stupid white people, did more to help Africa and to fight malaria and AIDS than any other western leader has ever done.


If irony and dishonesty were not enough, Obama completed his speech with meaningless hyperbole and dreamy gestures.

Here is the point. He played, has played and will play the part of the back pastor in the large gospel church. Volume, hope, rhymes and promises but often not much else. We know that when he first spoke to black audiences in Chicago the aspiring politician was told that he didn't sound "black enough," so he deliberately rehearsed the rhythms of black preachers.

There. Proves it. Coren is a racist. No, not at all. Pointing out differences is no more or less racist than not pointing them out. That there are such differences is not a fact that can be established or obscured by the character of the person who reveals them.

Obama's followers know this better than anyone, which is why they claim that race is now irrelevant while simultaneously playing the race card to trump any difficult hand offered by opponents.

Washington's foreign policy or economic stimulus package will not suddenly be inspiring merely because the president had a black father.

This will be a fascinating presidency. It may or may not be successful but only a fool or a coward would deny that it will be, well, colourful.

Obama learned that a long time ago and, even if some people pretend not to have heard it, has been saying it loud.