Tuesday, March 6, 2007

And the Lord said y’all got to rise up!

Senator and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden, let us all know that Barack Obama, fellow Senator and candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential ticket, is a “clean” and well-spoken black man.

Thanks for coming, Mr. Biden. Be sure to run again next time.

While politically suicidal, Biden’s comments do shed light on Obama’s rhetorical abilities. Obama’s eloquence is no secret and his lucidity is responsible for his popularity amongst the press and people. I don’t think Obama even knows where he stands on the issues of the day. But the brother can speak!

The Illinois Senator visited his people this last weekend in Selma, Alabama, speaking at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. church on the 42nd anniversary of the civil rights protest known as “Bloody Sunday.” On March 7, 1965, hundreds of black protesters were beaten and sprayed with tear gas as they marched cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The event eventually led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Obama, being black, was given the prestigious honor of speaking on Sunday morning at the church where the march began 42 years ago. Hillary Clinton, being white, spoke at First Baptist Church, just down the street from Obama. Both candidates littered their speeches with religious talk, especially Obama, who talked at length about Moses and how he led the Israelite’s – or, in this context, black’s – out of slavery into the Promised Land. Obama dubbed this generation the “Joshua generation” because they still need to continue the fight for racial equality.

But the big topic of the day was race and racism and how far a certain race has come in its struggle for freedom.

Hillary took the noble path and neglected the bitterness between her campaign and Obama’s, saying that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 paved the way for Obama to run for President. She continued, noting that “by its logic and spirit, it is giving the same chance to Gov. Bill Richardson to run as a Hispanic. And, yes, it is giving me that chance.”

Well, I’m confused. Does Hillary think she’s black? Andre Sanders, 31, an auto parts supplier in Selma, is confused as well. Said Sanders, “Folks are saying, ‘Yeah, we're going to get us a black president with Obama.’ But Hillary's something, too. She's game tight. You can't run a scam on her.”

“Game tight”? Ballin’!

But apparently there was lots more confusion going on in Selma. Obama and Hillary were in such a tizzy to reach out for more of the black vote – I mean – to commemorate the history of black civil rights in America that they forgot who they were. Hilliary, obviously, forgot her skin color, and Obama forgot he was a “clean” black.

Obama’s speaking style adapted to his religious African-American environment like a gecko against tree bark. Reading the transcript of Obama’s speech is misleading, for it lacks his – how shall I say – southern subtleties.

In his speech, Obama went to great lengths to show that he is indeed part of the heritage, history, and honor of Selma. Being the offspring of a white Kansas woman and a Kenyan makes Obama only “half-black,” and being raised in Hawaii and Indonesia doesn’t do much for his desired connection to the civil rights movement. But Obama talked about his ancestors who were slaves and his father, Barack Obama, Sr., who immigrated from Kenya to America, all thanks to the brave people of Selma and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When talking about how his father and mother (whose ancestors owned slaves) got together to have a family, he described their unpopular union of a white woman and black man as “some good craziness goin’ on.” In the speech text, it’s “going on.” Not so in the audio.

Obama continued:

“There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born. So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don't tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama.”

In the video, “coming” is “comin’,” and the second instance of “Selma, Alabama” is slurred together so that it sounds like one word, Southern style.

The very next sentence, Obama proclaims, “I’m here because you all marched for me.” On tape, however, Obama goes South yet again, and his “you all” is really “y’all.”

Obama’s southern/black pandering continues: “If it hasn't been for Selma, I wouldn't be here. This is the site of my conception. I am the fruits of your labor. I am the offspring of the movement. When people ask me whether I've been to Selma before, I tell them I'm coming home.”

But I heard this clip on the radio, and Obama’s “before” is “befo’.” “Befo’”? This guy graduated from Columbia with a B.S. in political science and from Harvard with a law degree, and suddenly he’s speaking with a southern drawl in an African-American church in Selma’labama? He’d better watch his step befo’ he alienates his white constituents.

Al Sharpton, referring to Obama and his quest for the White House, said, “Just because you are our color doesn't make you our kind.” I wonder if the Rev. Sharpton would take back that statement based on Obama’s style and “blackness” in his Selma speech.

But the degree to which Obama is gunning for the black vote is astonishing. Obama is bending his own history in order to appear more “black.” His father didn’t come to America because of initiatives spawning from the Voting Rights Act, and Obama himself was born in 1961 – four years before Bloody Sunday. Obama was born in Hawaii, not Selma or anywhere else in the South. When people ask Obama if he’s been to Selma befo’, the truth would be something like, “Hell, no, dog. I was born nearly half-way ‘round da globe. But I’m still black. Vote for me.”

To Sharpton and others, being “black” is being a descendent of slaves. To Hillary, being “black” is being married to Bill Clinton, America’s “first black President,” and she actually brought her hubby to Selma in order to bolster her black credibility. To Obama, being “black” is being the offspring of a black man and a white woman and also speaking the southern, black lingo in order to impress the to-be voters.

It’s sad to see the disregard of an ethnic group’s heritage all for their political support. Some would say we’ve come along way, and we have. Racism will never be completely wiped off the map, but when we look around America today, we see all sorts of ethnic groups in all sorts of high-profile and prestigious positions.

But to me it seems flagrantly racist when politicians change their rhetoric, style, and skin color in order to get a few more votes. Obama and Hillary didn’t go to Selma to honor those who marched for freedom four decades ago; they went to Selma to exploit an ethnic minority and to use their heritage and bravery for political purposes. Obama and Hillary didn’t see Americans; they saw votes; they saw blacks.

And all God’s people said, “How long? How long must we wander in this wilderness?”


  1. Wow! May I just say great insight "T. Sizzle" in decribing your reaction to Obama & Clinton's visit to Selma. I saw clips of both speeches on television, and I also found it very sad that the two candidates (intentionally or unintentionally) sought out votes by speaking at two separate churches.

    I find it interesting that Obama is attempting to "reach out" for the black vote by trying to speak black vernacular when clearly, he is a well-spoken grad who has lived in America his entire life and has adapted to white vernacular.

    Just this a.m., I was watching the today's show and the story was about Hillary & Obama's visit to Selma. In the story, it was mentioned that by Hillary visiting the church, she was gaining more female votes and by Obama visiting, he was sealing the "black vote."

    You are right, Obama and Hillary didn’t go to Selma to honor those who marched for freedom, they went because they saw votes, and that's one terrible thing about politics today.

  2. For s/he who left the above comment:

    So African-Americans who speak eloquently are using "white vernacular" - really? I think Cornel West, among others (Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Steele), would probably disagree.
    This leaves me to assume that "fo' shizzle', 'true dat', 'bi-ach', 'hells yea' etc., is what you consider to be "black vernacular" - I truly hope I’m mistaken.

    The comment seems a bit offensive, and I doubt you meant it to be so. Please clarify.

  3. Did you ever consider that maybe Obama normally talks like that, and that he changes his speech for white audiences and the white man's press that dominates the air waves? Just because a guy is highly educated does not necessarily change the way he talks when speaking to friends. There is a flip side to the coin as well. No black man could ever be elected president in the United States if he spoke to whites using black slang. It just would not happen. So even if he is changing his speech patterns around black audiences, why is that bad? The fact remains that he is a black man running in a country dominated by rich white men. In a political aristocracy desperately needing some diversity, I say let him talk however he wants.