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November 14, 2008 / JV

Why Aren't You Barack Obama?

We’ve created a situation where people can say “why aren’t you Oprah?” – Dennis O’Neil

This is the repercussion of promoting the idea that there exists a bootstrap economy of rewards for hard work. Combined with the subconscious public perception that all black people are men and all women are white. or that one black person can symbolize all black people.

Barack Obama is a symbol of sorts, but he is not an archetype. He is an individual.

If I hear one more black person say that now “we have no excuses”.

Barack Obama’s election is a victory, but it is not the consummation of a long and tiring race struggle. Him being president does not make it any less appropriate, relevant, or applicable for me to call out racism when necessary. Him being president does not mean that all of a sudden DWB (guess) will no longer be a crime.

The suggestion that this election marks the beginning of an era where “race” is no longer a factor (Re: will.i.am and andrew sullivan on bill maher proclaiming that race is a concern of the past) is naive and simple. The election of a black president doesn’t say anything about institutionalized racism and systems of privilege. It says something about Barack Obama, and his achievements in relation to his very specific situation.

Perhaps a more interesting question would be Why isn’t Barack Obama me?

This capitalist craze of individualism and the myth of the triumph of merit would have us think that if we all work equally as hard, we will all get equally as far. That is the lie.

By claiming that Barack Obama’s success somehow cures the reality of racism, conservatives and liberals alike are validating the widespread falsity that success in this country is exclusively merit-based. They are implying that if Barack Obama did it, everybody can do it. Because A) he represents all black people, B) race is the salient factor in mobility (vs class for instance), and C) achievement, regardless of race, class, or other factors, is solely contingent on hard work. But this is flawed. Individuals do not function separate from institutions. And, in the words of Angela Davis, Institutions have very long memories.

“Merit and rewards” is going on my list of Phrases to Disarticulate, right under “crime and punishment”.

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2 Comments

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  1. Jay M / Jan 2 2010 12:29 pm

    Ever notice how efforts to turn the fake meritocracy into an actual one are always met with resistance. You wouldn’t believe how deeply class profiling goes. From where you went to school to how you speak and even how you sit are all used for profiling purposes. Large corporations promote various forms of low culture such as various forms of rock and rap (e.g.: “The metal and rap demographic range from underclass to lower-middle class”) in order to make some money while reinforcing the rigid, durable class structure.

    Why do you think the established energy companies are lobbying against green energy? Because they want to reinforce rigid economic boundaries so that the green energy executives and shareholders do not shatter their way into a higher income bracket. John D. Rockefeller and John Jacob Astor were very poor and met with resistance. They however learned how to succeed where there adversaries have failed: Namely how to keep the structure rigid. It wasn’t 100% since Bill Gates, whom has a middle class background, shattered his way up via taking the initiative and defending his discovered advantages against his opponents.

    While there is indeed a fake meritocracy one has to learn how to play the game with this countries fake values. “Equal opportunity and protection under the law” is basically code for “Equal opportunity for the good old boy network and corporations under the law. Let the Proletarians think this also applies to them in order to keep them from revolting. We’ll provide public education, but this will just be another profiling tool. Public schools after all aren’t feeds into the Ivy League like, say, Andover or Exeter.”

    • the black scientist / Jan 2 2010 1:07 pm

      yeah, class profiling is very interesting. i think it just illuminates the extent to which class is performed. for kicks a lot of times, and thanks to going to college with a bunch of rich kids, i’ll perform different classes in different situations.

      you bring up a good point about how hard it actually is to ‘move up’ financially and socially in this country. the ideal is that everyone has an equal shot to make something of themselves, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that people, institutions, tradition, and systems are all working against you.

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