Julie MarshI've been digesting Maureen Dowd's opinion piece regarding the relative blackness of the Obama administration for over a week now, and I'm still shaking my head.
Dowd claims that the president clings to "his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him" and that "he acts like the election was enough; he shouldn’t have to deal with race further." He is not doing enough for black people because he is out of touch with them. He is not black enough.
If I want to throttle Maureen Dowd, I can only imagine how many black people feel.
I hopped on the phone with my friend Kelly to talk through our respective reactions to Dowd's piece. Kelly has such a mixed race heritage that we might need a quadratic equation to figure out exact proportions, but she was raised as a black girl because, as her mother told her, people would always see her that way.
Maybe not Maureen Dowd though. I'm betting Kelly's not black enough for her.
My objections to the piece came down to three points. One, it's no one's role to tell a person of another heritage whether they're representing that heritage properly. Two, it's illogical that a single person or even a group of people should represent an entire racial or ethnic group, even when it's the president and his cabinet. Three, the concept of blackness is an arbitrary yardstick to measure conformity to an amorphous and illogical standard (refer to the second objection).
My friend Heather wrote about how Dowd's piece transported her instantly back to her mostly white, small town high school: "I oscillated between groups; one who thought I was too black and the others who thought I wasn’t black enough."
Sure, I'm quoting a couple of my black friends, just like Maureen Dowd quoted a couple of hers. James Clyburn told her the president needs some black people around him. Eleanor Holmes Norton agreed. But just as Kelly and Heather don't speak for their entire community, neither do Clyburn and Norton.
I don't think any white person can understand how it feels to walk the line that black people do. We don't think about whether we're acting "too white" by being friends with a certain person or listening to a certain artist or achieving a certain level of success. We rarely walk into a room and realize we're the only people there who look like us. We don't size each other up based on how pasty we are.
I had some choice words for the Obama administration on the handling of Shirley Sherrod, but not because of her race or Breitbart's or Vilsack's or the president's. False accusations were made, politics took precedence, and somebody got sacked. Yes, race played a role in the accusations, but would a "blacker" White House have taken a more measured approach, checking the facts thoroughly before demanding Sherrod's resignation? Isn't that a function of proper accountability and effective leadership, not race?
The relative blackness of the president has been a topic of lively and primarily pointless discussion since the campaign. Instead of prolonging the debate over whether or not he's properly representing his heritage, let's shift the focus to how effective a leader he is.