Thursday, 22 January 2009

Meet the New Boss! Same As the Old Boss: Part Two

My stomach was almost inspired to refund its breakfast when I read our really, truly black Governor General descanting pompously on the Obama affair. Her Excellency had kind words for the man who now leads the nation that sent the country of her birth into a spiral of misery and chaos unlike any it has seen in all of its lamentable history. She called Obama's story a

continual story of empowerment...[and] a major step not only for the USA, not only for the world's black population, but also for humanity.
Now, while I understand perfectly the compelling spiritual appeal of the notion that even a somewhat black guy can ride the power of a huge, wealthy and cynical political machine into the highest office of an inherently violent and messianic empire, the precise way in which this fact materially helps an HIV-infected Haitian slum-dweller or a Rwandan child who fetches his wardrobe from the local garbage dump utterly escapes me. Are we to suppose that having posters of the great man tacked up in the huts and hovels of the world's marginalised will bring them some kind of edible beatitude? For an education on how much impact these "epochal" events really have, we might ask the women of Pakistan how the election of Benazir Bhutto changed their lives.

Really, to hear the Obama-maniacs rant, you'd think the electors of a global superpower had never before bestowed office onto a member of a marginalised ethnic minority. Even the soldiers of the Roman Empire were "progressive" enough to elect a half-Thracian barbarian to the Imperial throne. The British managed to elect a Jew to their nation's highest elective office in 1868 (something that yet remains beyond America's new-found sense of multicultural enterprise) without proclaiming to the world that they were single-handedly renewing the cosmos and opening the doors of Heaven, Christ-like, for the world to pass through. Those who are truly progressive rarely feel the need loudly and chronically to remind themselves that they are. Of course, Americans would say that such great leaps forward don't count unless they perform them. Who cares what happens in backwaters like Great Britain, after all?

Then we have the constitutionally confused black Canadian mother who, after having taken her son out of school in order to let him watch the inauguration, enthused that "it's great to see that glass ceiling be broken and it says now I can tell my son, 'you can be the president, you can become the prime minister'".

Well actually, Mrs. Lambert, your son cannot ever be a U.S. president--though I'm sure he's a fine, upstanding young man--as the U.S. constitution requires that presidential candidates be born in the U.S. I'm afraid your son will have to settle for a strictly prime ministerial ambition, as dreary and degrading as that may sound.

Also, since your son is black, he lacks a further crucial Obamaesque qualification--that of being not black and having been raised in an entirely Caucasian household and benefiting from all of the resultant white European privileges such a childhood entails. The "glass ceiling" you speak of will be broken only on the eve of a Jesse Jackson presidency, or an Al Sharpton presidency, or an Allan Keyes presidency. I wouldn't hold your breath, madam.

The saddest irony here is that the very basis of people's joy is generated by the very racism Obama's victory is supposed to have negated. Americans refer to Obama as "black" only because American culture is still deeply implicated in the One Drop ideology--the age-old belief (and legal prescription) by which even the slightest bit of African ancestry totally cancels out one's European heritage.

On one level, this was a necessary legal formula during America's slavery era, as the mulatto children gotten by plantation masters upon their female slaves had to be considered saleable non-persons. Any acknowledgement of their "whiteness" would have conferred upon them a quasi-humanity that would have impaired their status as chattel goods. Thus, such products of interracial sexual relations had to be considered "fully negroid" if plantation owners were to protect their investments and avoid the moral and financial responsibilities resulting from their extra-marital dalliances with slaves.

More fundamentally, though, the One Drop rule reflected the eugenic view that any dose of African "blood" corrupted one's whiteness, rendering it effectively void. African ancestry was seen as a pollution, a bio-hazard, that destroyed the "purity" of one's Europeanness. Thus the Americans applied a white/black binary scheme to racial matters: "white" meant 100% purity, and "black" meant everything else. This belief had legal force in many American states until shortly before I was born.

Sadly, the Obama story merely reminds us of the power of that binary schema in the American imagination. Though Obama is as white as he is black, America will allow him to be only black. He has gained the most powerful elective post in the world only after being robbed of half his personhood. He is the first "black" president only because the nation that so anointed him retains an unconscious loathing for the only identity that they're willing to let him have. I can't help but find that to be more than a tad grotesque, and I expect nothing good from a nation that continues to inflict such a thing on even the best of its people nor from a man who grew into manhood under the pressure of such a warping infliction.

I wonder, though: when and where could an openly and explicitly bi-racial man attain a level of unprecedented power--get himself knighted, even--while married to a bi-racial wife? Wouldn't it just have to be recently, and in a "progressive" nation spasming in auto-fellative jouissance at the world-changing power of its enlightened populace?

Or perhaps in 1858, and in Canada? Right. Well, we've all just found yet another piece of our own history of which we were totally ignorant. But then, who needs historical reality when a current pseudo-event is so much


Aeneas the Younger said...

Why should we care about Canadian and British history?

What have they done for us lately?

Red Tory said...

Even the soldiers of the Roman Empire were "progressive" enough to elect a half-Thracian barbarian to the Imperial throne.

First of the "Barracks Emperors"... Was that an intentional ploy on your part. In any event, very punny.

KEvron said...

"America will allow him to be only black."

for me, it's all about the vowel....


Tomm said...


Its only about the vowel?

You mean Obama's not blick? or bleck? How about bluck?

Sir Francis,

Great post. You effectively ripped down the curtains fom around this media circus.

KEvron said...

"You mean Obama's not blick? or bleck? How about bluck?"

not as far as i know, no.


Tomm said...


Once again we agree. This is becoming indecent.

At least I'm wearing clothes.

Sir Francis said...

Was that an intentional ploy on your part.

Blimey! You can well imagine how tempted I am to say, "Well, of course". In fact, it never even occurred to me. Jeez, you're good...

Just shows what a classy clientèle I appeal to... :)

Sir Francis said...

At least I'm wearing clothes.

Damn. Now you've gone and ruined my entire erotic fantasy life...

Tomm said...

Sir Francis,

I guess you must have seen me as the Monty Python pianist.

Its truly liberating to see life this way.

Anybody without a sense of humor can't even begin to assess our political leadership. It would truly drive one to suicide.

I am usually surpised by how well we are governed given the idiots we elect. A sense of humor is absolutely essential.

Ti-Guy said...

I am usually surpised by how well we are governed given the idiots we elect.

Oh, where is that durn sense of humour when I need it?

Dr.Dawg said...

A fine piece of writing, as always. I wish that I had a firmer grip on (pre-)Canadian history. That sting in the tail was wonderful!