Re-Electing A Black President


Touré believes Obama's re-election would do more for racial integration than his election did:

In 2008, Obama had to overcome racial bias that a recent study by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate in economics, suggests may have cost him as many as 3 to 5 percentage points in the election. Obama had to be extraordinary, which reminds me of something my mother told me when I was a boy: that being black meant I had to be twice as good to get ahead. Obama more than just good; in many ways, he was the embodiment of that staple of film and literature, the magical Negro.

Which was and is a problem. My view is that many people, especially liberals, under-rated the willingness of Americans to elect a black president. I didn't. But my mistake was in under-rating the willingness of some Americans to be governed by the first black president. Feeling good about yourself for not being racist in a symbolic act is a different thing than accepting the legitimacy of a black president in making decisions that affect your life. And that's why I agree with Touré that the re-election is actually a far more significant thing than the original moment. 2012 is more transformative than 2008. Here's why:

[That Obama now seems favored to win] suggest something very interesting about this country in terms of racial progress. [It shows] American voters embracing a non-magical black man. The magical Negro concept arose from a need to rectify supposed black inferiority with the undeniability of black wisdom by suggesting that wisdom is so alien that its origins cannot be explained by normal scientific methods.

While some may think it complimentary to be considered “magical,” it is infantilizing and offensive because it suggests black excellence is so shocking it can only come from a source that is supernatural. To accept a black leader who is extraordinary yet so human that he cannot be magical is an entirely different prospect than electing a black superhero. Anyone would vote for a superhero who lived up to my mom’s standard of having to be twice as good. But for it to embrace a nonmagical black person who cannot promise anything but hope, intelligence, sweat and experience, now that comes closer to equality. Equality is freedom from having to be twice as good to get ahead.

Update from a reader: "Touré must have missed the Daily Show bit on this."

(Photo: Supporters cheer as US President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally September 30, 2012 at Desert Pines High School Campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada. By Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)