Critiques & Controversies: February 2008 Archives

Light on Obama


I make no claim to be a political pundit. I am not. I have no insider knowledge and, frankly, I don't have a horse running in this race. Seems to be the truth from the time I could vote. I also don't pretend to deep knowledge, deep reading, or a profound ability to identify the symbols and read the semiotics of ordinary life. All I will record here is a reaction--a reaction that came to me as I was reading Faulkner's superb novel Light in August. One of the many passages of interest is below.

from Light in August
William Faulkner

He now lived as man and wife with a woman who resembled an ebony carving. At night he would lie in bed beside her, sleepless, beginning to breathe deep and hard. He would do it deliberately, feeling, even watching, his white chest arch deeper and deeper within his ribcage, trying to breathe into himself the dark odor, the dark and inscrutable thinking and being of negroes, with each suspiration trying to expel from himself the white blood and the white thinking and being. And all the while his nostrils at the odor which he was trying to make his own would whiten and tauten, his whole being writhe and strain with physical outrage and spiritual denial.

Unfortunately, that's how I read Obama's entire campaign--a desire to become "black enough," whatever that might mean, while, in some ways, denying his actual heritage. He seeks to play the race card when he is in an absolutely perfect place NOT to do so. He need not make a big play for a small minority, but he would make a big play for the majority and drop the whole racial pretension thing.

I don't dogbird politics, but I've seen enough to know that I don't like the tones of the campaigns--any of them. Of all of them, this is the one I like the least because it depends heavily upon a polarization that is not healthy nor is it helpful. Obama is and can be and can claim legitimately black heritage. Heritage is not something either to be proud of or to be ashamed of--we have no control over where we came from or who we are at the start. But we do have some measure of control over what we do with the cards we have been dealt--what we make of our heritage. In Light in August Joe Christmas makes of his a trail of tragedy, unhappiness, and longing to understand himself. I don't think Obama will end up there, but sometimes his rhetoric and his positioning reminds me of Joe Christmas's struggle with identity and it saddens and appals me because that is not the way to move forward. Not at all.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from February 2008.

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