Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ralph Nader: Sour Grapes or Calling It Like It Is?

(photo credit: Judy DeHaas. taken from Rocky Mountain News)

Full disclosure: This is my first foray into political, op-ed writing so bear with me.

Admittedly, I know very little about Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. To me, he's a joke cracked on the Daily Show, a Ross Perot character of sorts in his repeated runs for president. So today when I first read about his criticisms of Obama (claiming Obama is "talking white" and appealing to "white guilt"), I could feel my temperature rising. As a black person, I've heard the same criticisms lobbed my way for speaking proper English. To blacks, I'm either "trying to be white" or called "articulate"—that damning word for any educated black person—by whites.

But as I continued reading the Rocky Mountain News article, Nader made some points I had to stop and think about:

I haven't heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What's keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn't want to appear like Jesse Jackson?"
Basically he's coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it's corporate or whether it's simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up.
The fact that Barack Obama's campaign had originally shied away from The Race Issue is something that is well documented. I was really surprised in the beginning (which seems like a lifetime ago) when his blackness wasn't immediately spun into a problem with his candidacy, as it is now. In fact, it's my opinion that race hadn't become an issue in the Democratic race until the Clintons made the first of many racially charged comments.

Now that Obama has become the BLACK candidate, is his campaign strategy shifting to avoid rousing the fears of the ignorant? Is that why he hasn't spoken publicly to large groups of Muslim-American supporters or in a mosque? Is that why he started wearing the American flag pin? Is that why most of his rallies featured in the media have an overwhelmingly large white audience? Though I think the core part of his message is that there is no black/white/brown specific issues, but American issues, its been painted in the media as BLACK vs. WHITE.

Because every act of "blackness"—which is a highly debatable concept best saved for another day—is dissected to his disadvantage. His wife bumping fists with him after winning the Democratic nomination? Why, that's a "terrorist fist jab" according to the fine folks at FOX News. Hanging out with rappers, playing basketball, attending a black church (with a preacher who is voicing, albeit very bluntly, the thoughts of many blacks in the country)... it's all a negative for the Obama presidency. So maybe Nader has a point. Maybe he isn't trying to rock the white power structure....yet.

Don't get me wrong. I don't question my support of Obama, or his decency and sincerity. However, it does make me question politics. Obama's genuine message of change has had to be manipulated to avoid ignorance and media spin. Conversation has been hijacked of all meaning and replaced with baseless and seemingly never ending rants on his blackness, his elitism, and his "angry" wife. And so, to quell suspicions that once in the office he will lead a "Kill Whitey" movement, he has to play the game.

A game I hope he wins in November, before dropping it to bring about real change to this nation.

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