Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kucinich: The Black Candidate?

The current Doonesbury Straw Poll asks which candidate has the most authentic claim to blackness
Obama. His grandfather served as a houseboy in Jim Crow-era Africa. His white mom's from Kansas. How much more African-American can you get? If he wins, he goes down in history as the first black president -- so why are we having this conversation? Say Amen, somebody.
Hillary Clinton. Sure, technically she's white, but you could say the same thing about Obama, whose mixed parentage doesn't make him any more black than white. Also, she grew up in Chicago, city of blues and hoods, whereas Obama was raised in Honolulu, about as gay a hometown as there is. Plus, Hil's guy, headquartered in Harlem, still brings it, community cred-wise.
Not surprisingly, Dennis Kucinich is invisible in this discussion of Democratic candidates. What is troubling is that the good folks at Doonesbury had to stretch to include Edwards in this lineup:
John Edwards. Looked down on for being a trial lawyer, referred to by Rush as "Breck Girl", bashed by Ann Coulter as a "faggot" -- Edwards knows about having to fight for respect. Besides, we need three choices for the poll.
(emphasis mine)

Dennis Kucinich, on the other hand might have been and easy choice to include in the line up if there was actually some equivalent coverage of candidates. The Black Agenda Report ran a story with the headline, "Kucinich: The Black Candidate." BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon notes that Kucinich's voting record matches up with the best of the Black Congressional Caucus' voting record "across the board."

The Doonesbury Straw Poll cites "a recent poll" that says 84 percent of Americans claim that a candidate's blackness will have no bearing on the way they vote. Since the performance of racial/ethnic identity is something of a personal project (another story, another time?) I am very interested in the implications of both polls. First, the inherent privilege of whiteness is to disavow the existence of privilege. From Beverly Daniel Tatum's concept of passive racism (and here, and here), we see that uncritical participation in the accumulated privilege of whiteness is problematic. I don't trust the majority of white america to know that they would unconsciously seek to consolidate their relative positions of power by limiting access to the Oval Office (or any other threat, real or perceived to their way of life). Second, BAR's implicit and explicit (re)definition of blackness vis-a-vis Kuchinich mirrors my own thought that there is a voluntary, cultural element to black identity that could be universally accessible. I say the foregoing with full understanding that such a train of thought could go in a number of wrong directions including thinking of black identity and culture as a monolith; ignorance of/insensitivity to the involuntary participation in being stigmatized, excluded, and violated based on skin color.

What remains to be seen is just how accessible media-poor candidates like Kucinich will be to a voting public who desperately needs them. I got a call from a Democratic National Committee fundraiser the other day, who despite his persistence, finally got the message that the DNC screwed up '04 by encouraging the major media outlets to focus on Dean and then Kerry almost exclusively in the primaries. He finally conceded the point that while the DNC is going to support who the public supports (in the primaries) they have the power to make sure that the primaries are, in fact, democratic.

No comments: