In 2004, in his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama briefly touched on the scourge of racial stereotypes: “The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don’t expect government to solve all their problems…. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”
Nevertheless, not only do the stereotypes persist, but Obama’s detractors are applying the same standard to him personally. Yesterday, Washington Post political reporter Jonathan Weisman (who’s not a columnist or pundit) participated in an online discussion with readers during which he went to the same place.
Alexandria, Va.: Obama’s new ad (which plays a lot in Alexandria) shows pictures of his mother and grandparents, playing up his white family. Until now he’s been “African American”; now suddenly he’s a white Midwesterner? During the primary Hillary was criticized for changing her image too many times. Won’t Obama be criticized for doing the same thing?
Jonathan Weisman: I haven’t heard that criticism, but it is striking. Not a single picture of his father. Now, that really is consistent with his upbringing. He really did not become immersed in black American culture until he left college and went to Chicago. The great irony is that he is much more white than black, beyond skin color. [emphasis added]
The analysis is itself flawed. The ad talks about Obama’s background, and it’s likely he didn’t feature a picture of his father because he wasn’t a part of Obama’s childhood. But more importantly, the notion that — other than his “skin color” — Obama is “much more white than black” is utterly ridiculous.
What is a comment like this even based on? Black people are only really black if white Washington Post reporters perceive them as “immersed in black American culture”? Black people are whiter if they’re raised by white relatives? Who comes up with these rules?
And what does “beyond skin color” even mean? It’s like saying I’m much more short than tall, beyond my 6′1″ height.
I’d just add that Jonathan Weisman consistently seems to run into trouble when doing these online discussions. In general, I think it’s great that the Washington Post hosts these forums, and I appreciate the fact that so many journalists are generous with their time and participate in exchanges with readers.
But Weisman seems to really let his guard down during these chats, and reveals a little too much.
About a year ago, for example, in the midst of a congressional investigation into voter suppression allegations against Karl Rove-protege U.S. attorney Tim Griffin, a reader asked Weisman about Monica Goodling’s testimony on caging. Weisman responded, “So what is this caging thing?”
Last month, Weisman participated in a chat, and when five of the first 11 questions focused on John McCain, Weisman complained about readers’ interests. Asked about senior McCain adviser Charlie Black’s lobbying for Ahmed Chalabi, Weisman responded, “Oy, what’s with all the McCain questions?” Shortly thereafter, asked about a Democratic lawmaker, Weisman was relieved: “Ah, thank goodness someone in chatting land is a Republican.”
Around the same time, Weisman defended McCain’s “maverick” reputation, telling readers, “McCain has cultivated an image that has branded him as an independent maverick now for more than a decade. He fought the GOP over tobacco in 1998.” (Weisman either neglected to mention, or didn’t know, that McCain has abandoned his previous position on tobacco, and now agrees with the policy he used to fight against.)
And now, the same reporter wants readers to know that other than the color of Obama’s skin, the African-American senator is “much more white than black.” Why? Because the reporter says so.
The mind reels.