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A black man as president is like ‘matter colliding with anti-matter’

A black man as president is like “matter colliding with anti-matter”
By Eric Black but really by Erin Aubry Kaplan

Princeton Prof. Cornel West, one of the most prominent of African-American scholars, supported candidate Obama in 2008 but has now recanted, slamming Obama for timidity on issues important to African-Americans and calling the president nothing but a “black mascot” for the ruling U.S. elite.

Political Scientist Melissa Harris-Perry, another prominent black academic (she also used to be at Princeton but is now at Tulane) counter-attacked, arguing that the privileged lives that both she and West live position them poorly to throw stones at Obama as an “inauthentic” leader for black Americans.

ON Sunday, Erin Aubry Kaplan, a regular contributor on race issues to the op-ed section of the L.A. Times, constructed this mind-bending explanation of what is going on between the Obama likers and dislikers within the African-American elite:

“The real divide is not between West and Obama or West and Harris-Perry, it’s between two age-old, unresolved strategies black leaders have adopted throughout history to ensure black survival in America: nationalism and assimilation. Assimilation holds that blacks must claim their place in the mainstream to be successful; nationalism maintains that black success starts — and perhaps ends — with building and sustaining group unity. Fueling the latest image anxiety is a taboo question that animated the comments of an increasingly irate West: What good is Obama to us? By ‘us’ I mean black masses who are a crucial and historical part of the American working class and poor for whom West has always advocated.

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“Though she blasted West for his diatribe last month, Harris-Perry doesn’t actually disagree with his view of the social landscape. Her defense of Obama also includes a view many blacks share — that the president, while hardly perfect, has been hampered by organized right-wing movements whose reflexive opposition to him is partly rooted in racism.

“West is correct about Obama’s lack of urgency about black issues. Perry is correct about the depth of resistance to Obama himself. But the combination of these two truths is hard to grasp: Obama is both the man in charge and the black politician stymied by the system he oversees. Broadly speaking, he is both the oppressor and the oppressed. This strange new fact feels like matter colliding with anti-matter, something that was never supposed to happen; black people, to say nothing of the media, don’t quite know how to make sense of it.