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But to change the context in which one lives, rather than changing one's self, is to be a revolutionary. That aspect

of American character never really dawned on Mr. Obama to the point he found it an attractive career to pursue.

Mr. Obama was born to be ordinary, not to change the context of his life, but to learn how to live within

the context in which he was born, the context he deemed truly American.



Oedipus and Ordinariness

A Meditation on Barack Obama

By Rudolph Lewis


Negroes are suddenly shocked to discover that Obama is nothing more than a mulatto version of Ronald Reagan.  Tea baggers are too stupid to see that Obama is only a colored version of the Reagan philosophy that they claim to admire.—Anonymous

I suppose we, the nation, will get a clearer sense of Mr. Obama between now and November 2012. Much more so than what we thought we knew and understood before November 2008. Or at least what we refused to acknowledge, that is, excessive racial pride can blind one to the truth of things. The Greeks warned us so long ago that hubris was a fault. They passed down to us kindly through the ages the character Oedipus as a poetic reminder. Here I do not propose to be Mr. Obama's analyst. I possess no talent and training for what is Oedipal and what is not Oedipal.

This I can say. Many of us expected wrongly that Mr. Obama would change the context in which we in our efforts strive to make a more perfect union. That was hope beyond reason, possibly. But maybe that was Oedipus’ failing also. That is, to hope beyond reason. To state the matter in the context of folk knowledge, to hope beyond one's own fate is folly, and depending on one’s place in society, can bring blight and poverty upon a nation. Some small-minded Freudians think that the Oedipus fault was sleeping with his mother and killing out of anger his father. Maybe those thinking parameters are there in Obama's psyche. But his situation is much more normal, I believe, than those fanciful acts of matriarchal desire and patriarchal revenge.

If truth be told, what Obama tried to escape was not the murder of his father and incest with his mother. The urge of the young Mr. Obama who finally ended up in law school was his middle-class attempt to escape ordinariness. He wanted to become special when his fate was to be an imitator of flawed but successful ordinary men accidentally raised to high places. Many of us mistakenly thought him a genius, a godlike creature, a view which he encouraged by making himself over in the religious consciousness of Negroes, namely, to proclaim himself a Joshua, to the well-agreed upon characterization of Martin King as Moses, the Deliverer. But in African-American history the folks allow the existence of the arrival into the world countless approximations of the biblical prophet Moses.

Those kinds of individuals appear as well in African history. For instance, there was the successor to the Albanian Muhammad Ali, namely, Muhammad Ahmad, a Sudanese who was to fulfill his fate by way of a religious teacher, maybe in ways not too unlike a Jeremiah Wright. And Ahmad, though a rather ordinary fellow himself, remade himself imaginatively into the Mahdi and by historical chance became the father of modern Sudan, or Sudanese nationalism, by laying the foundation by which the colonized tribes finally expelled their Anglo-Egyptian oppressors.

Ahmad lived a rather short life and probably hoped like all such leaders in a monarchial climate that he would be able to establish a family dynasty. Of course, religion is never really established on or in or as a rock and after his death from some disease or poison all that he left by inspiration was remade into something else that did little to advance Sudan toward righteousness or a more perfect nation. Arabism has never really solidified or fully substantiated its love for its black acolytes. That has been the case also with the supercilious Puritans and their successors, the blackness of African skin always reminded them of the blackness of their hearts.

Maybe a similar messenger can be found in African American history, namely in the mulatto Nathaniel Turner, the prophet of Southampton. Turner was one of those ordinary persons who was saved from the fate of ordinariness by self-criticism, sexual piety, and self-sacrifice. Mr. Obama, I suspect now, never possessed Turner’s correcting traits. “Ole Nat Turner,” born old like Obama, was probably, though a murderer from necessity because of his religious beliefs (a modern-day Jesus), was much closer to being a disciple and saint than our present-day Joshua could ever approach. Why? Turner grew gradually and with much introspection to the view that he could only become truly a man by changing the context in which he lived.

But to change the context in which one lives, rather than changing one's self, is to be a revolutionary. That aspect of American character never really dawned on Mr. Obama to the point he found it an attractive career to pursue. Mr. Obama was born to be ordinary, not to change the context of his life, but to learn how to live within the context in which he was born, the context he deemed truly American. That is, Mr. Obama discovered that to be exceptional within limits, within the context of the given, is no small matter to be snubbed.

The Tea Party and their sympathizers, once called the white moral majority or Dixiecrats, are hounds barking at a knot on a tree limb thinking they have treed a coon. Rather than his parents, more likely, Mr. Obama was made the ordinary American by the influence of his white American grandparents. He thus chose the most typical and ordinary of American careers, namely the salesman, with an exceptional talent at orating, one who could make the ordinary glow as if it were a vision, not quite with the flamboyance of Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry.

Yet Mr. Obama concluded after organizing within Chicago’s black Protestant communities that fanciful acts of orating could, if dressed in clothes and terms of middle-class respectability, as it had for others, bring wealth, power and even more powerful allies. In these career choice meanderings, Mr. Obama has accomplished his goals and accomplished them exceedingly, and probably fortunately for family, friends and associates in the Democratic Party and Corporate America far, very far beyond his youthful fertile imagination. Now what? Well, we really don't know. Surely, I don't have Jim Jordan’s visionary ball into which I can peer and see both hidden past and harrowing future. But I know for certain that the next eighteen months will make him or break him.

With his new adventures (acts of political gamesmanship) in promoting war against Gaddafi’s revolutionary Libya and the building of two new nuclear reactors in the South, Mr. Obama is walking on hot coals. Maybe he has the political soles for it when he has a Republican opposition in disarray. Ronald Reagan in his white substantiation is dead. In new clothes, however, Mr. Obama is indeed, probably, a worthy successor to Mr. Communicator, with his lawyerly combative intellectual attributes. But he may take it to heart, at some point, like Elmer Gantry the false prophet, and discover his ordinariness causes misery.

posted 29 March 2011

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Africans Beware the Saviors of Libya  / US Senate discusses sending troops to Libya

Crossroads in the Black Aegean

Oedipus, Antigone, and Dramas of the African Diaspora

By Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson

Crossroads in the Black Aegean is a compendious, timely, and fascinating study of African rewritings of Greek tragedy. It consists of detailed readings of six dramas and one epic poem, from different locations across the African diaspora. Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson ask why the plays of Sophocles' Theban Cycle figure so prominently among the tragedies adapted by dramatists of African descent, and how plays that dilate on the power of the past, in the inexorable curse of Oedipus and the regressive obsession of Antigone, can articulate the postcolonial moment. Capitalizing on classical reception studies, postcolonial studies, and comparative literature, Crossroads in the Black Aegean  co-ordinates theory and theatre. It crucially investigates how the plays engage with the 'Western canon', and shows how they use their self-consciously literary status to assert, ironize, and challenge their own place, in relation both to that tradition and to alternative African models of cultural transmission.

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Elmer Gantry

By Sinclair Lewis

Novel by Sinclair Lewis, a satiric indictment of fundamentalist religion that caused an uproar upon its publication in 1927. The title character of Elmer Gantry starts out as a greedy, shallow, philandering Baptist minister, turns to evangelism, and eventually becomes the leader of a large Methodist congregation. Throughout the novel Gantry encounters fellow religious hypocrites, including Mrs. Evans Riddle, Judson Roberts, and Sharon Falconer, with whom he becomes romantically involved. Although he is often exposed as a fraud, Gantry is never fully discredited.—The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination. Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly /  Derrick Bell   Dies at 80

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 3 April 2012




Home  Obama 2008 Table  Editor's Page   The African World   Transitional Writings on Africa

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The Wealth of the West  Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination