Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hmmm ... maybe Joe Biden was reading Peter Beinart recently -- and not reading him very carefully.

Biden on Barack Obama:

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he said. "I mean, that’s a storybook, man."

Beinart in The New Republic (via the CBS News site):

In 1994, two sociologists went to Red Hook, Brooklyn, to solve a mystery.... locals -- primarily African Americans -- didn't get hired. Instead, ... jobs went to workers from outside the neighborhood, often Caribbean immigrants. Employers, wrote The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell in summarizing the sociologists' findings, "had developed an elaborate mechanism for distinguishing between those who they felt were 'good' blacks and those they felt were 'bad' blacks." Were the employers racist? Yes and no. They clearly held anti-black stereotypes. And they discriminated against those who conformed to them, even by association. But they discriminated in favor of blacks who defied those stereotypes....

Barack Obama ... surely understands the uncomfortable subtext behind the adoration being showered upon him by white America. Obama ... succeeded at a prestigious white institution: Harvard Law School. He ... is a child of immigration... And he ... doesn't sound or look too black....

In U.S. politics, as in Red Hook, there are no "good" blacks without "bad" blacks.... For many white Americans, it's a twofer. Elect Obama, and you not only dethrone George W. Bush, you dethrone Sharpton, too.

We all love to rag on Beinart, but I don't think he's completely off base here -- I'm afraid that some of the recent Obamamania is delight in the fact that Obama differs from white people's stereopypical image of blacks. Beinart's describing that, as a phenomenon that contains at least an element of racism. Biden, on the other hand, is embodying it, and it's painful to witness. It's almost as if Biden read Beinart's article and missed the point.

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