Posted at 8:25 A.M. ET
John McWhorter is one of the most thoughtful African-American scholars writing today. He has a terrific take on the meaning - the real meaning - of Obama's election to the black community. Published in Forbes, I hope this is taken seriously:
We have heard much about what the election of Barack Obama as president means for America, but less about what it means for black America specifically, beyond surprise and vague notions of hope.
Very vague notions.
The issue is not only the emergence of the new but the eclipse of the old. Here are some traits of pre-11/4 black America that are now history.
The studious black teen will no longer be tarred as "thinking he's white."
This has had a devastating effect on the black community, but McWhorter sees change coming.
From now on, however, there is a ready riposte to being tarred as "acting white" for liking school: "Is Barack Obama white?"
It's the perfect smackdown--not even the most hardened black teen will disown the heroism of the first black president, in all of his nerdiness.
Good, good, good. Other things to go out the window:
The illusion that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are black America's leaders is now officially dispelled.
Time to celebrate.
Potshots that Jackson's tears during Obama's acceptance speech were over his own eclipse are petty: Jackson was surely as touched as the rest of us. However, the fact remains that his most memorable moments of late have been calling Obama "white" for not protesting in Jena, La., and later suggesting that he be separated from his reproductive organs for warmly advising black men to help raise their kids.
And the other one?
This year, there was no routine with Obama seeking Sharpton's "endorsement." Sharpton's initial harrumphs about Obama's black bona fides, along with warnings that he had yet to "make up his mind," were passing news at best.
It was revealed yesterday that Sharpton owes the federal government $500,000 for campaign improprieties. He'll be kept busy.
The idea that for black people, underdoggism is higher awareness is obsolete.
No matter how successful many blacks are, no matter how many interracial couples there are, no matter how few "firsts" are left, we always have much longer to go than we have come. A shoe still hasn't dropped.
Well, it just did.
A black man is president, and black Americans seem to feel like it really means something. As such, we will expect a sea change in the tone of what is considered the authentic black voice. Pollyanna, no. But it will be positive and constructive--as Obama has been on the topic of race--in the way that anyone would assume of a group that truly seeks progress.
Many have supposed that what black America needs was a second revolution in how white people think. Barack Obama's election showed that white people's thoughts weren't so retrograde after all. White people voted with those thoughts--and now, even without a revolution, much of what black America needs to happen will be a reality.
That is very good stuff. This column did not support Mr. Obama, but, as Americans, we hope good things will happen on his watch. John McWhorter has named some of them.
November 15, 2008.