Obama: Being black confers no advantage

04/20/2008 2:06 PM

01/14/2009 2:16 PM

I bet Hillary Clinton wishes Bob Johnson would stop trying to help her.

Johnson is the billionaire BET founder and Clinton supporter who embarrassed his candidate and himself during the South Carolina primary by clumsily attempting to inject Barack Obama's self-confessed youthful drug use into the campaign and then clumsily denying he was doing it. To judge from his latest comments, he still hasn't learned to engage brain before operating mouth.

In March, Johnson told The Charlotte Observer he agreed with comments that forced Geraldine Ferraro to resign from Clinton's campaign last month. Ferraro essentially called Obama the affirmative action candidate, saying that if he were not black, he would not be the political phenom he is.

Said Johnson, "What I believe Geraldine Ferraro meant is that if you take a freshman senator from Illinois called 'Jerry Smith' and he says, 'I'm going to run for president, ' would he start off with 90 percent of the black vote? And the answer is, probably not."

Naturally, Johnson is wrong. If being black conferred, as he and Ferraro seem to think, some mysterious advantage in politics (unlike in virtually every other field of endeavor), Jesse Jackson would have been president years ago. He is, after all, black. As are Al Sharpton and Alan Keyes. All tried, yet none came close to winning the presidency.

Johnson is also wrong about black support for Obama. As recently as December, Gallup pollsters found Clinton had significantly higher favorable ratings among black voters than Obama. Of course, that was before Obama's resounding victory in Iowa, Clinton's gaffe about Martin Luther King's role in the civil rights movement, and clanking attempts by Clinton surrogates like Johnson to kneecap Obama.

For the record, Obama became a political phenomenon for the exact reason a political novice named Ross Perot did: He moved voters. But Perot is white. I'd love to see how Johnson fits that into his crackpot thesis.

It's not just that he's wrong on the facts that's galling but, rather, that he is wrong on something deeper.

An easy hook

If you are black, after all, you are used to this, used to having your achievements -- and failures -- lazily conflated with your skin color. It's an easy hook for those who lack the imagination or intelligence to dig deeper. Like Rush Limbaugh, who said in 2003 that Donovan McNabb only became a football star because he's black.

You'd expect Johnson, as a black man, to know better. Especially since he's surely seen his success diminished this same way. You think no one ever said Johnson (who, according to a Washington Post report, went to Princeton on an affirmative action program) only became a billionaire because he's black?

But then, Johnson has never identified overmuch with black folks' struggles. He once told C-SPAN he acknowledged no responsibility to be a role model for his community.

"What are my responsibilities to black people at large?" he asked. "If I help my family get over and deal with the problems they might confront, then I have achieved that one goal that is my responsibility to society at large."

And the rest of y'all Negroes is on your own.

Johnson proved his regard for his people for years by exploiting them, poisoning our kids with a video parade of gyrating backsides, gold grills, and pimp values, a caricature of black life so unremittingly racist as to make the Ku Klux Klan redundant.

I pity him. He is an American success story and an African-American tragedy: a selfish, sterling example of the self-loathing so common among marginalized peoples.

On the plus side, I don't think he has to worry about being called a role model.

About Leonard Pitts Jr

Leonard Pitts Jr

@LeonardPittsJr1

Leonard Pitts Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004. He is the author of the novel, Before I Forget. His column runs every Sunday and Wednesday. Forward From This Moment, a collection of his columns, was released in 2009.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he wrote a column on the terrorist attacks that received a huge response from readers who deluged him with more than 26,000 e-mails. It was posted on the Internet, chain-letter style. Read the column and others on the topic of September 11.

You can also read Pitts' series, What Works?, a series of columns about programs anywhere in the country that show results in improving the lives of black children.

Leonard also wrote the 2008 series I Am A Man, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination.

Email Leonard at lpitts@MiamiHerald.com or visit his website at www.leonardpittsjr.com

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