Color, Character, Content: At play in the new “post-racial” politics

Where Obama stops, nobody knows. But it still matters.

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It seems like a lifetime ago when some black people were asking if Barack Obama was "black enough" and some white people were insisting that he was "not really black." Those silly debates seem quaint in retrospect. Back then, people were merely having trouble wrapping their minds around Sen. Obama's biracial heritage and itinerant upbringing, because it didn't mirror the stereotype some consider to be "authentically black."

Indeed, a white writer at The New York Times opined that Sen. Obama was "not black in the usual way, " while a black columnist at the New York Daily news argued that the senator had not "lived the life of a black American."

Of course those views are irrelevant now that Sen. Obama has been officially outed as a black man and the gulf of racial misunderstanding magnified. No one is questioning his blackness anymore.

Despite the fact that he always self-identified as a black man, it took the intemperate and racially-charged remarks of Sen. Obama's former minister to force many white people to accept that he was indeed black – not black-lite, not sort of white, and not culturally or emotionally white.

Polls show that conservatives and Republicans who were drawn to the Obama campaign have already begun pulling back their support. This should not surprise anyone. Who knows what independents will do in November?

The "Race Doesn't Matter" mantra that was a potent symbolic imprimatur of Obama campaign rallies would undoubtedly seem incongruous now.

Most black people have always known that race does matter. As proof, we have only to look at the disparate reactions of whites and blacks to Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments. Whites criticized Sen. Obama for being aligned with an unapologetic "race man." Blacks defended him for it.

I can't help but wonder what the senator, who has consciously run as candidate not defined by race, must be thinking now that he has been, well, defined by race. As moving as his speech in Philadelphia was, it was still a speech given under duress as the controversy threatened to overtake his campaign. I was as saddened by it as I was inspired, and I suspect the black people in the audience who cried may have felt the same way.

Perhaps they were thinking what I was thinking; that even this most "non-threatening" of black men, this "palatable" and "safe" black candidate, this man ostensibly unencumbered by the racial baggage of former candidates like Jesse Jackson and others shaped by the civil rights struggles of the past, could be transformed overnight from a symbol of racial reconciliation to a sympathizer of racial separatists.

Those who believed Sen. Obama would be given the benefit of doubt on racial matters forgot that the margin for error for a black candidate is very narrow and often unforgiving.