RACE AND THE RACE

Black Community Is Increasingly Protective of Obama

Barbara Reynolds at the National Press Club with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Both have drawn fire for his appearance, which she arranged. "I won't shut up," she says.
Barbara Reynolds at the National Press Club with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Both have drawn fire for his appearance, which she arranged. "I won't shut up," she says. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 10, 2008

In black America, oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Bill Clinton is no longer revered as the "first black president." Tavis Smiley's rapid-fire commentaries on a popular radio show have been silenced. And the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., self-described defender of the black church, has been derided by many on the Web as an old man who needs to "step off."

They all landed in the black community's doghouse after being viewed as endangering Sen. Barack Obama's chances of being elected president. And the community's desire to protect the first African American ever to be in this position may only grow with his win in North Carolina and his close loss in Indiana this week.

"I have parents who are still living who are very enthusiastic about Obama," said Valerie Grim, the chair of Indiana University's Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. "They live in Mississippi. For a time, my parents couldn't vote, and when they could, their only choice was a white person.

"This means more than just saying there's a black person on the ticket. It represents the things they had been denied. It's being able to see the unbelievable, that the impossible might be possible. It represents for them a new day, a new opportunity to see that black people can contribute, on the ultimate level, to the social order."

Given such sentiment, it has not taken much for other public figures to move from icon to pariah.

When Bill Clinton called Obama's position on Iraq a "fairy tale" in New Hampshire, "I think black people felt betrayed," said Andrea Plaid, a blogger who writes under the pen name the Cruel Secretary. African Americans continued to regard Clinton highly even after he was impeached for lying under oath. "And you turn around and do this to us?" Plaid said.

Smiley, the renowned black author and commentator, took issue with Obama for skipping his "Covenant With Black America" event in New Orleans so he could campaign in Texas and Ohio. The resulting backlash left Smiley feeling "hammered" and "barbequed" by black Americans.

"There's all this talk of 'hater,' 'sellout' and 'traitor,' " Smiley said at the time. ". . . They are harassing my mama, harassing my brother."

The animus dogged him even on the radio, where his commentaries on black causes for the popular "Tom Joyner Morning Show" were renowned. In a terse statement issued last month, Smiley announced that he was leaving the show to focus on other ventures.

Smiley "did a disservice to the black community," said L.N. Rock, the blogger known as the African American Political Pundit. He noted that Smiley billed the New Orleans gathering as an event for the people. But while the people agreed with Obama's compromise of dispatching his wife, Michelle, to speak in his stead, Smiley balked. "He should have been hammered for that," Rock said.

Wright has been hailed by many in the black clergy as a brilliant liberation theologian. But after his speech and question-and-answer session at the National Press Club last month, people commented on the blog Jack and Jill Politics -- billed as a political sounding board for the "black bourgeois" -- that the minister should have known better than to pick a fight with the media at such a crucial point in the presidential campaign.


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