The Conversation

David Brooks's Racial Condescension

In response to Obama Delivers the Zimmerman Coda:

One of the most craven examples of praise for Obama's Trayvon speech on Friday was David Brooks's paean on NBC's Meet the Press. In celebrating Obama's speech as the "highlight" of his presidency, Brooks condescended to Obama--and revealed the role of race in his own, apparently deterministic, thinking.

Brooks said of Obama: "It’s important to remember race is his first subject, as it would be if you had a black father and a white mother." My wife has a black mother and a white father, and she would tell you that race is not her first subject, though she experienced actual, statutory racial discrimination in her lifetime.

Heck, I'm Jewish, with a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies and a book about Jewish politics, and I do not think primarily in terms of my religion or origin, even if they are important to me. The idea that identity is primary and paramount leaves no real room for individuality. It's a profoundly corrosive idea. 

I'm no fan of Obama, and I thought his speech about Trayvon inserted race where it did not belong. But even I would not say that race is primary for Obama, even though it is important. He is a leftist before he is a black leader, and he is something else before both--an individual with peculiar, largely unexamined, traits.

To regard Obama as primarily a racial thinker is to condescend to him--while at the same time ignoring some of his most important flaws. Brooks's argument also excuses Obama's attempt to play identity politics at the expense of national unity and the civil rights of a man who has become, unfairly, a national scapegoat.


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