Morgan Freeman on Obama
Last Friday, while on Michel Martin's NPR show, "Tell Me More," Hollywood titan Morgan Freeman informed his host that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, Barack Hussein Obama is not America's first black president.
He is the country's "first mixed-race president." The first black president, Freeman continued, has not as yet "arisen."
So, one wonders, whence stems the popular misconception that Obama is black? Freeman has an answer ready at hand: the president's opponents.
Obama's rivals want to fuel the flames of racial bigotry by emphasizing his African ancestry while ignoring his white background. Yet they conveniently "forget that Barack had a mama" who "was white, very white American, Kansas, middle of America."
Some commentators, particularly those on the right, think that Freeman's remarks should have been met with more outrage. I personally think that incredulity is a more fitting response.
At the 2009 White House Correspondents' Association dinner, the black comedian Wanda Sykes quipped that while she was "proud" that she could characterize Obama as "the first black president," her pride would endure only as long as he didn't "screw up." Once that happened, however, then she would be asking: "What's up with the half-white guy?"
It is difficult indeed not to think that Freeman -- a long-time Democrat and supporter of the president -- isn't animated by the same impulse over which Sykes joked.
Obama, after all, long ago fell hard -- and fast -- from the peaks at which he stood in November of 2008. His unpopularity continues to increase as more and more Americans come to understand the disastrous toll that his policies are taking on the nation. This consideration in and of itself should suffice to legitimize the theory that Freeman is now revising Obama's racial identity so that "the first black president" isn't remembered by his contemporaries and history as an abject failure.
But there are other considerations that make this thesis that much more plausible.
First, it stretches credibility to the snapping point to suggest that it is Obama's opponents who are alone, or even primarily, responsible for accentuating his blackness. If anything, the president's critics twist themselves into proverbial pretzels doing their best to avoid invoking race to any extent. Their dread over being accused of "racism" dictates this as the safest course of action (or so they think).
Moreover, if they really wanted to play the racial angle, as Freeman claims, then there is an abundant supply of resources in the way of Obama's own utterances (for one, his own memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance), deeds (his "community organizing," as well as his intercession in the cases of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Trayvon Martin, to say nothing of his massive redistributive schemes within which blacks and non-whites benefit at the expense of whites), and alliances (Jeremiah Wright, Van Jones, and a host of other notorious anti-Americans).
Yet Republicans avoid like the plague touching upon these topics.
There are other reasons not to take Freeman seriously.
If anyone can be said to be ultimately responsible for identifying Obama as black, it is the president himself.
Obama was abandoned at a very young age by his Kenyan father. It is his white family -- his mother and his grandparents, and particularly his grandmother -- who provided him with the life of privilege that he enjoyed. Obama spent much of his young life in Hawaii surrounded by mostly white friends while attending the top prep school in the state, followed by one prestigious private educational institution after the other.
He lived a life that, as far as safety and material comfort is concerned, would be the envy of most of the world. If the leftist drivel of "white privilege" had any meaning at all, Obama could be said to have enjoyed it.
And yet he insists upon identifying himself as black.
Shortly before his election, Obama said: "I identify as African-American -- that's how I am treated and that's how I'm viewed. I'm proud of it." As recently as 2010, while filling out the census, the president identified himself as "Black, African Am., or Negro" -- in spite of the fact that he had other options.
Finally, and most decisively, Morgan Freeman had regarded Obama as the first black president up until this most recent discussion on NPR.
Just last September Freeman told Piers Morgan that Obama's nemeses, specifically the Tea Party, were motivated by sheer "racism."
"Their stated policy, publicly stated, is ... Screw the country. We're going to do whatever we can to get this black man out of here" (emphasis added).
Whether Freeman, Wanda Sykes, or any other one-time Obama admirer secretly wishes to deny his blackness now or not is ultimately irrelevant. They are stuck with him. They wanted the first black president, and they got him. Any attempt to wish his racial self-identification away now must be seen for the piece of disingenuousness that it is.
Jack Kerwick blogs at Beliefnet.com, At the Intersection of Faith and Culture. Friend him on facebook or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.