By wearing a familiar mask of convention, Barack Obama will continue to dupe the majority of Americans into believing that he is -- at worst -- a run-of-the-mill, far-left liberal, even though he is not.
Picking up on the recent Forbes magazine article written by Dinesh D'Souza, Newt Gingrich concluded that Mr. Obama's ideology is probably far beyond the realm of mainstream American thinking. In an interview done for NRO, Mr. Gingrich was quoted as asking, "What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" It's being called "highbrow birtherism." And though D'Souza undoubtedly explains much about Mr. Obama's worldview and his plans for this country, it will never be taken seriously. Within hours of the Gingrich comment, liberal media outlets began shooting a firestorm of epithets at the former Speaker of the House, calling him -- among other things -- unhinged, sick, and of course racist. For various members of the liberal media, Mr. Obama's anti-colonial predilections as examined by Mr. D'Souza amounted to nothing more than a highbrow attempt to redefine a popular, far-right conspiracy theory. The theory, often referred to as birtherism, posits that Mr. Obama was born on foreign soil -- and is therefore unqualified to be the President of the United States.
For the record, "highbrow birtherism" has absolutely nothing to do with birtherism. As opposed to the latter phrase, the former is not concerned with Barack Obama's place of birth. Rather, it is concerned with exploring how post-colonial theory -- a socio-political frame of reference that aims at redressing and explaining the effects of European colonialism on subaltern cultures throughout the world -- influences the way that the president thinks.
Post-colonial theory took root in the former European colonies of Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. Therefore, from inception, it always encompassed a variety of cultural extractions. As evidenced by his book, Dreams From My Father (essentially a discourse on European and American imperialism), his multiple sojourns to Kenya (a place that reflects the shame and subjugation that Africans like his grandfather went through under the Europeans), and his various international speeches (some of which have openly lampooned the initiatives of the former British Empire in Africa), Barack Obama is, according to Mr. D'Souza, an adherent of the African origins of the theory. Hence the appellation, the "Kenyan anti-colonial." I once called him the "African Colonial" in that he has essentially turned into the thing that he rails against. However, for many, the notion that Barack Obama could possibly be familiar with, much less ascribe to, the various propositions of (African) post-colonial theory will continue to be dismissed as preposterous. Any attempt to bring to light, for mainstream Americans, its obscure paradigms as they relate to Mr. Obama's way of thinking will continue to be rejected, in large part, because of these four reasons:
1. Americans tend to use racial stereotypes in order to define anyone who is different in any way. Cultural, religious, and ethnic differences continue to be enshrined in insipid racial terms.
Many Americans supported Barack Obama in order to make history by voting for the nation's first "black American" president. These people's intellect was not subtle enough, nor were their experiences vast enough, to enable them to discern between Mr. Obama's cultural frame of reference and the color of his skin. They will continue to think in terms of decades-old tropes that aid in keeping our dialogues on race and ethnicity in a historical straitjacket.
2. Africa continues to be viewed by these same types of people as inferior and backwards. Therefore, Barack Obama's African ancestry or anything associating him with the continent will be put down. Especially for the Left, Mr. Obama's African lineage is accepted only as a part of his greater international, multicultural appeal, not as an ideal thing in and of itself.
For centuries, crude Westerners have done a fantastic job of caricaturing Africa as an uncivilized and abhorrent place. And now, ironically, Mr. Obama -- America's first president of direct African descent -- has been allowed to evade any mention of his (post-colonial) African heritage -- even though it probably forms the very foundation of his political character.
3. Black /Afro/Latin/Asian undergraduate studies programs are breeding grounds for angry leftist students who are desperate for ways to intellectually justify their Western antipathies. Barack Obama was once one of these students.
Because these programs and courses are dominated by the hard left, they are barely acknowledged by mainstream college students. And so, traditional Americans leave college under-educated in the diverse intellectual history of the non-Western world. In essence, they render themselves intellectually defenseless, unable to effectively combat the ire of the post-colonial elites who continue to deconstruct the narrative of American exceptionalism.
In the same vein, despite the intellectual traditions and contributions of those like Edward Said, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon, whose works increasingly define mainstream academic culture in the disciplines of classics, Middle Eastern studies, African studies, modern European history, comparative studies, sociology, and political science -- conservative or independent-minded thinkers and commentators barely acknowledge their influences.
The late post-colonial theorist Edward Said has basically been deified by the moderate and fringe academic left. (See Mr. Said here discussing his seminal work Orientalism.) How is it that the works of this enormously influential intellectual figure, who once featured so prominently in Barack Obama's academic life at Columbia University, continue to be either taken lightly or bypassed in favor of discussing, almost exclusively, Rules for Radicals (a basic how-to book) and its influence on the president? Sadly, the people who do this are seriously missing the point.
In that post-colonial theory cannot trace its roots to an autochthonous European or Euro-American origin, those who continue to "cling" to Rules for Radicals dismiss its propositions. For these people, Mr. Obama's motivations and experiences should probably be examined only through the lens of Western archetypical literary structures, such as the Homeric Epic or Euro-American leftist paradigms -- which have been given credence by the likes of Saul Alinsky, Noam Chomsky, and Bill Ayers.
4. Decades ago, the post-colonial movement formed coalitions with various radical, yet popular, leftist political action groups from all over the world. In so doing, post-colonialists were able to cleverly blur the lines between themselves and traditional leftists and were able to perpetuate their distinct views while taking cover under the umbrella of aggressively far-left organizations such as the Gamaliel Foundation, Weather Underground, New Black Panther Party, ACORN, or more innocuous ones like the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus. This is why many Americans cannot distinguish between post-colonial thinkers like Obama and garden-variety far lefties like Ward Churchill.
Post-colonial theory is best viewed as having at least two main varieties.
The first uses the canon of post-colonial literature to justify and espouse a simplistic far-left approach to economics, ethno-identity politics, and religion (Black Liberation Theology). It often uses the "us [people of color/poor folks] vs. them [whitey/the rich]" meme to organize huge swaths of falsely educated and impressionable people.
The second variety proposes an intellectually rigorous critique of European moral philosophy. It exposes the mischaracterization of Africa and Asia, especially, that the European colonial example motivated.
Barack Obama is a sub rosa radical whose political and social worldviews consist of an ad hoc combination of the two varieties of post-colonial theory. But he wears a mask of convention. His elite education, rearing by white grandparents, and upper-middle class career path in law and politics endeared him to an unsuspecting American audience that believed his election would usher in an era of racial, economic, and political peace. However, the man clearly has an alternative agenda that does not reflect the "hope" in which he inspired people to believe during his election. But it does reflect the "change" toward which he said he would push the country:
First, destroy the "myth" of American Exceptionalism by changing the historical narrative of this country to one that reflects America as a fallen and sinful nation that has condoned the same type of social and economic oppression against its poor, non-white citizens that imperial Europeans once condoned in their former colonies. Second, redeem America from this shame by circumscribing its imperialism through various means: declare war on the American economy, confiscate the wealth of those who produce, and redistribute it accordingly to those who have gone through generational neglect because of any combination of race/class/gender issues.
Obama's radical ambitions continue to go mostly unnoticed by the masses because Mr. Obama and those who think like him appear to be something that we are all familiar with: global elites, or as they like to call themselves, "citizens of the world." And this is where, going back to Mr. D'Souza's article, he gets it all wrong. Barack Obama is not, as he says, "the last of the anti-colonialists."
What Mr. D'Souza fails to understand is that post-colonialism ceased being a cantankerous "cause" or a "crusade" a long time ago. Instead, it now identifies a new way of thinking about the world in global terms. Post-colonialists have long since stopped attending "Reparations Now!" rallies and academic "roundtables" on race and politics. They are now the heads of liberally backed NGOs, Ivy League Institutes, or countries like the United States.
Barack Obama is a 21st-century example of a multicultural globalist -- fairly young, trendy "people of color," "well-educated," belonging to no specific tribe or cultural group (or openly shunning such memberships), obsessed with bourgeois leisure culture, moderately wealthy, and very successful in their respective professions. Barack Obama and his compatriots are those who "grew up" and, having abandoned their black turtlenecks, berets, and expensive, imported cigarettes, swapped their former post-colonial ideological talking points for ones that now appear thoughtful, pragmatic, and less antagonistic toward "oppressive capitalist systems." They calmly advocate the use of "smart power" to create "commonsense solutions for working families." But don't be fooled -- copies of Black Skin, White Masks still rest on their nightstands. Put another way, Achille Mbembe, social historian and theorist, lucidly argues that
[i]t can be said that postcolonial thought is in many respects a globalized way of thinking, even if initially it does not use that term. In the first place, it shows that there is little disjunction between the history of the nation and that of the empire. The Napoleon of the restitution of slavery and the Toussaint Louverture who represented the revolution of human rights are dual aspects of the same nation and the same colonial empire. Postcolonial thought demonstrates that colonialism itself was a global experience which contributed to the universalization of representations, techniques and institutions (in the case of the nation state, even of merchandise of the modern kind) ...
America's willful naïveté on the deeper issues of ethnicity and culture has abetted a dangerous environment in this country. As those on the left continue to dismiss any attempt to understand Mr. Obama's deeper cultural motivations as racism, "otherism," or whatever "ism" they eagerly await to define -- and as those on the right follow, rolling their eyes at what they view as the incoherent, multiculturalist mumbo-jumbo of the fringe, for those in the know, Barack Obama will continue to send out this coded message: Keep the faith, people, and "Guard the Change."See also: Obama, the African Colonial
, 40 Acres and a President, Et Tu Africa?