Race Card: Blagojevich Says He's “Blacker” than Obama


Oh, no he didn't. In the February issue of Esquire, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich declares himself "blacker" than Barack Obama is. Discussing the first black President, the disgraced politician told the men's magazine:

"This guy, he was catapulted in on hope and change, what we hope the guy is. What the fuck? Everything he's saying's on the teleprompter. I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up."

Let's drop the fact that Blagojevich endorsed Obama for president and was booted from office for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat Obama vacated after winning the presidency. Clearly, Blagojevich needs a crash course in "Race 101." A few things to consider: Growing up with or in proximity to black people doesn't make one black. Growing up poor or working class doesn't make one black. On the contrary, dismissing Obama's blackness because he wasn't destitute in childhood is racist. The black experience is varied and includes all experiences—from those represented in the film "Precious" to those represented in "The Cosby Show." To imply that Obama's not black because he never shined shoes is akin to saying that a black man's rightful place in this country is as a shoe shiner. Incidentally, a photoshopped picture of Obama shining Sarah Palin's shoes is currently making the rounds on the Internet and just landed a Colorado state employee who emailed it to coworkers in hot water.

For the record, Obama has said that his mother, who was a teen when she had him, relied on food stamps to help support her family. Does having a white mother who used government assistance make Obama any more of a black man? And why are discussions about authentic blackness so often gendered?

Seems to me that the blackness of African-American men is much more likely to be challenged than the blackness of African-American women. Moreover, when the blackness of men is questioned it's often because they fail to meet certain gendered expectations of being African American—getting into fights, having scrapes with the law or getting a girl or two pregnant. Meanwhile, the blackness of an African-American woman such as Condi Rice is questioned because her politics seem antithetical to black progress, not because she didn't grow up hanging out on street corners or being thrown in and out of Juvie.

Your thoughts?

by Nadra Kareem Nittle
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9 Comments Have Been Posted


Blago's entire premise assumes that 'being black' is a function of adhering to the racial stereotype--which, apart from being fundamentally wrong, is simply racist. Moreover, the President reads from a prompter because his is the President, not due to his racial identity. The fact that someone who is so rationally-misguided used to be in public office and was responsible for the well-being of others is frightening.

Race Card

I liked and agreed with much in the article, especially this sentence: "The black experience is varied and includes all experiences—from those represented in the film “Precious” to those represented in 'The Cosby Show.'"

But I was confused by this: "Seems to me that the blackness of African-American men is much more likely to be challenged than the blackness of African-American women."

Where does this idea come from? Can you give examples? I'm not certain whether that idea is true or not; I've heard black women (Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah) called out when they didn't fit whatever expectations we have of what it means to be black.

Black Authenticity

Hey, Rochelle, those examples of Whoopi and Oprah are good ones. I was trying to say that when a black woman has an ideology or mindset that's upsetting to people, her blackness may be called into question (hence, the Condi Rice example). No one's attacked Whoopi or Oprah because of their childhood class backgrounds. They attack Whoopi for dating white guys or the Ted Danson blackface fiasco. They attack Oprah for seemingly pandering to white housewives on her talk show. Black men, on the other hand, seem to have their "black" cred questioned if they don't come from the streets. Hence, the attacks on Obama, Bryant Gumbel, etc. These men don't fit the stereotypical black male experience of growing up in the hood, so they're not really black, according to some.


I also want to point out that Barack Obama didn't have a typical upbringing for any American, black or non-black, and I assume to Blagojevitch, the narrative of being a black person begins and ends with having been born in America, being raised in poverty, and never getting out of poverty. Black people aren't a large, race with a single story. Some black people are European! Some are African! Some come from other North American countries that are not "the" America! We travel! We grow up in different countries! We school in different countries! But nope, to Blagojevitch, the ENTIRE race are just poor Americans who shine shoes.



Blago IS blacker than Barry H.

How Obama Self-Identifies

If for no other reason, I think it's fair to refer to Obama as black because he self-identifies as such. I acknowledge that he's biracial and that race is a social construct, but in the context of a piece in which Obama's "blackness" is center stage, it's kind of difficult not to refer to him as black.

Blagojevich seems to be

Blagojevich seems to be wanting publicity over this issue, the fact that he keeps on talking about his experiences growing up in a black community compared to what might the President experienced differently doesn't make him the less person that he is - it's clearly stereotyping. The <a title="Defense attorneys call for Blagojevich/Obama subpoena" href="http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2010/04/23/blagojevich-obama/">B... Obama</a> subpoena would be exciting. It was contemplated that Blagojevich was giving effort to sell the President's vacant seat in the senate, the President could not be aware of this but talks to Blagojevich about the seat. Even if the President is subpoenaed to testify, the odds of him actually being able to testify is quite impossible.

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