February 20, 2008

Barack Obama and the American Story

Barack ObamaNo, this isn’t an endorsement for Barack Obama—this is a literary blog after all. Rather, it’s a examination of the text of a speech that Obama gave in Wisconsin on February 16, 2008.

What surprised me more than anything else was his ability to combine the two main narratives of American culture that heretofore ran parallel: The American Love Story and The Great March to Freedom into a single story with himself and his campaign as the protagonists battling the hydra-headed monster, Holdfast (McCain and Clinton, et al).

What is also interesting is that Obama unlike other Black leaders such as Malcolm X (“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us!”) begins the American story of hope at Plymouth Rock and traces it through the Declaration of Independence to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. (What's also ironic is that in the true American Spirit he's "stolen" a few lines of his speech from fellow politician.)

By combining these two narratives, Obama has done what many previous Black leaders such as James Baldwin, (“There are times that make you wonder. that if this country to which you have pledged your allegiance, has pledged its allegiance to you”) have been unable or unwilling to do: claim their American birthright.

By his actions, Obama has expanded the imaginative possibilities of African-Americans and Americans of European descent. But most importantly, he is expanding the imagination of young, black men who haven’t seen a brother like this in public life for a very long time, and whose ideas about the epitome of African American manhood and self-image seem to be restricted to Snoop Dogg or Trick Daddy.

Whether or not the African American body politic moves with his to embrace and integrate these two great stories is another issue. But Obama’s speech shows that he has a cognitive and imaginative grasp of the symbols of America, and as is the birthright of every African American, he has claimed it as his own.



Anonymous said...

I admire Obama a great deal. Finally, an articulate and ambitious Black man that can motivate and inspire. All of his speeches are winners.

Stephen A. Bess said...

Yes, you said it. I like what he says and I love the possibilities. He has done so much already without being elected. He definitely has my full support.

Hey, Trick Daddy said he loves the kids. :)