Hip-hop is black, urban, urgent and demanding. And Barack Obama is hip-hop. Oh, and so there's no confusion: He's definitely black. No matter what color his mother is and what anyone tells you, Obama is one of us.
When hip-hop shows up, it challenges paradigms; culture shifts in such a way that it can never revert back to its original space. It transforms. So too has the political space, thanks to this Hawaii-born Chicagoan. Obama appeared seemingly out of nowhere and stood strong against much of what more familiar Democratsâ€”bowing to Republican pressureâ€”represented. He has also banked more than any other Democratic candidate in campaign contributions for the primaries and, in so doing, has transformed the race.
Obama opposed the war in Iraq back when that kind of opposition could have instigated Bush to drop more bombs than Funkmaster Flex. Now, party-mates who voted for the war are tripping over themselves to change their stance. Obama has them sprinting like paparazzi after Paris Hilton: "Iraq withdrawalâ€”that's hot!â€
So why isn't everyone embracing Obama?Â Why has Hillary Clinton been polling higher than him among blacks? Why are so many in the civil-rights community questioning Obama's blackness and his commitment to our community? As it stands, his positions fall perfectly in line with many black leaders before him, from opposing the war to advocating health care. Is it because Obama's mother is white that his blackness got slapped up on Tavis Smiley's State of the Race blackfest recently? Who are we fooling? Who truly thinks that the senator from Illinois could pass the New York City catch-a-cab test or the Chris Rock standard for whiteness (being able to marry a Kennedy)?
His commitment to our race should be obvious. But what we can't miss is why he's our candidate, the hip-hop candidate. This 45-year-old black man was in high school in 1978, a time when it was required for any black man to know and be able to recite on demand "Rapper's Delightâ€ front to backâ€”the long version, too, with the "chicken that tastes like woodâ€ lyric. For all we know, Obama might have a pair of shell-toe Adidas, some Gazelles and two Technics turntables ready, just waiting for his moment at the DNC to show how he can still rock the crowd.
But that isn't what makes him hip-hop. Obama is not without faults. He's already admittedâ€”unlike all the other folks who've liedâ€”that, yes, he did inhale, and that he used cocaine in high school and college. But it's his fallibility and honesty that make him unique. Obama doesn't strive to be hip-hop, he just is. The way Michael Jordan was. The way Spike Lee and Iverson are. You know, even Tiger Woods fist-pumps Jay-Z. Love it or hate it, Obama's our candidate and so far, he stands up for issues that affect us. Our job is to make sure he keeps doing so right on into the White House.
So while I wouldn't expect him to run on a national platform as a "hip-hopâ€ candidateâ€”a strategy that the mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, used effectively in a city that is 70 percent blackâ€”I do expect that for the first time in a decade, our voices will be heard. Obama has said there is no white America and no black America, just the United States of America. Fair enough, but there may still be a black and white voter, and for him to win the candidacyâ€”and later the presidencyâ€”he must be embraced by black voters and continue to win white acceptance. (He has a better track record with white voters than black: In his Illinois congressional race, he locked down white votes first, and in this race, Clinton supporters are just beginning to trickle his way.)
Obama has studied the game. He has learned from men of color in history. Jesse Jackson showed him how to run a political campaign, and Al Sharpton demonstrated how to impact a campaign with the power of oratory and the gift of debate. Even Louis Farrakhan knows that there is something about Obama. When asked whether the candidate was avoiding him, he responded, "If avoiding me would help him to become president, I'd be glad to stay in the background.â€
If this combination of knowledge can be fueled with the power of hip-hop, we'll have something America has never seen: a black candidate who can actually win.Â K