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Is Barack Obama a Sellout Or Not?

May 30, 2011 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( The fear of the sellout is rampant among many ethnic and racial groups in the United States and Canada. When members of these communities enter positions of privilege, they indeed become objects of pride and admiration, but these feelings are often accompanied by a nervous uncertainty as to whether they will eventually “forget where they came from.” The sellout has been branded with several epithets in the majority-white North American context. Most of the derogatory terms have referred to being or “acting white,” which has been one of the constant characteristics of the sellout. Black sellouts have been called “Uncle Toms or “Oreos,” while South Asians have been called “coconuts” and Asians have been labeled “twinkies” or “bananas.”

These epithets point to a deep-seated animosity towards ‘race betrayers’ who the host community regards as a traitor and an ungrateful free rider. In studying the fear of the sellout among black Americans, Randall Kennedy notes in his book Sellout that a sellout is “a person who betrays something to which she is said to owe allegiance” and can refer to individuals whose actions “retard African-American advancement.”

As Kennedy notes, some of the earliest members of the black community labeled as sellouts were those individuals who recaptured runaway slaves or forewarned white authorities of impending slave revolts. Many black authors who wrote treatises against the community were also roundly hated. One example is William Hannibal Thomas, who throughout his early life championed the African-American cause. Later in life, however, he underwent a radical about-face and published The American Negro in 1901. The black individual, he wrote, “has a mind that never thinks in complex terms; Negro intelligence is both superficial and delusive… [and] represents an illiterate race, in which ignorance, cowardice, folly, and idleness are rife.” The African-American response was swift and seething. Some threatened him with physical assault and told him to “go off and hang thyself,” while others, like Booker T. Washington, remarked that, “It is sad to think of a man without a country. It is sadder to think of a man without a race.”

Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke with derision against racial betrayal. Malcolm X called sellouts “house Negros” and King stated that there are many blacks in America “who will seek profit for themselves alone from the struggle.” Others branded as sellouts were those individuals who, working as spies for the American government, infiltrated civil rights organizations and kept an eye on groups like the Black Panther Party.

It seems that almost without exception, every successful African-American public figure in the United States — Oprah, Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell — has, at one time or another, faced the question of whether they were selling out. As journalist Peter Beinart pointed out, it seems that “the more whites love you, the more you must reassure your own community that you are still one of them.”

In a recent interview with journalist and author Chris Hedges, Princeton professor Cornel West launches a full frontal assault on President Obama. Parts of the interview provide a sound critique of Obama’s failures as a populist president. Other parts are deeply unfair, and at times disturbing. West stops just short of branding Obama a “race traitor” or accusing him of selling out African-Americans. While I admire Dr. West, read some of his writings, and briefly met him at the 2009 American Academy of Religion conference in Montreal, I found his comments on Obama problematic to the say the least.

Some of West’s critiques arise out of a perceived personal affront by Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. For example, he tells Hedges that he did 65 campaign events for Obama, used to speak with him regularly on the phone, and offer prayers for his success. However, West “never got a call back” from Obama. Additionally, West could not get tickets to the inauguration with his mother and brother. “We had to watch the thing in the hotel,” he says.

The relationship continued to deteriorate after Obama became President. West, who had always stated that Obama should not think he is safe from critique simply because he is African-American, received a phone call from Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president. According to West, Jarrett was particularly upset by West’s statement in an interview that “he saw a lot of Malcolm X and Ella Baker” in Michelle Obama. “I said in the world that I live in, in that which authorizes my reality, Ella Baker is a towering figure,” he tells Hedges. “If I say there is a lot of Ella Baker in Michelle Obama, that’s a compliment.” He goes on to say that while the first lady’s initiatives on child obesity and military families are commendable, “why doesn’t she visit a prison? Why not spend some time in the hood?”

In perhaps the most revealing part of the interview, West continues:

I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.

Such statements drip with condescension and signal that accusations of Obama not being “black enough” may resurface during the 2012 presidential campaign. While West stops short of calling Obama a sellout, calling him “rootless” is little different. Both terms accuse Obama of somehow only having partial ties to the Black experience in the United States. Indeed, describing Obama as rootless is West’s way of contextualizing why the first Black president is a sellout. As West’s anger and disappointment with Obama make clear, a sellout is much worse than a generic enemy of the ethnic or racial group. Since the community had invested in him/her and placed a certain amount of trust in their loyalty, the betrayal stings exponentially and produces equally virulent scorn and dismissal.

Written By Amarnath Amarasingam


9 Responses to “Is Barack Obama a Sellout Or Not?”
  1. uhuru says:

    Fuck him he is just the Jew and white mans Pet Nigger end of..

  2. Jeff says:

    Obama is a fool, plain and simple. He’s not qualified to run a Boy Scout troop, much less a country that used to be one of the most powerful nations on the planet, and a good place to live! He’s a good BS’er and a smooth talker, only. Many people thought it would show how much progress we’ve made in race relations if we elected a half-black man that had a drunken loser of a father. How’d that work out for you guys? After the Iran deal I have no doubt he’ll be remembered in history as the worst president ever, and the idiot that started WW3! Hussein, why don’t you cut out the unnecessary steps and just start shipping nuclear warheads to Iran? Maybe the U.S. could just bomb Israel directly and save your buddies all the trouble?

  3. CD Smith says:

    As we see history has shown that the majority blacks see everything through the prism of race. Thus, the President had nothing to fear regarding his re-election.

    With 18% unemployment in the black community and not a word from the President, you would think that would wake some people up.

    The black community needs a bobble head symbol like the people of England need to have a Queen. However in our case, blacks believe they believe they are sticking it to the racist by re-electing Obama.

    It’s like when segregation ended, black said the racist store, “I’ll show you, I am going to spend as much money in store and you can’t do anything about!” That is why today, black women consider it a privilege to buy their hair from Asians (LOL)

  4. Mr Reflection says:

    @Sugar…… America is having a teachable moment of how racist Bill Clinton is to African Americans and how down right mean America is to Michelle. Remember that!

  5. Sugar says:

    Yes I do but not in the way you are saying it. I feel like the Elite knew a long time ago that America would be hitting the skids at this point and it was all in a plan to have this happen while a black man was in power so that blacks could be blamed for everything once again. So they found this guy Obama who agreed to accept the money and become the black face that will be in power while all of this happens. I mean think about it people who had ever heard of Obama before the 2008 elections??? Not many people right?? Ok there is your answer right there if it wasn’t him it just would have been another black man. Its all in the plan people just like him winning last night he had to win everybody knew it even Romney he has to remain in power as long as America goes thru all of the bad he will be the president because who better to blame for America failing than a black man? Just so they can further blame black people as a whole. there is so much more to say but it will take forever so this is all for now.

  6. Austin says:

    Mr Obama could never be considered a “sellout”. He was never part of the “Black” mindset. His formative years were shaped by a white mother and an Indonesian step-father. Then by white grandparents. I am waiting for someone to point out or show where in Mr Obama’s “brainwashing” years, the years when a person is being “hardwired” for life, where he could have had any “black” programming. Mr Obama regularly brings up his Irish roots, and his white side. He uses Michelle’s family whenever he wants to relate to anything familiar to the American black community. Mr Obama’s closest and dearest friends and advisors- policy advisors are elitist Harvard educated friends. You cannot “sellout” when you never “bought in”.

  7. D.E. Covington says:

    In my opinion selling out is a phrase that is used incorrectly. I do not believe that President Obama is forgetting about where he came from (in a home type of way) he knows his heritage and respects the fact he has to do what is best for the greater good of the people not just people whose skin color may be similar as his. If one actually ponders on the situation, President Obama is actually doing a lot to help (as most would say his kind). My reason for saying this is because not all but alot of low income families are of color and without jobs and he is working towards getting those people (regardless of color) assistance to becoming free of governmental assistance.

    Most people are looking for a quick fix in their own life and expects him to give it to them. For those that believe in religions (he is not God/god) he is human and is allowing people to become more independent by going to school to be able to achieve more. People are to emotional when it comes to themselves and think that because they didn’t receive an invite or a call back then someone isn’t embrassing their culture. When in fact, most never stop to take into consideration you may have not been chosen for a reason. Who cares if you had to watch it from the hotel room, you still saw history being made. To much emphasises on unnecessary things that could be used for more important issues going on.

    *my thoughts my opinion*

  8. I like how West speaks of black people as though we are one homogenous block with exactly the same problems and issues, where he would be furious with non-blacks for speaking of blacks the same way.

  9. ronniearias says:

    Obama is trying to broker a satisfactory settlement but no one will be able to do that until Hamas agrees that Israel is a legitimate country and they refuse to. This is wicked and most of the world agrees with me.

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