Where Whites Draw the Line





How black is too black?

Millions of African-Americans celebrated Barack Obama’s historic victory, seeing in it a reflection — sudden and shocking — of their own expanded horizons. But whether Mr. Obama captures the White House in November will depend on how he is seen by white Americans. Indeed, some people argue that one of the reasons Mr. Obama was able to defeat Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was that a large number of white voters saw him as “postracial.”

In other words, Mr. Obama was black, but not too black.

But where is the line? Does it change over time? And if it is definable, then how black can Mr. Obama be before he alienates white voters? Or, to pose the question more cynically, how black do the Republicans have to make him to win?

Social observers say a common hallmark of African-Americans who have achieved the greatest success, whether in business, entertainment or politics — Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson and Mr. Obama — is that they do not convey a sense of black grievance.

Clearly, Mr. Obama understands this. Until his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, forced race into the political debate, Mr. Obama rarely dwelt on it. He gave his groundbreaking speech on race only in response to the Wright controversy.


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