Obama’s Osama Killing Puts America’s Racial Narratives on Display

Singer Sheryl Crow, she reminds us, has met four presidents — and President Obama is “one of the most conscious people” she’s “ever met” — comparable to Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King (about whom she “knows a lot”). “He [President Obama] walks the walk.” This political and spiritual canonization, oddly, because Obama killed Osama.

This is fascinating — but first, here are her thoughts in full — speaking on the “Gayle King Show” on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network — when asked about her reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden, because they are illuminating in several directions.

“It’s fascinating times that we’re living in. I mean, the first thing I thought was, I think, I felt the same way everyone else did, mixed emotions about the fact that we killed someone. And I think in our spirits, we know that killing is not right. In this particular instance, we have such an association with this person for having dealt us such a heinous blow. So, you know, mixed emotions of finally justice has been served and, secondly, we’ve just killed somebody, so there’s not a celebratory mood that goes along with that, I don’t think.

“But really for me, and listening to the speech, watching Obama speak about it [last Sunday night], it’s just fascinating that we have a black man, who has Muslim ties with his father, even though he’s a Christian, it’s amazing how far our country has come, that that’s the man who took down Osama bin Laden.

“It makes you feel very patriotic, I mean, I’ve become very philosophical about it, and I do think that, um, if it were any other president, I might feel different about it. But, he’s one of the most conscious people I’ve ever met, and I’ve met four presidents now. And I know a lot about Robert Kennedy and the words that he spoke and a lot about Martin Luther King and the words that he spoke, and they always spoke in terms of consciousness and enlightenment. And he walks the walk.”

I wouldn’t ordinarily pick a pop singer as the vehicle for exploring America’s racial narratives (or any other matter of consequence — except for Rebecca Black, who rocks). But in this case, Sheryl speaks so sincerely and taps a vein that I believe representative, that it makes sense to spin off Sheryl.

First, her initial premise is sound. High-five, Osama is dead, okay maybe not the high-five. A person is dead, shot in the head by American forces. I get that checked reaction, and respect it. I also get and fully understand why the momentous event was celebratory in several circles — but our better natures can both understand and regret what is necessary in warfare.

Second, “a black man … with Muslim ties” “took down Osama bin Laden”? Really? We can talk that way now? About what “a black man .. with Muslim ties” does (as long as it’s praising what a black man with Muslim ties does)? On the one hand, a substantial percentage of Americans on the left are convinced that another substantial percentage of Americans on the right are sunk in the darkest, most bilious racism, and blindly opposed to Barack Obama because he is black — but it’s “amazing how far our country has come” because a black man with Muslim ties killed Osama bin Laden?

There’s a touch of confusion here. I won’t call it a double-standard (yet), but shouldn’t it be vaguely troubling that, according to a common narrative on the left, Americans must be racist for opposing President Obama — even without ever mentioning his race — but we can mention, indeed applaud, his race, and his Muslim ties, if we’re praising him?

Third, the sincerity kicker from Sheryl is this: she feels “patriotic” because President Obama killed someone, but doubts she would feel the same way had it been any other president. (And she’s known four.) That’s one of the most honest statements from the left I’ve heard in a long time. That’s why I think it makes sense to take a more careful look at what Sheryl said.

There is a vitriol in leftist rhetoric, a very nearly religious condemnation of the gravest evil and venality, when a conservative does or espouses precisely the same thing that a “black man with Muslim ties” does and espouses. For prosecuting the war in Afghanistan (which President Obama continues to prosecute), for prosecuting the war in Iraq (which President Obama continues to prosecute), for keeping open the Guantanamo prison (which President Obama continues to hold open), for “enhanced interrogation techniques” (which Obama’s CIA Director, Leon Panetta, admitted contributed to intelligence that led directly to Osama bin Laden’s killing) — for all of these things the left reviled President Bush as Hitler incarnate.

Indeed, but for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Guantanamo prison — but for the Bush presidency’s concerted war on terrorism — the locating and killing of Osama bin Laden would not have been possible.

Am I nursing a grievance that President Bush does not get more credit for killing Osama bin Laden? Good heavens no. Quite the contrary. God bless America, President Barack Obama, the Navy SEALS, and the operation that brought straightforward justice to a mass murderer — who wanted to murder more.

But when the policies are so eerily similar, how does one go from Hitler Bush — to Saint Obama with “consciousness and enlightenment” who “walks the walk”? How does the left — generally troubled by killing — go from demonizing and Hitlerizing a decent man who sought to kill Osama bin Laden to beatifying another decent man who sought to kill — and did kill — Osama bin Laden?

Honestly, now I’m open-ended. Is this the programmatic Loyalty we were warned about in the Fifties? Or is it because President Obama is a “black man with Muslim ties,” and not incidentally, a liberal?

If the latter, then let’s open our eyes about our racial narrative. The vast majority of Americans have no problem with the fact that President Obama is black. Similarly, evidently, the rabid conservative voters in the straw poll about who won the first Republican presidential debate have no problem with the fact that Herman Cain is black.

The left gets to talk freely about “a black man,” even to say the simple fact that the president is black is a reason for a kind of “patriotism” that was virulent protest five years ago — and that’s fine. I applaud. The right can never mention “a black man,” and that’s fine. America can freely talk about the great things “a black man” does. Meanwhile, conservatives talk about some of the terrible things a liberal president has done. We do not say, and would never imagine saying, President Obama is doing some terrible liberal things and by the way he is a “black man with Muslim ties.” We just really dislike some of the liberal policies.

I happily concede the more luxurious space in the public square to the left — the ability to talk freely about “a black man with Muslim ties” (!) — if the left will stop calling conservatives racists.


11 Responses to Obama’s Osama Killing Puts America’s Racial Narratives on Display

  1. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I’d easily dismiss Crow’s fauxnalysis if it were not for the repetition of her thoughts by others far more skilled and knowledgeable at expressing themselves. If I could see her comments as the isolated ramblings of a ninny (and a poor singer at that) trying to make herself seem erudite and learned, I’d have said, “Oh, Kendrick, get a grip.” Unfortunately, people who see all opposition to Obama as racism and nothing else, create conclusions out of fairy dust. She makes Osama Bin Laden’s killing all about the conservatives’ supposed inherent racism, rather than about a leader continuing a policy started by Bush. I can’t take her any more seriously than I can listen to birthers talk and not laugh hysterically.

    Hers is not the dialogue that Obama himself would want. He’d, after her fawning visit with him, probably think no more of her than beyond a couple of seconds.

    I think sometimes that out of the conversation about the protections of discrete individuals vs. what’s good for society as a whole, comes the notion that a conservative seems to care more about the group rather than the person. From here, it’s all too easy to distort the differences and believe that racism must be at the bottom of this—after all, liberals care about the individual and conservatives see this individual – this black man – as not being representative of this country’s values, therefore, conservatives must hate him because he’s black. Well, I think there are a few more twists and turns along the way, but I haven’t fully fleshed it out.

    It’s time for the conversation about Obama being black to stop. Liberals are playing a huge role in sustaining this conversation, without a doubt. If we liberals don’t start evaluating, explaining and supporting the policies and principles the man stands for, then his chances in 2012 are doomed.

    I can’t stand Sheryl Crow’s music. It is the musical equivalent of pablum. You’ve fallen into the trap, Kendrick, of thinking that because she is a celebrity, her words carry more weight. (What’s going on with you and Rebecca Black, by the way? I think you must prefer brunettes.)

    • Trenchant as always SDS. But I thought Crow’s thoughts were pretty intelligent, if misguided, and illustrative of a larger, and intelligent but misguided, dream narrative about “a black man” guiding Moses-like through the wilderness, who turns out to be very much like the Pharaoh, because the fixed institutions of superpower government pretty much compel a homogeneous succession of Pharaohs (with personality quirks).

      I agree that it’s time for the conversation about Obama being black to stop, and that liberals are playing a huge role in sustaining that conversation — but I disagree that you need to do much for him to be re-elected in 2012. Even without “getting Osama,” he’s the solid odds favorite in 2012, especially if Republicans hang onto the House and re-take the Senate. Americans like divided government. And for good reason. It’s generally better to have the two parties exercising different levers of power and watching each other for any signs of abuse (as opposed to no one watching for splurges of abuse).

      And no, I didn’t fall into the trap of thinking that because Sheryl Crow is a celebrity, her words carry more weight. It’s not a “trap.” It’s true. Because she is a celebrity, her words carry more weight. That’s why she was on the Gayle King Show! Not like you or I could score that gig, right? I think we both wish celebrities would stick to entertaining, and cease the arrogant assumption that their politics should matter more because they’re celebrities — but alas, their immodesty has many enablers and promoters. Not like you or I would likely resist the temptation to Speak to Millions if it were that easy, right?

      And finally, Sheryl Crow has had some good songs, and Rebecca Black tickles me — I mean, really, I scratch myself. 🙂

  2. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I fault Crow for even bringing up the race issue here. It simply should not have been included in a discussion about Osama’s killing. You’re correct – she makes it appear that he is more black and Moses-like than the “average” black man. A black postal service worker, doing a good job, is – what – not as Moses-like? She might be able to ignore the fact that the postal worker is black – that’s inconsequential, but Obama takes on some saintly status because he’s also the President. Her comments are convoluted – he’s a Black man and he’s Christian and he took down Osama. Why are all those things, combined together, so significant to her? What specialness is conferred by that trio? Sheesh.

    We do allow celebrities’ words to have more weight, don’t we? It’s regrettable because their words substitute for independent thought too often. The gig I’d want is to be interviewed by Colbert. He could make fun of me all he wants to just so that I could gaze upon that face and that wonky eyebrow of his!

    Rebecca Black and your itch! You need scratching? I volunteer. You are silly, man!

  3. bigdtootall says:

    Herbert Cain is black? I hope he has some Muslim ties ( wouldn’t that be helpful!). The Republicans could fight fire with fire. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who fails to support Cain as a viable candidate for POTUS will be subjected to be labeled as a racist, ignorant hater. Welcome to the new millennium where racism is used AS a tool for political gain. As a young man in the sixties, I stood up for civil rights, marched as a Great American Chicken against the Viet Nam war,supported equal opportunity, Earth Day, etc and I suffered personal loss for my unpopular values. But I knew in my heart it was well worth the loss opportunities and ridicule to do the right thing. Now as a fat middle aged white guy with a very distinct Texas twang who still is not “scered” to share my opinion, I have discovered that any time I am not “with it”; I am personally dismissed as ignorant hillbilly with a hateful,racist, bigoted heart. Hopefully the next generation will respect my right to dissent and to vote. I am getting too old for this. I sometimes wonder if I had to do it all over again if I would be able to find the heart to do it. That makes me shudder. How did this happen?

  4. it’s just fascinating that we have a black man, who has Muslim ties with his father, even though he’s a Christian, it’s amazing how far our country has come, that that’s the man who took down Osama bin Laden.

    OK, now that I don’t get myself. If she said “a black man, who has Muslim ties with his father, even though he’s a Christian became POTUS,” I would agree.

    I know the basis for a lot of the hatred toward Obama isn’t based on race at all. But there are those who really do have a problem with it, whether they’re vocal and admit it or not. I know that is not the majority of your “side.” The minority tends to shout about it like that former leader of the Tea Party did – Mark Williams. And he got kicked out.

    I don’t know. I do know that I’ll call it out when I see the racism. But I know enough to not call the whole Right wing racist.

  5. lbwoodgate says:

    Let’s be clear about one thing. I’m not sure what her intent was, based on what you’ve provided here about Sheryl Crow, but no one could legitimately argue that there aren’t some liberals who over react to conservative comments as it relates to race. But what it seems like Crow IS referring to here is different from what some conservatives express towards anyone with muslim ties and the negative connotations openly expressed by those conservatives toward Islam.

    Crows remarks appear to simply reflect that as a melting pot culture we have finally reached a level where someone only 30 or 40 years ago who not only had no chance of being President ( a black person) but would be one who also had ties with a religion that many conservatives have an expressed hatred for.

    He pride is that yes, we have finally reached a point where the words of Jefferson ring more true about all men are created equal than they have any other time in our history. Can you show us where conservatives are speaking positively about Islam while simultaneously regarding Obama and his origins? I think if you can then you would also be hard pressed to find any liberal who jumped all over their remarks as being racists.

    So again, let’s be clear here. From what I have seen about liberals labeling conservatives as racists seems to occur when there are actually words and a nasty tome regarding Islam and then associating Obama with that expression of contempt. I could be wrong and perhaps you can cite some examples that would correct my perception Kendall

    I think it is also a stretch for you to include the war in Iraq as a link in finding and killing bin Laden. If it had any affect at all, IMO, it delayed his capture.

    Regarding torture, whether or not “actionable intel” came from the worst methods used is still unclear but without even attempting to defend it, I still think its use is wrong and sets a bad precent for us as a democracy. It still puts our troops more in harms way by those who might not consider the use of torture but for the fact that now they know we have stooped to that level.

    The remote possibility that some information that led to bin Laden’s whereabouts came from water-boarding doesn’t mean that that same information could not have been gathered by more humane practices that we do know have provided “actionable intel”. We set a standard with other nations after WWII that affirmed we would not stoop to that level so having done so now and believing that it has served some good does not preclude the fact that its use will lead us down that slippery slope that other evil people whom we’ve condemned for its use have slid.

  6. Jacqueline says:

    Kendrick, may I respectfully propose a rhetorical change? Instead of using the terms “the left” and “the right,” replace them with terms such as”a sizeable segment of American voters.” In this way, you’re not inadvertently casting your opponent as “the Other.”

    I do not beseech you to wholly commit to this just yet. Perhaps you could employ this in a single blog post, in order to test its efficacy. Respectfully, I think the most constructive change will be borne of our most elevated conversations. The contours of our speech hold immense power.


    • Welcome Jackie and thanks for the visit! You raise an important point — but one that I would respectfully suggest is impractical. We use terms like “left” and “right” as a shorthand for certain identifiable sensibilities. You’re correct to note that the shorthand terms often seem inclusive and exclusive, or suggestive of “the Other.” But we’re simply locating ourselves in a pre-existing dialogue. There is no such pre-existing dialogue for “a sizable segment of American voters” (unless you say something like “a sizable segment of American voters who generally embrace a liberal sensibility” or “a sizable segment of American voters who generally embrace a conservative sensibility,” in which case you’re using an awfully lot of words to say essentially the same thing as we mean when we say “the left” or “the right.”

      But your larger point is a good one — taking care against stereotype. I’m sensitive, as a conservative, to being cast as part of some homogeneous juggernaut ideology that essentially strips me of my autonomy and capacity for independent thought. My liberal friends can say exactly the same thing. In the end, the Great Conversation is about how we talk with each other — and you’re right: as we gradually acquire habits of thought and speech predicated on mutual respect, we open into our best ideas and most constructive possibilities (whether or not that means “change” :)).

      • Jacqueline says:

        Kendrick, I’m happy to be here. Thank you for pointing out my use of “change”- such an observation is important in a political conversation. Also, you effectively rationalize your chosen terminology.

  7. bigdtootall says:

    Many conservatives dislike Islam.
    Many liberals dislike religion.
    In so many ways folks are not all that different.
    Most of us are comforted that OBL is no more
    regardless of race, creed, or national origin,
    with some exceptions of course.

    I think what Ms Crow was getting at is that all of us seem hyper sensitive to racial issues especially when a crime is committed. Somehow the murder of a black man by another black man is less volatile than if the crime were biracial. Or a Jew by a Jew, or a gay man by another gay man, etc, etc. I agree with Ms Crow. The killing of Osama by Obama has been less riotous (not righteous) than if the assassination had been by the order of 43. In these troubling times creatures take their comfort whenever and wherever they can. I think that is why so many young folks were partying after OBL”s death in Times Square and in front of the White House. Hopefully we soon will have better reasons to celebrate. Gonna party like its 2012!

  8. According to a recent poll, only eighty-two percent of Democrats would re-elect Barack Obama if they could vote today. They voted for hope and ended up with change.

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