What's in a Name?
What a long, strange guilt trip it's been. And most of us are unaware that we're even on it.
Right wingers for better than a year have been conscientiously reminding us time and time again what Sen. Obama's middle name is.
However, given their dismal outreach program toward African American voters (with all due respect to Ken Mehlman), one deeply suspects that, in reality, the name they really want to pounce on is not his middle name but his surname.
President Barack Obama. Think about what shudders through the collective nervous system of white Appalachia, Deep South crackers and Caucasian Middle America when they repeat that name and conjunctive title.
The brand name we've been hearing repeatedly in the news since the 2004 Democratic convention is suddenly stripped of its faux mainstream familiarity. It's an unmistakably African, not African American name, one not buried under the unthreatening slave names Washington and Jefferson or comfortingly bleached through Anglicization.
It is unmistakably, unequivocally, unapologetically, even proudly African, specifically Kenyan. And those who insist on judging their fellow humans because of their X or Y chromosome, their skin pigmentation or lack thereof or what geographical borders within which we were hurtled into this world, all without our consent, will feel the need to come to grips with Obama's African roots.
Obama. It will make people think of spear chuckers, women with bare breasts sagging down to their navels and all the misleading pictures in the pages of National Geographic that we were raised to believe as gospel.
What will go through their minds on Election Day, when they're standing in the booth, committed and needing to vote for somebody? I'm thinking not of dependably racist Republicans but so-called Democratic voters, the "Undecideds", the independents who find McCain loathsome and laughable.
President Obama. Hm...
This is where guilt will tiptoe into the 11th hour of the race, the guilt that reminds us what we did to West Africans, we meaning white people collectively. We Dutch, we English, we Irish... We Americans. And sometimes guilt can drive us away from doing the right thing as often as driving us away from committing ancient sins.
We may think of slave ships carrying blacks from the Dark Continent, packed in the cargo hold like sardines. We'll atavistically remember chains, whips, thumbscrews, families torn apart on the auction block.
And, to paraphrase Robert Lowell in his landmark poem "For the Union Dead", it will stick like a fishbone in the nation's throat.