Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From the "Post-Racial" Vault: Slate Magazine Asks Whether Michael Steele Is Barack Obama's "Evil Twin"

Now that Obama's election has dramatically ushered in an era of post-racial life in America, I occasionally like to highlight those precious "Hallmark moments" that harken back to our recent racial past. To this end, I offer you the latest article written by Christopher Beam, a writer for Slate Magazine. Beam's article seeks to answer the following (presumably unproblematic) question: "Is Michael Steele Barack Obama's Evil Twin?"

Here are some details:

Evil twin, nemesis, archenemy—whatever the term, every great protagonist has one. Superman had Bizarro, his alternate-universe self. Spock from Star Trek had the shady, goateed "mirror" Spock. Super Mario has the cackling Wario. And Barack Obama has Michael Steele. . . .

And as the term would suggest, evil twins look similar but usually have distinctive physical differences—an eye patch, say, or a scar. Michael Steele, like Barack Obama, is African-American. But unlike Obama, he is bald and sports a mustache—a classic nemesis signifier, although a goatee would be ideal. . . .

The twin-ness even carries over to the way the two men view their race. During his campaign, with the notable exception of his "race speech" in Philadelphia, Obama made a concerted effort not to make his race an issue. He made the historic nature of his candidacy implicit. Steele has a trickier job. One of the reasons he was elected party chairman is his ability to reach out to minorities. So in a way his job is to emphasize his background. But sometimes it comes off weirdly. After Steele called Obama's stimulus package "a wish list from a lot of people who have been on the sidelines for years, to get a little bling, bling," Gawker declared: "The Republicans have finally found their voice: it's the voice of a 50-year-old using hiphop slang from the end of the '90s." Obama's hip-hop references are from at least 2003.

Obama's use of race was far more complex than the article acknowledges. Obama emphasized his racial backgrounds for political gain and deemphasized them for the same reason. Clearly, Steele serves a "diversity" purpose as well. But I really do not see how that differs from Obama's role in the Democratic Party. To many people, "change" symbolizes "racial progress," and Obama's numerous references to Lincoln certainly exploit this notion. Also, Democrats frequently boast about their ("our") diversity. That too is an explicit appeal to race. Republicans are merely trying to compete.

But on the point of Beam's use of race -- is anyone else slightly annoyed by the implied "good black"/"bad black" analysis? And aside from being black men -- have I missed recognizing that Obama and Steele actually "look similar"?

Related Reading on Dissenting Justice:

A Black Progressive Law Professor Responds to News That Michael Steele Will Lead the GOP

17 comments:

Decidere said...

Will Beam be performing "Michael the Unhappy Negro" sometime soon?

A few months back there was some rather simplistic (& racist/sexist) comparisons between Susan Rice and Condi Rice who have considerably different careers and credentials.

Peg C. said...

Not to be simplistic, but Steele ain't nobody's twin, and the jug-eared commie in the WH is Evil. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

For those who don't know Michael Steele, go to youtube and look at some of his terrific senate campaign commercials. Having him a chairman has gotten me excited about the party again.

Slartibartfast said...

I never thought I'd hear "they all look the same to me" so neatly and completely stated, in public, from someone other than the likes of David Duke.

brian said...

Shorter Christopher Beam:

"You all look the same to me."

Formerly known as Skeptic said...

This smacks of "they all look alike to me!" Disgusting, actually. Obama and Steele look almost nothing alike.

Formerly known as Skeptic said...

Argh! Too slow for Slartibartfast and Anon! Great minds and all that.

Spinoneone said...

We ain't seen nothin' yet! Just wait, if Steele can bring even 15% of the African American voting population into the ranks of the GOP you will see a firestorm of racial epithets erupt against him from the National Socialist Democratic Party.

Anonymous said...

Lex Luther is bald, Michael Steele is bald. But Barack Obama's power comes from a teleprompter, and he's powerless without it. Usually, the villains have a superpower generated by a device, whereas the hero has innate power but a fatal weakness, such as kryptonite. Since politicians battle using debate, Obama is clearly the villain.

Obama's evil twin, however, is Carrot Top.

Jason Papanikolas said...

Yes, Darren.

I am slightly annoyed at the "good black"/"bad black" analysis. But, then, that same analysis holds that my annoyance just betrays my latent racism. You know b/c I'm white, male, and, heresy of heresies, conservative.

If you really wanted to dissent from your Party's views (and you have to admit, these views are held by a substantial portion of the Democratic Party), you'd take them to task even harder than this.

If we are living in a "post-racial" world as Obama claims, then when did that world come about? Just with his election? Or earlier?

If earlier, then doesn't that make similar analyses thrown at Justice Thomas equally wrong? If it's wrong, then don't Democrats (and, indeed, all Americans) have a positive duty to disassociate themselves for this type of analysis?

In fact, doesn't this type of analysis betray the lack of a post-racial worldview for many Americans (or at least many Democrats)?

p.s. I'm sure that's your point. I'm just trying to get you state it explicitly.

Anonymous said...

Well, Michael Steele is better looking and more articulate than BO, surely that must fit into the evil twin scenario, somehow.... if you work hard enough at it....

Valerie

bubarini said...

I just wonder much longer it be until we get a snide WaPo Style section dissection, by Robin Givhan of course, of their respective sartorial styles?

Btw, this blog has become one of my favorites over the past few weeks. Excellent and reasoned commentary.

And as an aside Prof. Hutchinson, is Wagshal's still right down the sidewalk from the college? I still marvel at the sights I used to see in their butcher and seafood cases.

submandave said...

Wow, this is a hat trick of offensive tripe. Not only do we get a helping of "you people all look alike," we also get to add the tried and true "Republicans are evil" and "Republicans are racist (even minority members)."

Good luck keeping them honest from the inside. I wonder, though, how long you can stand the smell of hypocracy before you feel compelled to seek escape.

OSweet said...

The message is going out:
Steele must be destroyed.

Seen it at Huffpo, BloggingHeads. Summed up:
"Steele is just a really really really really bad guy."
"Can you believe what a bad guy he is?"
"He is just wack."
"He's a really really really bad guy."

rod said...

You will probably see a lot of that now, for some people color colors their view.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Jason - thanks for the comment - but I am a few miles ahead on racial criticism (and not just with respect to Democrats)!

See:

An Obama Presidency Would Cause the Death of Racism and the Civil Rights Movement, Says Alec Baldwin.

Race and Presidential Politics: Pre- and Post-Obama

Reality Check: Obama's Election Victory Does Not Mean That Era of Race-Based Identity Politics Has Died

Free at Last? No!

Sinister Minister? Race, Wright and Obama

Jason Papanikolas said...

Glad to see someone dealing openly with the "post-racial" nonsense, though I'm not sure that I saw any criticism of Republicans per se (although you do seem to hit on whites in general). I do find it interesting that, on many issues of education, conservatives seem to the true "progressives."

What I find interesting is that you have not addressed (or at least not that I can see) the other side of the coin. Racism is a fact, and if whites are racist, then blacks (or African-Americans, whichever you prefer, I have no real preference) are equally racist. We have become an increasingly pessimistic society where neither side cares to reach beyond the stereotype to engage in the real issues.

For example, I live in Prince George's County, Md. The county is trying to promote racial integration through the use of magnate schools. There are exceptions, but for the most part, students are chosen by lottery. However, I have heard that at certain schools when white students have transferred into "black" schools, they are made to feel quite unwelcome by their almost uniformly black classmates.

I'm sure that it works the other way around, but what I'd love to see you address sometimes is how you think that we can legitimately address these educational issues when both sides see what they want and fail to rigorously engage each other (which is frankly what the civil rights movement a success, IMHO).

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