On Obama's Religion & The Question of Qualified Black Candidates

Commenter John Paul Reeves left what Brandon & I felt was a thought-provoking comment on Brandon’s Obama Drops the Ball on Energy post. I was responding to the comment, but my response got pretty long, so I felt it’d be more appropriate to write it up as a full post for everyone to be able to read and respond to easily. This is my full response:

@John Paul Reeves,

On Obama’s Religion

As for how I as a Black Christian (not speaking for that entire demographic) feel, I have no “concern” about Obama’s religion. In fact, I bet most people don’t have any concern about Obama’s religion. Frankly, I don’t care what his religion is, and the people who say that he’s a Muslim in a derogatory way are actually not only insulting Muslims by implying that being Muslim is bad, but they are also note acting in a Christ-like manner by bearing false witness against another person. So there are two questions to pose to Christians or anyone else who has a problem with a candidate’s religion:

  1. What’s wrong with voting for a fellow Christian?
  2. What in your Christianity would stop you from voting for someone who was of a different religion if there was a non-Christian in the race?

On Qualified Black Candidates

As to your question on qualified Black candidates that could run for President and VP, the issue is not qualification. There are qualified people of every type: race, sex, gender, ideology, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. The issue is actually one of prejudice and access.

I use prejudice here not because of its connotation of racism or sexism, but for it’s true definition, which is to hold:

An unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

Black candidates, woman candidates, gay candidates, Muslim candidates, etc. all have to fight through the preconceived notions on who they are, what they represent, what they believe, and how they think before people can actually get to know them as people, let alone policy makers. The investment in terms of time, effort, and dollars that’s necessary to overcome these prejudices is tremendous, and it often is an insurmountable obstacle for most candidates, especially early in their careers. Thus, it is not surprising that:

  1. Most politicians have to cave to moneyed interests very early in their careers in order to even get into office, which sets the precedent of dependence on these interests as their career progresses.
  2. It is not surprising that the first Black Presidential candidate that reached electoral viability had to do so with the help of a completely revolutionary fundraising machine.

Once this prejudice is overcome, then access is possible. This access is actually two-way:

  1. Candidate access to the office. It’s now possible for this person to actually win.
  2. The people’s access to the candidate. It’s now possible for voters to actually get to know who this person actually is (not the stereotype that they’re used to).

White, male, heterosexual, Christian (and to a lesser extent, Jewish) candidates don’t have to think about any of these things, hence the barrier to entry to political office is much lower for them. This is why they are the default candidate in almost every race, regardless of the office or the demographic of their constituency.

That was a really, really drawn out way of me saying that there are definitely 2 qualified Black candidates that could run any and every office, but I don’t think their names are Colin & Condoleezza :-). The same is true for all candidates of all colors, sexes, etc. We just need to get beyond the barriers that are not tied to qualifications.

One Love. One II.

P.S. Thanks for coming by. I find it interesting that The SuperSpade came up in a search for “blacks who oppose Obama”. I wonder if we’d show up in a search for “blacks who are critical supporters of Obama”, but I digress…

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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