The obsessive atheism of Christopher Hitchens has turned itself towards black history and Obama’s recent success. In classic reactionary fashion, Hitchens employs a racist, colonialist language in order to point out just how racist everyone else is.


Or perhaps not. Isn’t there something pathetic and embarrassing about this emphasis on shade? And why is a man with a white mother considered to be “black,” anyway? Is it for this that we fought so hard to get over Plessy v. Ferguson? Would we accept, if Obama’s mother had also been Jewish, that he would therefore be the first Jewish president? (Yes Chris, that’s how Judaism works) The more that people claim Obama’s mere identity to be a “breakthrough,” the more they demonstrate that they have failed to emancipate themselves from the original categories of identity that acted as a fetter upon clear thought.

Note his assessment of Kenya:

Last week happened to be the week that the nation of Kenya—birthplace of Obama’s father—was convulsed by a political war that contained ghastly overtones of violent and sadistic tribalism. It would sound as absurd to a Kenyan to hear praise for a black candidate as it would sound to most of my European readers to hear a recommendation of a “great white hope.”

See, the political violence in Kenya is different, because it’s “tribal” (I have expressed my opinion on the use of “tribe” to characterize ethnic groups in Africa here). Nevermind that the ethnic violence Hitchens insincerely laments is the result of the reckless and inhuman colonial policies of his home country.

Hitchens concludes there is something embarrassing and pathetic about paying attention to Barack Obama’s race, but he sees nothing pathetic in using colonialist language to characterize political violence in Kenya. Hitchens claims he is “emancipated from original categories of identity,” but he is merely a slave who thinks himself free.

Beyond which, he is entirely wrong about the significance of Obama’s candidacy in Kenya. The East African media is ablaze with news of Senator Obama’s triumph, despite the violence in Kenya. It is important to them, like it is important to black Americans, precisely because of the mentality of “intellectuals” like Hitchens whose most consistent goal seems to perpetuate their own sense of cultural and racial superiority. Obama makes us proud; nothing to be taken for granted in a world where respected intellectuals categorize us as “tribal” and “substandard.”

I’m often amused by white people who claim not to understand ethnic solidarity. What this means is that they have perfected it to the point that it is instinctual, reflexive. Words like “tribalism” occur naturally to Hitchens, because he has so internalized white supremacy that its expression is effortless, like Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly.

Hitchens continues, criticizing Obama’s Church as a “substandard” and “shade-oriented place”.

Much or most of what Trinity United says is harmless and boring, rather like Gov. Mike Huckabee’s idiotic belief that his own success in Iowa is comparable to the “miracle” of the loaves and fishes, and the site offers a volume called Bad Girls of the Bible: Exploring Women of Questionable Virtue, which I have added to my cart, but nobody who wants to be taken seriously can possibly be associated with such a substandard and shade-oriented place.

Hitchens is like most white people: He only notices “shade-oriented places” when the shade is black. When the shade is white, he is comfortable, and so would never characterize it as such. By virtue of it’s black identity, it is “substandard,” and “not serious.” Still Hitchens chides others for their racism.

The fact is that the world is a “shade-oriented place,” and while the specifics change from one location to another, the reality is that those of us not included in what Hitchens understands as “normal” create our own spaces to preserve our sense of self-worth. These are places where widespread problems like political violence aren’t characterized in the primitivist manner Hitchens uses.

The unspoken agreement to concede the black community to the sway of the pulpit is itself a form of racist condescension. The sickly canonization of Martin Luther King Jr. has led to a crude rewriting of history that obliterates the great black and white secularists—Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther—who actually organized the March on Washington. It has also allowed a free pass to any demagogue who can manage to get the word reverend in front of his name.

The incredibly patronizing conclusion that black people have been “conceded” to the sway of the pulpit, as though we had no will or mind of our own, is not “a form” of racist condescension” but simply racist condescension. Black people trust the Church because during slavery, when we had nothing else, we had the Church. This isn’t sentimentality; this is history. The only formal leadership structure in the black community during chattel slavery was that of the Church. I’m sorry if that offends Hitchens as an atheist, but I’m offended by the fact that my ancestors were enslaved, so I guess we’re “even”.

I know who Bayard Rustin, Asa Philip Randolph, and Walter Reuther are. But that’s because I went to an Afrocentric high school in Washington DC, precisely the kind of “shade-oriented place” Hitchens is dismissing as “ethnic”. Had I gone to a normal public school in another town, I would have no idea who the men Hitchens mentions are, precisely because most schools or even universities have no interest in delving into black history, because they are shade-oriented towards white people. Which is why Hitchens doesn’t have a problem with them.

All this easy talk about being a “uniter” and not a “divider” is piffle if people are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I have been droning on for months about how Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about the flat-out racist background of his own church, and about how Huckabee has shown in public that he does not even understand the first thing about a theory—the crucial theory of evolution by natural selection—in which he claims not to believe. Many Democrats are with me on this, but they go completely quiet when Sen. Obama chooses to give his allegiance to a crackpot church with a decidedly ethnic character.

If Hitchens were any kind of honest, he would level the same questions at the other candidates in the race, demanding to know why each one of their Churches worships a blond-haired, blue eyed Jesus Christ. It seems obvious that people of Middle Eastern descent don’t look like that, but Hitchens sees nothing “shade-oriented” about the vast majority of Americans, including all the presidential candidates who claim to attend Church, worshipping an Aryan Jesus. Hitchens may be famous for his religious skepticism, but he is a true believer in his refined, upper-class denomination of white supremacy.

What’s sad is that Hitchens, in his fervor to criticize those who recognize the significance of Obama’s victory, the global significance of his victory, as racist, he neglects to do any kind of self-examination.

And why would he? He’s white, so he’s already perfect. Not substandard, or unserious, or shade oriented. Not at all.

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