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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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But the idea that a young, smart, pretty, white girl could possibly decide to marry and

conceive a Negro child with an African father was so terrifying to Jefferson, that he

simply could not imagine it.   Of course, the idea that such a woman might have

a doctoral degree was even more unthinkable to Thomas Jefferson.



Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

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Books by Barack Obama

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance  / The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Obama's Greatest Speeches (CD set) / Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

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Obama Women and Racist Exceptionalism

   By Wilson J. Moses


Since her high school days in Minneapolis’ Academy of the Holy Angels, my wife Maureen has been known for her “soft-spoken sense.”  Since then she has cultivated a wide range of artistic and intellectual interests, and a very active social life.   She is one of the reasons I decided not to put the Ralph Nader sign on my front lawn, and to support Barack Obama in the presidential election of 2008, even after sending Nader a small campaign contribution.  Symbolically, the life and accomplishments of Obama represented a vindication of our own interracial marriage.   Maureen gives manifest evidence of a profound contempt for all American ethnocentrisms, and to the related projection of uncritical “American Exceptionalism.” 

I have lectured on “American Exceptionalism for the past thirty years; it is a concept that originated with the ironic observations of the astute French proto-sociologue Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s.  The idea, which was never intended as an unequivocally positive observation, has been the subject of much incisive scholarly and intellectual commentary in learned journals for many years.   There can be no intelligent contestation of the idea that America is “exceptional.”   All cultures have their common as well as their unique features; so of course, America is “exceptional,” for so is every nation on earth.  The recent deployment of the term by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich is brutally naive, and chauvinistic, a kind of sadistic high school cheerleading.  Nonetheless, America is truly exceptional in many important and positive respects.  It is a country where fifty years ago interracial marriage was illegal in 19 states, and yet today a product of an interracial marriage, which occurred at that time, can become President!

A black President seems unlikely in France or England despite those countries histories of cultural, economic, and sexual contact with African peoples.   The idea seems equally impossible in Germany, where Obama was handsomely received in 2008, although the German experience with black former colonials, is limited to contact with occupying GIs since World War II.   Only in America have we seen persons of African genetic heritage ascend to the symbolic pinnacle of social and political life.  I’ll take that kind of exceptionalism any day!  

That being said, there are a significant minority of white Americans, who cannot accept the presidency of Barack Obama.  Their completely unfounded questioning of Obama’s American citizenship is nothing but a declaration of hostility to his African ancestry.   In order to keep Obama supporters from the polls, several states have initiated legislation requiring extensive documentation for persons who seek to register to vote.  These new laws are reminiscent of the so-called “grandfather clauses,” which once restricted voting rights to persons whose grandfathers had exercised the franchise.  These laws, passed in former slave-states after the Civil War, were intended to prevent African Americans from exercising their political rights.  They are now intended to disqualify Mexican Americans who may have been born outside hospitals, and may not have birth certificates.    They are also part of a filthy conspiracy to keep Obama off the ballot. 

While the “birthers’” principal objection to President Obama is that he has Black African ancestry, there is a thinly veiled secondary objection—a hostility to his trans-national origins.  His white mother married a man from Africa, and this is something for which there is no place in Jeffersonian Democracy.   For well-know reasons, Thomas Jefferson knew all about white men fathering “black” children. Jeffersonian culture abounded with such individuals, and he has never been acquitted of the charge of fathering several black children.  

But the idea that a young, smart, pretty, white girl could possibly decide to marry and conceive a Negro child with an African father was so terrifying to Jefferson, that he simply could not imagine it.   Of course, the idea that such a woman might have a doctoral degree was even more unthinkable to Thomas Jefferson.  Obama’s mother was, an intellectual, as is his Asian-American half-sister.   Intellectual women are as repugnant to modern day “American exceptionalists” as they were to Thomas Jefferson.  This is why Condoleeza Rice, probably the most highly qualified person who might have run for president in 2008, was never considered as a candidate by the Republican Party. 

Jeffersonian Democracy remains a truly pernicious doctrine.  There was not, and never could be any place for a woman like Stanley Ann Dunham Obama within the concept.  Thank God for General Ulysses S. Grant who purged Jeffersonian Democracy from the hive that nurtured it, The Confederate States of America.  

But Barack Obama married a black woman, who is intellectually superior to, and completely beyond the reach of an ordinary white American male.  She does not have a “Jack-and-Jill” pedigree; her people were not part of the Black Bourgeoisie.  Her father, like my own father worked for the public water department; he was a public employee.  Birthers, Xenophobes, and White Supremacists find his marriage to this woman among his most insupportable crimes.   He brought an African American woman into the role of First Lady of the United States, thus violating the “whiteness” of the White House.  So that gives me another reason to relish the symbolism of Obama.  He is “white,” due to his American mother but “black,” due to his Kenyan father, and he made a brilliant African American corporate lawyer his First Lady. 

One of the reasons I voted for Obama is that while his white ancestry is deeply rooted in “middle America,” he symbolizes the rebellious cosmopolitanism, embraced by his mother.  She was adventurous and smart.   She earned a Ph. D. in anthropology, her religious views were in a transcendentalist, liberal tradition. Her second marriage to an Indonesian is far more interesting than her first to a Kenyan.  It is difficult to forget that Obama has an Asian half-sister.  It is often forgotten, but not by racists, that he has a half-brother, on his father’s side, who looks like him, and who lives in China, where Obama visited him.  

Obama is a cultural symbol to leftist and counter-cultural Germans and French people. Many Africans are sentimentally attached to him.  He proves that the child of a black father and a white mother can become President of the United States.   He is intellectual, although like most Presidents since Woodrow Wilson, he knows that intellectualism is no asset in American political life.   As a former editor of Harvard Law Review, he had to do more than impress an affirmative action officer—he had to win the respect of his fellow students at Harvard. 

I have taught at Harvard, and I can testify that the environment is about as forgiving as a National Football League scrimmage line.  Nobody gets a break at Harvard just for being black.  I presume that the same holds for University of Chicago Law School, an elite institution, which has, as does Harvard, an ample complement of racist guardians, standing at the gate. 

Obama’s intellectual qualifications were reasons enough for me to support Obama in 2008, the symbols of his mother and his wife helped.  Candidly, I am surprised and delighted that he has begun to talk a little more like a New Deal Democrat, so I remain convinced that I should vote for him a second time.  But I shall not deny that his mixed and cosmopolitan ethno-racial background adds an important symbolic weight to his presence that tips the scales in his favor.  I can honestly say that I did not vote for him solely because he is a black man.   My relationships with, and attitudes toward, highly intelligent American women, white and black, strongly affected my decision.

posted 11 May 2011 

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The 'Singular Woman' Who Raised Barack Obama

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#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
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A Singular Woman

The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother

By Janny Scott

Award-winning reporter Janny Scott interviewed nearly two hundred of Dunham's friends, colleagues, and relatives (including both her children), and combed through boxes of personal and professional papers, letters to friends, and photo albums, to uncover the full breadth of this woman's inspiring and untraditional life, and to show the remarkable extent to which she shaped the man Obama is today.

Dunham's story moves from Kansas and Washington state to Hawaii and Indonesia. It begins in a time when interracial marriage was still a felony in much of the United States, and culminates in the present, with her son as our president- something she never got to see. It is a poignant look at how character is passed from parent to child, and offers insight into how Obama's destiny was created early, by his mother's extraordinary faith in his gifts, and by her unconventional mothering. Finally, it is a heartbreaking story of a woman who died at age fifty-two, before her son would go on to his greatest accomplishments and reflections of what she taught him.

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Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History

By Wilson Jeremiah Moses

In  Afrotopia Wilson J. Moses boldly challenges both the proponents and critics of Afrocentrism, Egyptocentrism, and multiculturalism . . . With verve and vision [he] energizes Black intellectual discourse, exploding its myths and romance and exposing weaknesses and strengths in the works of many black and white scholars, pundits, and polemics . . . an accessible and important study of Black intellectual traditions by one of the major historians in the modern academy."Darlene Clark Hine, coauthor of A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America

Afrotopia is a book that helped me to clear away some of the cobwebs of racial thought and imaginings, especially regarding Afrocentrism and other mythic views carried around in the heads of even the most enlightened black intellectuals. I thank God often for the wit and critical humor of Wilson Jeremiah Wilson. This book will never get old.Rudolph Lewis, Editor ChickenBones: A Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 7 April 2012




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