Politics & Society

Protecting Barack: Is Obama a Target for Harm?

Obama greets crowd

Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters in Springfield, Illinois following his February 2007 announcement that he would seek the Democratic nomination for President. Getty Images hide caption

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Lee, here ...

Our top conversation today was a difficult one to have.

Since Senator Barack Obama even looked like he might run for president, there's been this chatter about whether he'd be harmed. For instance, I have an aunt (we'll just call her Aunt G.), who thinks well of Obama — she finds him competent to lead, she appreciates his politics, what appears to be a solid family life (she adores Michelle Obama) and the historical significance of his campaign. ... But, she also lived through the 1960s and through, in just a ten year period, the assassination of four massively influential leaders — John F. Kennedy ('63), Malcolm X ('65), the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. ('68) and Robert Kennedy ('68). All of the men mobilized people to thought and action, and offered messages of inspiration in different sociological contexts. The weight of Obama, at some point or another, has been mentioned in relation to all four of those men.

Aunt G. refused to vote for Barack Obama, the candidate she clearly favors. She seems to believe she's doing him, his wife Michelle and young daughters a favor.

I shared that story with a few others, and found that Aunt G.'s reasoning is not at all unique. The truth is, there are many strong feelings out there about a black man's prospects of 1) winning the Democratic nomination, 2) winning the presidency and 3) doing all of the above and walking away with his life.

Today, we talked to U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. We also checked in with Mark Potok whose job it is to monitor the activity of hate groups and extremists (just when I thought my days were stressful) as Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. Thompson and Potok offered insight that you might find enlightening. ... But, like I said, it was also a difficult conversation to have, so I can't guarantee that the listening experience will leave you smiling. I can, however, hope that you will walk away knowing a little bit more about the gritty realities of the world we live in. Racism is far from expunged from American culture.

Curious to hear from you ...

Are these sentiments of "concern" only held within African American communities? ... Do other groups think this way about Obama?

And what about Senator Hillary Clinton, who'd also be a "first" if her campaign is successful through November? ... Or others who dare to break through traditionally marble ceilings?

Please, tell us more on where you come out on this.



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Interesting interview with the Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that appears to have every NOI mosque in the country on its list of hate groups. Farai won't like that!


Forget the marble ceiling for a minute. I finished William Jelani Cobb's essay collection, "The Devil and Dave Chappelle." The history is solid and his opinions, which often run contrary to the conventional wisdom, are informed by African American culture, not some anachronistic ideology from forty years ago, as in the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar book. Thanks.

Sent by Mike | 8:09 PM | 2-27-2008

Dear Michel,

I LOVED your interview with Simba Sana about Karibu books yesterday. I almost started crying I was so inspired. What a wise man! I think his advice about love and relationships in buisness is so true. I have spent time working/living in bookstores - Shakespeare & Company in Paris which is owned by 94 year old George Whitman and Atlantis Books on the island of Santorini in Greece which was started by a group of 20 something friends. Both bookstores are so magical to me. Someday I hope to start my own bookstore and I will always remember your interview. One thing that struck me is the incredible joy that the bookstore brought to Mr. Sana's life, but at the same time his ability to realize with acceptance and humility that it was over. I find this to be true among all the bookstore owners I know and respect.

Thank you!

Sent by Claire Kelley | 12:03 PM | 2-28-2008

The thought definetely ran through my mind. And, then I went to see Vantage Point this past weekend and the thought resurfaced. But, I voted for Obama and will continue to vote for him because I believe in him, his politics and in what he could do for this country and the world. So, I pray for him, his family and for their protection.
Frederick Douglass once said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning." You raised the question, "Is Obama a target for harm"? Of course he is. We (including your Aunt G) have considered this point because it is a valid concern. This is our struggle. Yet, my desire to see change in this nation and this country mobilized through a sincere spirit of hope outweighs any fear I may have for his life and well being. And, that my friend is the progress...YES WE CAN!

Sent by P. Umunna | 1:40 PM | 2-28-2008

I think it's a generation thing thinking Obama is subject to an assasination attempt. I was excited to see a different breed when Obama declared himself a candidate for President and the thought of him being a target never crossed my mind until I was hanging out with family almost a year ago.

When Obama came on the TV screen shaking hands with folks on the campaign trail, I looked to my Goddaughter's Dad and asked these exact words: "you think he has a shot (I meant a shot at the candidacy)?" He thought about it for a little while and said "yeah he's gonna get shot." Of course I told him that's not what I meant, which he said he knew what I said but he's lived longer than I have.

We had a spirited debate afterwards but he felt no matter how advanced from the civil rights movement we've come some things still remain the same. Well, I choose not to be motivated by fear.

Sent by Moji | 4:58 PM | 2-28-2008

I have to agree with Senator Thompson on the idea that just talking about harming Mr. Obama and getting people too afraid to support him is a tactic being used. What I am afraid of is an attempt, successful or not, is made. This could/would set off very negative events across the US and confirm the beliefs of many in the US and across the world that for all its talk the Americans are not as progressive and forward thinking as we say we are.
Then there are the conspiracy theorist.

Sent by Eric | 5:20 PM | 2-28-2008

My mom, (we're white) ended up voting for Barack Obama, but she was pretty vocal that she was worried about this very thing. Seeing it here surprised me a bit.

So I'd have to say no to it only being contained to african-americans. As for the chances? I guess I'd have to trust the secret service.

Sent by Jason | 8:18 PM | 2-28-2008

I am still waiting for the Obama
technological agenda that speak to
the almost 0% of African Americans
in the fields of extreme physics
and mathematical technology.WILL this
issue ever be addressed in this
presidential season.MR. Obama and
the black community refuse to touch
this topic.I wonder why?

Sent by jerry a. Myers | 4:04 PM | 2-29-2008


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