Tucker Carlson hosted all-white panel of journalists to discuss "Obama's blackness"

Video ››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

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On the August 8 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, an all-white group discussed an upcoming forum at a National Association of Black Journalists convention that will address, according to the convention program -- as quoted by The Washington Post -- the question Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "cannot seem to shake -- is he black enough? Is this an unfair question? What is the measure of blackness and who gets to decide?" Host Tucker Carlson asked A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter: "What exactly do people mean when they talk about Obama's quote, "blackness"? ... I'm not even sure what that question means. I know that it makes me uncomfortable and it strikes me as unfair, but what does it mean?" Carlson, who is white, devoted a full segment of his show -- more than six minutes -- to the issue of Obama's racial identity and the effect of stereotypes on his bid for the presidency with Stoddard and Alter, two white journalists.

During the discussion, Stoddard said Obama "is biracial, and he's an immigrant, and he went to Harvard, and many black people in America don't see themselves in him." In fact, Obama, whose father was a native of Kenya, was born in Honolulu.

Later in the discussion, Carlson asserted that Obama "could just as easily identify as white" and added that "if he made that decision, the left would jump on him."

From the August 8 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: It's a question that no other presidential candidate has had to face ever: Is he black enough? That question continues to nag Barack Obama's quest for the Democratic nomination.

This week, a meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists will confront the very topic. The conversation comes before Obama addresses that group on Friday. What exactly do people mean when they talk about Obama's quote, "blackness"? Is it a fair question? Is it an understandable reflection of American society, or is it a racist jab by its very existence?

Joining us again to discuss it, associate editor of The Hill A.B. Stoddard and Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter. A.B., I'm not even sure what that question means. I know that it makes me uncomfortable and it strikes me as unfair, but what does it mean?

STODDARD: I don't know that it's so offensive so much as it is unanswerable. I mean, it's -- Obama's blackness is an intangible. If he wins the nomination and wins the presidency, we will never know if he was black enough to be the first black president.

It's just one of those things that -- you look at [New Mexico Gov.] Bill Richardson [D]. He's not necessarily the dream candidate of the Latino community. [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY] is not the ultimate female candidate. [Former Sen.] John Edwards [D-NC], not the ultimate Southern candidate. Barack Obama is black when [Sen.] Joe Biden [D-DE] calls him clean-cut and articulate. He's black when he throws out those lines about hailing cabs in Manhattan.

At the same time, he is biracial, and he's an immigrant, and he went to Harvard, and many black people in America don't see themselves in him. It's just to me -- it's not that it can't be asked, but I don't think it can be answered.

CARLSON: Yeah, I think that's a fair point. I mean, I actually think it's an academic question, Jon. I think it's a fair question. I mean, there's -- no question is really an unfair question academically, but there's an implication behind it that I guess bothers me, that he isn't -- that there's something about the culture of achievement that he's been immersed in since he was young that is somehow not authentically black. And I think that implication is really corrosive.

ALTER: I agree with that. I don't like the question. It makes me uncomfortable, and I think it doesn't really contribute to the debate.

CARLSON: But wait, hold on. Have you noticed that he take takes more grief from black people than from anyone else?

ALTER: Well, actually that's --

CARLSON: The New York Times account of his years in the legislature, it wasn't Klansmen who were going after him, it was black legislators who were asking this exact question of him in an insulting way.

ALTER: But wait a minute. Wait a minute. It's very interesting what happened here in Illinois, where I am today. Initially, a lot of African-Americans in Chicago asked that question about him. He lost a race for the House in part because he wasn't seen as black enough in that congressional district. He lost to [Rep.] Bobby Rush [D-IL].

But then over time, he has amassed more and more African-American support, where now, it's got to be up in the 90s in Chicago among those who know him. In other words, there's really nobody among people who have gotten to know him well enough who asks that question about him anymore here. Maybe there are a few people, but it's not really a pertinent question.

It's mostly columnists and commentators in the rest of the country who are asking it, and some black folks who don't know him very well who are asking it. But I think the question is going to recede in importance as time goes on. And if he does go ahead and wins the nomination, which is still a distinct possibility, then the question will be, for a lot of people, an even more uncomfortable one and with much deeper roots in American history, which is, "Is he too black to be president?" And certain, you know, whites who could never in the past have imagined themselves voting for an African-American will be wrestling with that question in a general election.

CARLSON: Yeah, and I bet -- my instinct is a lot -- he will get a lot of white votes if he is, in fact, the nominee.

A.B. this raises the, I think, broader question of, you know, what does it mean to be a black American? I mean, there are thousands upon thousands of black immigrants from Africa to this country every year. They are black, but they share almost nothing in common with any American's culture, right? So I think the definition is changing in ways that we don't acknowledge. It's not 1967 anymore, it's 19 -- it's two-thou-- whatever. It's 40 years later.


STODDARD: Shouldn't we acknowledge that?

STODDARD: Yeah, and I just don't think that burden should fall on Barack Obama.


STODDARD: That he's not African-American, but he's African, but he's American but, but, but. I mean, he's married to a black woman, he goes to a black church. And, as Jonathan said, there will come a time, if he's the nominee, about whether or not he's too black to be elected president.

[Revs.] Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn't get all the black votes when they ran. The Democratic contenders who were white who beat them did. Clearly, getting all the black votes -- which Obama, by the way, is gaining in that voting bloc on Hillary Clinton, and they're, I think, kind of neck to neck now. But, you know, does that mean that he's going to be the black candidate?

It's such a strange question, too, when you look at his candidacy, people say, "Do black people just want to vote for him because that will help them later, or do black people want to vote for him because they see themselves in him?" I mean, it's diff-- you know, those are two separate questions.

CARLSON: Right. It is --

STODDARD: And then when you get to, "Is he African or African-American or just American?" I mean, it's just ridiculous, really.

CARLSON: Well, it is ridiculous, and it would be -- Jonathan, we're almost out of time, but very quickly. Here's a guy whose mother was white, was raised by white people, went to predominantly white schools his whole life. He could just as easily identify as white, and if he did, people would flip out. They would not allow him to identify that way, which tells you something pretty upsetting about American society, in my view.

ALTER: Well, I think, as David Axelrod [Obama's senior media strategist] said, that's really about how society viewed him. He didn't have a lot of choice in that, as he wrote in his book.

CARLSON: Well, he should be allowed to make that decision, but if he made that decision, the left would jump on him.

ALTER: Yes, but that's not the society that we live in, Tucker. And his book is really interesting in the way he grapples with all of this.

Look, the key voting bloc in these primaries that hasn't gotten enough attention: African-American women, which way will they go?

CARLSON: Right. Hillary.

ALTER: Will they identify more with Hillary Clinton or with Barack Obama? It's too early to tell. Many are undecided. I talked to a number before the event last night in Chicago, the debate, and many of those African-American women were torn.

CARLSON: I bet that they go for Hillary, unfortunately. Coming up, we're just minutes away from the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. We'll bring it to you live when we come back.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Tucker Carlson
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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