Sen. Barack Obama greets attendees at the National Association of Black Journalists Conference in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) – Sen. Barack Obama hasn’t been shy about his distaste for circumstances that call for one-liners and sound bites. But sitting among thousands at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention Friday afternoon, it was easy to see why Obama thrives in a setting where he can just talk, up close and personal.
Belying his past job as a law professor, “Professor Obama” appeared relaxed and at ease, engaging in an easygoing discussion on a variety of issues and often joking with moderator Byron Pitts, a national correspondent for CBS.
But then Pitts asked that last question: What gives Obama hope that America is ready for a black president? The room fell eerily silent. The barrage of camera shutters tapered off quickly. The cavernous ballroom was standing room only, a stark contrast to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, who spoke to a half-filled room.
Obama’s blackness has come up plenty of times before. He’s often asked whether he’s “black enough” by the African American community and his stock response – the one he deftly delivered during the CNN-YouTube Democratic Presidential debate – has been to joke that folks never ask that question when he’s trying to catch a cab in New York.
But that was hardly his answer Friday afternoon.
Instead – for the first time in more detail that I’ve ever seen – Obama took the opportunity to get at what he considers the heart of the matter, actually demanding that black journalists themselves are to blame for missing the point. Skin color, his record in public service, the issues – none of this suggests he’s not ‘black enough’ and yet questions over his blackness persist, he put to the crowd of black journalists.
It’s “puzzling,” he said. Why is this?
But the question was rhetorical. Professor Obama then stepped onto the stage, answering his own question, and suggesting that perhaps the real issue is a basic mistrust in black America of a black candidate.
“What it really does is really lay bare, I think, that we’re still locked in this notion that if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong,” he said, adding it’s the same sort of suspicion many blacks face when they attend a predominately white Ivy League institution.
And that’s when he issued this provocative challenge: Instead of asking Obama if he’s black enough, black journalists should dig deeper, and ask why there exists this mistrust in black America of a black man like Obama running for office?
Bottom line: Obama nailed it. The question of his blackness has always been a ridiculous one. And maybe now he won't have to answer it again.
What do you think? I’d like to her hear your opinion in the comments section below.
- CNN contributor Roland Martin