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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


All smiles

Decoding the Debate Over the Blackness of Barack Obama
Published: February 11, 2007

Those of us who were born black in the years just after World War II had front-row seats for the collapse of American apartheid. We started out confined to all-black communities and schools at a time when skin color was still destiny. But as segregation gave way, many of us were vaulted out of this sequestered world and into colleges, jobs and walks of life that had been closed to us pretty much since the nation’s founding.

The rush of upward mobility produced the inevitable identity crisis, which led in turn to endless discussions about the meaning of blackness in a world where skin color was beginning to matter less and less.

At their best, these discussions, held in college dorm rooms at night, were probing, serious and heartfelt. At their worst, they turned into lectures by the race police — ’60s-era ideologues who characterized blackness not as a matter of individual interpretation or choice, but as a narrow set of attitudes and experiences that were said to make up the authentic black identity.

Back then, black Americans who came from successful, suburban and upwardly mobile families were regularly dismissed as white or inauthentic. The authentic black experience, it was said at the time, was limited to the hard-core, impoverished upbringing that black people often chose to brag about, even when they had actually grown up with private prep schools in the lap of luxury.

The race police ran rampant in the black community itself, but were rarely heard in the white world. But they have been parading up and down Main Street since Senator Barack Obama of Illinois — the son of a black African father and a white American mother — made clear that he intended to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

The arguments being raised about Mr. Obama’s blackness — or his lack of blackness — seem positively antique at a time when Americans are moving away from the view of ancestry as a central demographic fact and toward a view that dispenses with those traditional boundaries. Even so, the complaints about Mr. Obama provide an interesting opportunity to examine the passing of the old and the rise of the new.

First, he has no civil rights track record and got savaged at Tavis Smiley's state of the black nation for holding his announcement in Springfield to honor Lincoln, who was a racist who wanted to ship blacks back to Africa.

Second, he actually has to get the votes of white voters. They say nice things now, but the Bradley effect is still in play.

Third, he has to avoid the fate of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X. It is no guarantee some racist won't try to kill him. I constantly pray that he survives his run. Because given America's track record, that is no lock.

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