CALL IT the revenge of the nerds. But the black intelligentsia may be on the verge of becoming cool.
No longer the proverbial invisible man, a certain select group of highly educated black folk has emerged from the sidelines and is attracting the kind of media attention and public scrutiny it never has before.
This is being driven not only by the election of Barack Obama but by some of his political picks - Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser; Desiree Rodgers, social secretary; Melody Barnes, Domestic Policy Council; Susan Rice, United Nations ambassador, and Eric Holder, attorney general, among others. When Obama moves into the White House, he will bring along his Harvard Law-educated wife and tight-knit coterie of successful, well-connected friends with similar backgrounds.
The fact that they are the newest members of the "it" crowd is ironic, if you think about it. "When Obama grew up, he was decidedly 'uncool' and later dogged, with complaints, that he 'acted white' (did well in school, stayed married, etc.)," pointed out Jonathan Bean, editor of "Race and Liberty in America" (University Press of Kentucky and The Independent Institute, July 2009). "Instead of 'cool,' what we are seeing is the Revolt of the Squares."
With all this, though, there also comes a certain bias. For instance, Gawker.com ran an item recently that said a New York public-relations firm had been seeking "desirable" black people to invite to holiday parties this year "because the clients believe that President-elect Barack Obama's popularity will make black folks the new, cool, party accessory (as opposed to Scotty dog sweaters or mistletoe)."
I can almost see some poor, misguided intern running around trying to make this happen. I won't rant about how offensive the concept is. I only point it out, as an example of how some folks are reacting.
When I mentioned it to Cornel West, who will be in town Saturday to sign his new book, "Hope on a Tightrope: Words of Wisdom," he shrugged off such silliness saying, "Each new age has its fashion sense and practices."
The real question is, "Are we empowering the least of those? The poor? The working class?" the Princeton University professor asked. "That's the lens through which we have to look at things."
What does he think of Obama's appointments?
"He has got so many recycled Clintonites. It gets me a little suspicious," West said. "We live in serious times. We're handing over a multidimensional mess to our dear brother Barack Obama."
That's not to say West completely dismisses the significance of media exposure on this group of folks who heretofore haven't gotten much attention.
"I think the importance of brother Barack as a brilliant, charismatic black man on television every day for the next four years . . . that's a symbolism beyond measure. Symbols do matter. Many people associate black brothers with basketball and hip-hop," West said. "But the stereotype of entertainers and athletes will be pushed from center stage."
At this point, it remains to be seen what the long-term impact might be. As Rainier Spencer, director of the Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Nevada, wrote in an e-mail yesterday: "Indeed, the jury is still out on whether Obama himself has truly broken the barrier in the way that so many people insist he has, or whether he is merely the latest Tiger Woods - someone who is loved and accepted by white America because white America has constructed a special place of honor and acceptance for him that does not necessarily include any other black people." *
Cornel West will sign copies of "Hope on a Tightrope: Words of Wisdom" from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, Family Life Center, 2800 Cheltenham Ave.