Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Yesterday: What Obama Means by Jabari Asim

If timing is everything, Jabari Asim, formerly an editor at The Washington Post and currently editor-in-chief of The Crisis -- the magazine of the NAACP -- has it all figured out.

The author of 2007’s The N Word: Who Say It, Who Shouldn’t and Why approaches Barack Obama’s new presidency from a cultural perspective in What Obama Means: For Our Culture, Our Politics, and Our Future (William Morrow). Asim uses his talent, his training and his observations about his own culture to help understand how we came to this point and where we might expect to go from here. It’s a thoughtful and enjoyable ride. You might not agree with everything that Asim posits, but he states his various cases eloquently and he writes so well, it’s enjoyable to follow him on this journey of thought:
With the heyday of Parisian exile long gone and journeys back to Africa exposed as mostly implausible, race men and women have nowhere else to go. There are too many bodies in the earth, and you can’t, as Toni Morrison once wrote, just up and leave a body. Those bones belong to the land, the land belongs to us, and we don’t need to wear lapel pins to prove it.
Asim is a wonderful writer, sure. But he’s also something of a philosopher and, on moving with him through his thoughts on how this moment in history became possible, it’s enjoyable to follow his mental calisthenics.

Did Michael Jordan’s success in the NBA contribute to Obama’s successful run at the White House? How about Sidney Poitier’s Academy Award and Michael Jackson’s Thriller? Now me, I would not have made those connections and, having read What Obama Means, I’m still not sure I’m convinced. But these are engaging mental exercises for this moment in time. Asim has written an entertaining, enlightening and thought-provoking book. Students of contemporary culture will want to put it near the top of their lists.

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