Political Prisoners

The Outsider’s Road Within

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

It should surprise no one that the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama has evoked such fascination. Not least because of his presumed outsider status as a man of (at least partial) African descent.

It is this racial inheritance that accounts, to a considerable degree, for the fascination among both Blacks and whites posed by his candidacy.

But, as ever in America, race often hides as much as it reveals. For, if Barack is an outsider to the American body politic because of his blackness, he is too an outsider to much of Black America precisely because of his direct East African heritage, one unleavened and unmitigated by the 500 years of Black bondage, resistance, repression and rebellion that is at the very heart of African-American experience and identity.

Indeed, it is this very outsider stance that allows so many of us, Black and white, to project upon him so much of what has been encapsulated in his ubiquitous campaign of “hope” and “change.”

In this sense, Obama is a double-talker, and as such he has had to work out his own way into what being Black in America really means.

His somewhat unique outsider status reminds us of the uniqueness of another great outsider who became the consummate insider—Napoleon Bonaparte. Consider this; imagine a man born on the Italian-speaking island of Corsica in 1789; by the time he was 30 he was named First Consul (or dictator) of France. In five years he was emperor of a vast French empire.

My point isn’t to malign Obama as a dictator-in-waiting. It’s to show an example of how an outsider (with incredible ambition) becomes the ultimate insider.

When Napoleon was a boy in military school in France, his fellow students ridiculed him and made fun of him—not because of height (as might be expected)—but because of his Corsican accent, which marked him as an outsider. Napoleon eventually became more French than the French, and today, by virtue of his brilliance, his French nationalism and military exploits in the field during the erection of the empire, he is regarded as one of the greatest Frenchmen who’s ever lived.

Obama as a boy in Indonesia was made fun of because of his kinky hair (not to mention his slightly darker complexion), which marked him as an outsider. What does that mean in his formation of a sense of self?

We don’t really know, but as Sigmund Freud reminds us, “the child is father to the man.”

When Obama speaks (especially in his post-primary incarnation) one hears a profound nationalism. He has spoken in the past of an American history that many of us know has never actually existed. It has forced him to denounce a man he once knew, admired and respected (here I speak, of course, of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright) for making whites uncomfortable by speaking ugly truths about American history, at home and abroad.

Is this but the necessary shifts occasioned by the nasty game of politics?

Or is it the road occasioned by one being an outsider, making that transition to the consummate insider?

Time will tell., July 12, 2008