For a while, it had been so long since there has been a White heavyweight champion in boxing, that any potential challenger (no matter how fringe) was invariably labeled "The Great White Hope." It was an odd mix of patronizing and racist, and I didn't like it (with the rise in dominance of Russian bloc heavyweights, it has become less common). On the flip side, the dearth of truly national Black political figures means that often the punditry will nominate certain Black political figures as the "Great Black Hope," at even the slightest inkling of a national following. This, too, is bad, but for very much opposite reasons--it pigeon-holes even spectacularly talented Black politicians as being there "just because they're Black," thus convienantly bracketing them off and assuring the general population that, no matter what the hype is, they aren't really all that great.
John McWhorter makes precisely this argument with respect to Barack Obama--explicitly labeling him as an example of a "Great Black Hope," who is being overpromoted and for the hype is completely unjustified. He says that if Obama was White, we still wouldn't have heard of him no matter his rhetorical brilliance or crinkly smile. To which Noam Scheiber has a devastating two word rebuttal: John Edwards. Edwards got promoted to the national stage almost as quickly as Obama--VP shortlist after two years in the Senate, Presidential material after three. And, as Scheiber notes, not only does Obama have more political experience than Edwards did going in (State Senator, community organizer, constitutional lawyer), his skills (and I agree, this is not a slap at Edwards) simply dwarfs those of the North Carolinian. Edwards is a good speaker. Obama is breath-taking. Edwards is quite sharp. Obama is jaw-droppingly brilliant. They simply aren't on the same level. When it comes to Barack Obama, the hype is for real. It isn't just because he's Black (although I think that it is an excellent sign when so many White Americans are genuinely excited about having a Black President). It's McWhorter who is being patronizing--he can't even fathom that it might be the man's skills and talents that are exciting us. It has to be his race. McWhorter needs to listen more carefully to the Junior Senator. The hype is there because he's the real deal--the type of face we haven't seen in the halls of congress in a long while.