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Creating a nonprofit to raise funds for a school that Obama allegedly ignored seems like political theater, but Ochieng tells L.A. Weekly, “It’s not a political stunt.” Ochieng is ambivalent about whether her efforts could hurt Obama. “I go back and forth on it,” she says. “If he made a promise and he didn’t keep it, that makes him look bad on his own. I can’t control what people do with this information.” (The Obama campaign has not responded to a Weekly request for comment.)
Obama’s crossover appeal to black conservatives such as former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts has not extended to Baldilocks. She has excoriated fellow black conservatives for “abandoning” their principles to go with skin color. Considering that blacks are the most reliable Democratic voting bloc — at times monolithically voting 90 percent Democrat — her stance isn’t an easy one.
“She’s walking a tight line,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political independent and frequent contributor to Los Angeles op-ed pages. “The backlash is withering from African-Americans if you say anything negative about Obama. I know it. I’ve experienced it myself for being critical of him at times. I’ve gotten hate e-mail. The venom. The hate.” Adds Hutchinson, “The name-calling is endless.”
Echoing him, black blogger Michael Bower of Conservativebrotherhood.org says that among blacks, “it’s tougher to be a critic of Obama than a supporter.”
Yet by virtue of their identical life stories — that is, until Obama went to the Ivy League, while Ochieng was drawn to the military — Baldilocks is also a reluctant defender of Obama against what she calls unfair attacks. That’s a difficult line to push in the blogosphere, where the right-wing fringe can come alive with overt racism. Last December, the blogosphere was abuzz with false smears: Obama is a Muslim. He attended a madrasah.
In her blog post “Warning to the Right,” Ochieng wrote: “I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of the insinuations about Senator Barack Obama because his dead father was a Muslim. I’m tired of the insinuations about his middle name — Hussein — and the racist/bigoted insinuations that I’ve seen on the right that flow from there.”
Added Ochieng, “I was raised a Muslim also ... but things change.”
She speaks from experience. Long ago, Ochieng, her mom and her stepfather converted to Christianity, abandoning the Nation of Islam. Today, her stepfather is a Methodist preacher. And until the 2000 presidential election, Baldilocks was a Democrat.
There is irony in this: As much as she dislikes Obama’s left-of-center politics and worries about his meteoric rise, she has benefited in a personal way: Media coverage of Obama’s family unearthed information that gave her a window into her own, muddied origins.
Like Barack Sr., her father, Philip Ochieng, was one of Kenya’s 81 best students, flown to America in 1959 during what was called the Mboya Airlift to study at U.S. universities and, it was then hoped, return to build their Kenyan homeland. The flight was financed by Martin Luther King Jr., Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson, Harry Belafonte and others.
Ochieng knew nothing of this. She has never met her father, now a writer in Africa. “I owe my existence to them,” she says of the airlift’s prominent financiers.
So does Barack Obama. But for Baldilocks, their links fall apart in real time. From her modest home in South-Central she has launched a small effort for a village she has never seen. If she embarrasses a presidential candidate she doesn’t support, and earns the enmity of the black community, so be it.
Reach the writer at email@example.com.
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