Monday, June 9, 2008

Race in the race

I saw two articles today that caught my eye and kind of got my goat.
Behind the Scenes: In Barack Obama Black or Biracial?, and then Racial attitudes pose challenge for Obama.

In the first article, CNN’s Jason Carroll “explores the issue of race” and notes that it is odd for Americans to immediately call Barack Obama “Black” since he is, in reality, equally White. He says that “He may be the nation's first black president, but he would also be the nation's 44th white president.”

According to the article, Obama’s mixed race ancestry is an advantage of sorts. He quotes David Mendell, author of "Obama: From Promise to Power", who believes that “there's an idea of a ‘post-racial’ candidate, a candidate who transcends the labels of race to appeal to all races…” In this context, Obama uses “his own experiences to appeal to both black and white audiences and that has translated into political success.”

Immediately after reading that, I read the contradictory article by Charles Babington, who quotes one white Pennsylvania Democrat woman who—while claiming she won’t vote for Obama because of his lack of experience, not his race—nevertheless says that “I don’t think our country is ready for a Black President…A black man is never going to win Pennsylvania.”

The author quoted another Obama campaigner who called to gather support for Obama. "To me, it was almost a code…'He doesn't wear a flag pin.' It seemed like code for 'He's not one of us.'"

OK, so let’s look at this a little. Shall we?

What gets my goat is that there are people who just can’t get it. When a White person says “I can’t vote for him because he refuses to wear a lapel pin”, what gives a Black listener the right to say, “Ah, that’s code for ‘the dude is black’”? Why isn’t it possible that there are people who see the pattern of Obama’s church as a sign that he harbors deep seated resentment, and manifests that resentment in his choice of church, friends, and decision to not show patriotism? It is not wrong to say “I don’t want to elect a President who doesn’t even like the United States of America.”

I’m not really convinced about the woman who says “I’m not voting for him because of his politics, not because of his race…but our state will never vote black anyway.” Really? Now, that—to me—sounds like the assumption of a person with some serious denial going on.
On the one hand, it appears that Blacks had to overcome their own discriminatory beliefs before they could even support Obama. Remember those days? Back when he wasn’t “Black enough”, when he was defending himself and publicly replying by saying essentially, who gave you the right to question my ‘blackness’? Blacks either thought he was too White, or even if they thought he was “Black enough”, they didn’t think he could actually win, because they assumed that Whitey would never vote for a Black man.

Now, ignore whatever bullshit you read in the press, and just consider the facts: Whitey did vote for Obama, and in record numbers. He beat Hillary in a number of key states where it was White, urban votes that pushed him over the edge.

Let’s look in a new direction: White liberal voters, who tend to be young and well educated, are Obama’s bread and butter. Ask them why they want Obama, and you’ll hear the standard, shallow “change, change, Obama change change the thingy change no more Bush need change yes we can change.”

And I think the key to the White vote is a deep rooted desire to prove: “HEY WE REALLY DID CHANGE!”

Obama’s great strength, as Carroll pointed out, is that he can appeal to both Blacks and Whites. His cool, calm demeanor and his—do I dare say it?—eloquence enable him to convince White liberals and moderates that he is just another “guy next door”. Notice, I didn’t say Black guy next door. Just a guy they could get along with.

And yeah, you know deep down there has to be a kernel of thought that says, “Here is a candidate who is inspiring, intelligent, and yes he is Black, and I’m OK with that. And even if he isn’t very experience, I want to give him the chance, so we can REALLY get this racist legacy off our back!”

Now, you may criticize those White people for their “ulterior motive” of trying to assuage their “White guilt”, but let me ask you: is a good deed that is done in penitence any less valid than one that is done for no other reason?

Of course not. It’s White America’s redemption song.

What is wrong with Black America, that seems to think that if a Black man has a way of getting along with Whites without either offending them, or scaring them, or hurting them, then he must not be Black enough?

If you ask me, it isn’t just WHITE America that needs a little “change change change yes we can change”

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