Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Crossroads

The Distinguished Senator from Illinois, pictured here givin' them bitches the Heisman

Okay. He's comfortably ahead (in fact, no candidate with this much of a lead this close to the election has lost.) The economy is in shambles. Gas prices, although dropping of late, are still too damned high. The War in Iraq is little more than an albatross around the neck of the current administration. McCain is belligerent, dithering, and has foolishly saddled himself with an imbecilic hockey mom. Virginia, a safe Republican stronghold for decades, is suddenly up for grabs. Conservatives, having seen Bush run roughshod over their small government sensibilities for the past eight years, are disillusioned, and dislike McCain more than they do Obama. It's a perfect storm. Never before in the history of the American politic has the incumbent party won an election with this many things going against it. And Barack? He's been at the center of one of the most beautifully choreographed campaigns I've ever seen. He hasn't fallen for any of the race-baiters who've attempted to lure the Angry Black Man out of hiding. He's clean. They've been digging for close to a year and haven't produced anything but a "connection" to a terrorist when he was eight years old (contrast this with Palin - who's many shortcomings were exposed about 24 hours after she was selected.) Further, Obama has far greater temperament, charisma, and intelligence than his opponent. He appears to be the right man at the right time. November 4, 2008 is a wrap, right? So why am I still disquieted?

I don't know, folks. I'm just not certain that Obama can win this election. Frankly, I don't think that white Americans have the intestinal fortitude to overlook their racist preconceptions and vote for an African-American for President. After all, there's a great deal at stake for them. Americans, in general, define themselves by how much better they're doing than everyone else. White Americans, in particular, having long bought in to the idea that they are the racial cream of the crop, define themselves by how much better they're doing than minorities. Admittedly, over the course of the last few decades, white Americans have had to grudgingly acknowledge that they're losing ground, particularly to Asians. Asian-American students score significantly higher marks in math and science than their white counterparts. In reaction to this, many whites have comforted themselves by perpetuating the belief that all Asian high-achievers are somehow miserable and lack the ability to enjoy themselves. Since this is a trade off that most whites are willing to make, they are still able to view themselves favorably (not to mention the fact that they still accurately see themselves as the gatekeepers of corporate America). Crisis averted. Yet, while Asian academic superiority has given whites pause, a black man in the White House might send them into a complete self-evaluative tailspin.

Given the history of this country, no matter how poorly they're doing, I'm convinced that whites take comfort in the idea that at least they're doing better than black folks. When whites see other whites driving more expensive cars and living in better neighborhoods than they, they see their own potential. When whites see minorities, especially black folks, living better than they, they start in with all kinds of bizarre, racist rationalizations. They reckon that the successful black person must be a professional athlete or a drug dealer, or just plain lucky. Surely it can't be because the black person is educated and hard working. There must be some sort of trickery afoot. We saw this at play with regard to Obama himself, whose unflappable demeanor has been described by his white opponents as "slick," and who's eloquence has been characterized as "smooth talk." This attempt to transform a remarkable attribute - Obama's superior ability to inspire - into a detriment has resonated with whites at least partially because of his blackness. Surely, they think, a black man can't have that much of an edge over a white man. For these whites, black success must be regarded with suspicion. And in many cases, with jealousy.

Recently, a video has been circulating of a speech given by Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. In the speech, Trumka takes his union brothers and sisters to task for their reluctance to vote for Obama because of the color of his skin. While I admire Trumka for addressing this problem head on, the tragedy is that there was ever a need to give the speech in the first place. Of all the interest groups in the US, unions should be able to immediately recognize what side their bread is buttered on. But therein lies the issue: many of these union members view themselves as white first, and then workers. As a result (just as they did in 1980 and again in '84, albeit for different reasons) they will vote against their own self-interest rather than vote for a black man. Moreover, they can't see that they have a great deal more in common with the average black worker than with a wealthy white person. Their whiteness has clouded their vision like a cataract.

As sickened as I was by overnight sensation 'Joe the Plumber,' I feel that he illustrates wonderfully the psyche of many white Americans. Joe worked himself into a lather about the Obama tax plan. He asked himself why he should be penalized for his success. He worked hard and was entitled to enjoy the fruits of his labor. But here's the thing: Joe was never in danger of being taxed more because he earned over 250K. In fact, when pressed, Joe admitted that he wouldn't earn close to that amount. Joe is all supposition and little substance. But he believes in America, in his innate whiteness, and therefore, in his ability to pull himself up by his bootstraps despite the odds. Even with the weight of the evidence against it, Joe believes that he has more in common with his oppressors than with the poor, the struggling and the black.

Chris Rock once joked that despite the fact that he's rich, none of his white audience members would trade places with him. James Baldwin put if differently. He was bemused by whites who claimed that they couldn't understand "the Negro Problem." Baldwin opined that whites knew that they wouldn't want to be black in this country and that, if they knew that, they knew enough. The progress that has been made over the course of the last 50 years notwithstanding, whites still have a long way to go with regard to their own prejudices. And so, with this election, white America finds itself at the crossroads. November the fourth is as much an exploration of their own shortcomings on race as it is a decision about the next four years. For all of our sakes, I hope they do some much needed soul-searching. I would hate for their shame to be the shame of an entire nation.

Blaxplanation Disclaimer: I am, in NO WAY, saying that whites who support McCain are racist. On the contrary, dyed-in-the-wool Repubs and folks who just flat out like McCain would be remiss in not backing their candidate. This post is meant to address those whites who are swayed to the McCain ticket by Obama's blackness.

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At 11:45 AM , Anonymous b said...

joe was on beloved fox news the other day (mike huckabee has a show there?) and he was taking questions. questions about WHAT? am i the only one of the belief that he says "nigger" twice a day, simply for the sake of posterity? i digress.

why was i watching fox news, you may ask? because i wanted to see just HOW pissed they were about the powell endorsement. god love 'em, they didn't disappoint.

this election is bringing people face to face with the issue that they try like hell to avoid: their own prejudices. shall we discuss the hillary clinton supporters that are now vocal about voting for mccain?

though i am happy and proud that he has made it this far, i am still watchful.

At 9:08 AM , Blogger decade number three said...

Joe was to say the least a BIG disappointment, but not a surprise. To be asking a question that does not pertain to you just for the sake of asking was rediculous.
I too am a little nervous about how America will swing Nov 4. I still stare at the t.v. and think "wow!" I never in my lifetime thought that this would happen. I just hope we seal the deal.

At 8:11 AM , Blogger BLESSD1 said...

I've been asking a lot of folks that I know, what, if any, benefits could they receive from a McCain presidency. Almost all of them, including the conservatives came up with blank stares, or some nonsense such as "a safer America". White america does NOT like being called out on it's hypocrisy, but putting McCain in office, legally or otherwise, would do just that. Excellent post, ACT!

At 12:56 AM , Anonymous Tha L said...

dayum conflict, really good post. made a sista think about a conversation i had just last week with a coworker about the "bradley effect". i too wonder how many white folks will vote for mccain simply because they can't get their finger to press the button for a black man. but even more, i wonder how many black folks will have the same issue. unfortunately, i've seen the signs of this crap in my own family, and it makes me sad.

At 8:45 AM , Blogger Clifton said...

I also am very skeptical of what's going to happen on election night. I haven't been angry about anything in this race until the Joe the Plumber thing started. Like it or not a guy like that represents more of what mainstream thinks America should be. When you have spent your entire life believing in something you will look for any reason to hold on to that. That's why there are so many people who can't admit that Palin is not ready to be vice president. We already seen in 2004 that they are willing to sacrifice for their values.

What I don't think enough of us are paying attention to is that even if he wins, imagine what kind of agenda he will have to maintain to keep them all feeling comfortable enough to vote for him again.


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