Monday, May 12, 2008

Racist Politics Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.

It is clear that Barack Obama is poised to become the Democratic nominee for president, making a historic run as the first African American to be nominated by a major party in U.S. History. It is also clear that the Democrats are in a great position to win in November, given how atrociously the Bush administration has performed over the last 7 years. Yet, there is one key issue that could derail Obama's historic run, and it is the age old bugaboo in American politics, RACE. This is a real problem only made worse by Hillary and Bill Clinton's coded exploitation of the issue throughout the campaign, as well as their more recent overt appeals to racism since the Indiana/North Carolina primaries. Think I am making a mountain out of a molehill? Check out these essays:

• Bob Herbert (NYTimes), "Hillary's Grotesque Insult to African-Americans"

Herbert writes that the Clinton's exploitation of the divisive race card is "a grotesque insult to African-Americans, who have given so much support to both Bill and Hillary over the years." He also asserts that "it's an insult to white voters as well, including white working-class voters. It's true that there are some whites who will not vote for a black candidate under any circumstance. But the United States is in a much better place now than it was when people like Richard Nixon, George Wallace and many others could make political hay by appealing to the very worst in people, using the kind of poisonous rhetoric that Senator Clinton is using now... to deliberately convey the idea that most white people -- or most working-class white people -- are unwilling to give an African-American candidate a fair hearing in a presidential election is a slur against whites." He concludes, "The Clintons should be ashamed of themselves. But they long ago proved to the world that they have no shame."

• Perhaps more distrubing is this recent article from the Washington Post detailing the overt racism faced by Obama volunteers in Indiana. The piece is by Kevin Merida and is titled, "Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause."

Merida recounts,
In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into "a horrible response," as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.

"The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive."

For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

Later, he offers another story: "Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: 'It wasn't pretty.' She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: 'Hang that darky from a tree!'"

Or this one: "Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across 'a lot of racism' when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: 'White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people.'"

Or this one: "On Election Day in Kokomo, a group of black high school students were holding up Obama signs along U.S. 31, a major thoroughfare. As drivers cruised by, a number of them rolled down their windows and yelled out a common racial slur for African Americans, according to Obama campaign staffers."

Or this one: "The bigotry has gone beyond words. In Vincennes, the Obama campaign office was vandalized at 2 a.m. on the eve of the primary, according to police. A large plate-glass window was smashed, an American flag stolen. Other windows were spray-painted with references to Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other political messages: 'Hamas votes BHO' and 'We don't cling to guns or religion. Goddamn Wright.'" After photographing the vandalism, one local Obama supporter tried to put an optimistic spin on the incident: "'The pictures represent what we are breaking through and overcoming,' he said. As the farmer, who is white, sees it, Obama is succeeding despite these incidents. Later, there would be bomb threats to three Obama campaign offices in Indiana, including the one in Vincennes, according to campaign sources."

Or this one: "Gillian Bergeron, 23, was in charge of a five-county regional operation in northeastern Pennsylvania. The oldest member of her team was 27. At Scranton's annual Saint Patrick's Day parade, some of the green Obama signs distributed by staffers were burned along the parade route. That was the first signal that this wasn't exactly Obama country. There would be others."

Or this one: "In a letter to the editor published in a local paper, Tunkhannock Borough Mayor Norm Ball explained his support of Hillary Clinton this way: 'Barack Hussein Obama and all of his talk will do nothing for our country. There is so much that people don't know about his upbringing in the Muslim world. His stepfather was a radical Muslim and the ranting of his minister against the white America, you can't convince me that some of that didn't rub off on him. No, I want a president that will salute our flag, and put their hand on the Bible when they take the oath of office.'"

Or this one: "Karen Seifert, a volunteer from New York, was outside of the largest polling location in Lackawanna County, Pa., on primary day when she was pressed by a Clinton volunteer to explain her backing of Obama. 'I trust him,' Seifert replied. According to Seifert, the woman pointed to Obama's face on Seifert's T-shirt and said: 'He's a half-breed and he's a Muslim. How can you trust that?'"

• Or, over at the New Yorker, George Packer recently penned a brief piece, titled, "The Race In Eastern Kentucky."

He writes, "'East of Lexington she’ll carry seventy per cent of the primary vote,” J.K. Patrick, a Clinton supporter, said. Kentucky votes on May 20. “She could win the general election in Kentucky.” I asked about Obama. “Obama couldn’t win.”

Why not?

“Race,” Patrick said matter-of-factly. “I’ve talked to people—a woman who was chair of county elections last year, she said she wouldn’t vote for a black man.” Patrick said he wouldn’t vote for Obama either.

Why not?

“Race. I really don’t want an African-American as President. Race.”

What about race?

“I thought about it. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion. After 1964, you saw what the South did.” He meant that it went Republican. “Now what caused that? Race. There’s a lot of white people that just wouldn’t vote for a colored person. Especially older people. They know what happened in the sixties. Under thirty—they don’t remember. I do. I was here.”

Packer goes on, "Everyone knows that race is a factor in Obama’s low vote among older whites, though reporters say that no one will admit it personally. In Eastern Kentucky, people (and not just J. K. Patrick) admit it personally, without hesitation or apology. It’s impossible to say how much this has affected the primary or will affect the fall election. For voters like those I met in Inez, the objection to Obama has nothing to do with Reverend Jeremiah Wright or, God knows, Bill Ayers. There’s nothing Obama can do about it. He can’t even mention it."

Packer suggests, by way of a conclusion: "Rather than analyzing them [working-class whites] out loud, or pretending to be one of them, [Obama] should speak about the differences (and race is far from the only one) directly, candidly, in the blunt, personal language that made his Philadelphia speech so memorable. He should say that in spite of these differences, in spite of what he doesn’t know about or share in their life, he knows what Presidential leadership can do to improve their lives—as did Roosevelt, who was an aristocrat, and Kennedy, who was rich and Catholic. It’s a tall order. But Obama has a serious political problem. Until now, he and his supporters have either denied it or blamed it on his opponents. It’s not his fault, but it is his burden, and the way to begin lightening the load is to admit that it exists."

Welcome to America, everyone...

UPDATE: Another example of the loving, compassionate spirit that pervades white America when it comes to Barack Obama:

This racist shirt, which obviously trades in age-old stereotypes of black Americans, is being sold by what is described as an "ultra-conservative" tavern owner in an increasingly multicultural area of Marietta, Georgia. Here is the article.

No comments:

Post a Comment