Monday, January 7, 2008

Is America Finally Ready for a Black President?

I don't normally bother toying around with such inane topics, but in the wake of Iowa I figured it's at least timely. With Barry Obama winning Iowa and New Hampshire looking like a chip shot, my old friends on conservative radio have been kicking around the "Is America ready for a black President?" question. Of course when we say "America", we mean White folks, because real Americans don't need to be referenced with hyphens.

I frequently listen to Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Michael Savage and the like, not because I agree with their points of view (I clearly don't), nor because I find them particularly entertaining (they aren't). No, I usually listen for the callers, because if you want the uncut raw, and a somewhat "behind the scenes" view of "how they talk behind closed doors", you need look no further. A wise man once said, "Know thy enemies". I don't know if that was Sun Tzu or Young Jeezy, but I'm sure you get the point.

Anyways, caller after caller chimed in with all sorts of opinions, some predictable ("I wouldn't vote for a black man unless he was a conservative"), some stupid ("No, because we can't afford 4 years of Jesse Jackson"), some downright frightening ("No, he would try to give other blacks reparations."). The litany of views (mostly negative overall, which is predictable for Conservatives) gave me enough insight to firmly conclude that NO, most of America isn't ready for a black President. The question is, how much of "this America" is willing to vote against him should it come down to it.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 69% of Whites said America was ready, while only 47% of Blacks agreed. I think these numbers belie black America's overall pessimistic view of the state of the country. I'm not white, so I can't really tell you what that 69% number means. Enlighten me if you feel so.

When I was growing up, I often heard my parents lament that they'd never likely see a Black President in their lifetimes. I have more or less agreed as well, although "Run, Jesse Run!" was exciting stuff for an elementary school aged AverageBro, we all knew it could never really happen. Al Sharpton's campaign was little more than a charade (which worked) to elevate him above Jackson in the media's eye as "Black America's PR Guy". (It didn't hurt that Al also snitched secretly told the media about Jesse's lovechild.) Carole Mosely Braun's run is best remembered for her colorful scarves and lack of a perm. Alan Keyes is still in it, but I'm sure you probably didn't even know he was running in the first place. Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas jokingly announced his intentions last year, which obviously shouldn't be taken seriously, but he probably has a better shot than Keyes.

These folks had a collective snowball's chance. Conversely, as the numbers continue to roll in, Obama appears to be more and more legit by the day.

Iowa was eye-opening for many reasons, mostly because it seemed to dispel the notion that a largely white state (Iowa is only 3% black) wouldn't get behind a black candidate. While it's easy to understand why Obama, who is more of a centrist, did better than his predecessors, who ran mostly "black campaigns", it's still fascinating that his campaign seemed to transcend race.

In short, apparently SOME of America IS ready for a black President, or at least ready to vote for someone based on merit without being sidetracked by their race. What's changed?

A recent Washington Post article seemed to reach for something I hadn't considered before. Yes, Obama is qualified, which certainly helps. And sure, there's probably some element of white guilt at play here as well. But the Post article also posited that recent successes of blacks in other areas of leadership and achievement are making the concept of a brotha in charge more palatable. Tony Dungy coached last year's Super Bowl Champions. Lovie Smith coached the runners up. Dick Parsons and Stanley O'Neal ran Fortune 500 companies. Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx won Oscars. Will Smith rules the Box Office. And of course there was the very visible President Palmer on the popular TV series 24 (although that one didn't exactly end well). Could the cumulative effect of these very visible successes subconsciously make Whites more comfortable with the idea of blacks in charge? I'm not saying I agree, with it's something to ponder at least.

Either way, I'd like to hear your feedback: Is America truly ready to elect a qualified Black President?

Cast your vote early and often, you know where.

The Steepest Climb [WaPost]

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