Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Audacity Of Blackness

I posed the question "Is America Ready For A Black President?!?" on this blog long ago, and oddly enough it's a post that still gets Googled dozens of times a day[1] and is still frequently commented on 8 months later.

You guys know my answer on this: emphatically maybe.

I say maybe because all Obama needs is the right number of electoral votes and history will be made. But that surely doesn't indicate that America as "ready" for a brotha and sister in the White House, nor does it mean that racism isn't alive and well. Any person of color living and breathing in this country knows that to be true. And it doesn't make these people unpatriotic to state such a sentiment. I too love this country, and if you think about the sacrifice my forefathers made for it, I think I've sorta earned the right to be both proud (because I wouldn't wanna live anywhere else) and critical (because as great a country as it is, it's hardly flawless) as anyone else.

You guys probably also know that I have a huge bone to pick with the media about how race, particularly in terms of this year's political campaigns, has been covered. In short, the mainstream media is either clueless, or hellbent on protecting itself. So, while Black folks (and people of color period) have discussed whether or not Barry's Negro Blood will ultimately be his downfall ad nauseum, it's little surprise that the media has only scratched the surface of this sentiment. Yes, I realize that repeating this same rallying cry 8 times a week is making me look slightly batty. Spare me the comments.

Enter this recent attempt by Slate columnist Jacob Weisberg. As usual, you know I hate overly quoting anyone else's article, but I couldn't decide where to snip here. So...

What with the Bush legacy of reckless war and economic mismanagement, 2008 is a year that favors the generic Democratic candidate over the generic Republican one. Yet Barack Obama, with every natural and structural advantage in the presidential race, is running only neck-and-neck against John McCain, a sub-par Republican nominee with a list of liabilities longer than a Joe Biden monologue. Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums, and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, lacks clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma. Yet at the moment, the two of them appear to be tied. What gives?

If it makes you feel better, you can rationalize Obama's missing 10-point lead on the basis of Clintonite sulkiness, his slowness in responding to attacks, or the concern that Obama may be too handsome, brilliant, and cool to be elected. But let's be honest: If you break the numbers down, the reason Obama isn't ahead right now is that he trails badly among one group, older white voters. He does so for a simple reason: the color of his skin.

Much evidence points to racial prejudice as a factor that could be large enough to cost Obama the election. That warning is written all over last month's CBS/New York Times poll, which is worth examining in detail if you want a quick grasp of white America's curious sense of racial grievance. In the poll, 26 percent of whites say they have been victims of discrimination. Twenty-seven percent say too much has been made of the problems facing black people. Twenty-four percent say the country isn't ready to elect a black president. Five percent of white voters acknowledge that they, personally, would not vote for a black candidate.

Five percent surely understates the reality. In the Pennsylvania primary, one in six white voters told exit pollsters race was a factor in his or her decision. Seventy-five percent of those people voted for Clinton. You can do the math: 12 percent of the Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that it didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American. And that's what Democrats in a Northeastern(ish) state admit openly. The responses in Ohio and even New Jersey were dispiritingly similar.

Such prejudice usually comes coded in distortions about Obama and his background. To the willfully ignorant, he is a secret Muslim married to a black-power radical. Or—thank you, Geraldine Ferraro—he only got where he is because of the special treatment accorded those lucky enough to be born with African blood. Some Jews assume Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel in the way they assume other black politicians to be. To some white voters (14 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll), Obama is someone who, as president, would favor blacks over whites. Or he is an "elitist" who cannot understand ordinary (read: white) people because he isn't one of them. Or he is charged with playing the race card, or of accusing his opponents of racism, when he has strenuously avoided doing anything of the sort. We're just not comfortable with, you know, a Hawaiian.
Preach to the choir, buddy. Preach. Chuch! Tabernacle. If I didn't know any better, I'd think I'd written this op-ed a million times already myself.

This being America and all, other media outlets picked up the story and immediately flipped it to diffuse Weisberg's argument, but what else do you expect? We're supposed to pretend we're post-racial. That people only "see the person, not the skin". That we are colorblind and raise our kids as such.

Those are the rules. The media cannot deviate from them. And when it does (as in Weisberg's faulty, but generally spot-on case), it's up to the rest of the media to check them, just in the interest of restoring equilibrium.

That's the really funny thing about folks who claim the media is in the tank for Obama, simply because they talk about him more. Apparently none of these folks notice the obvious. There's nothing about McCain (except his negative attacks) that's newsworthy. And a solid 75% of Obama's media coverage carries this same quest for "equilibrium". The net result is a big headache, at least for me.

So, where does that leave the person of color whose PoV is seldom, if ever given an grand stage like CNN, The Wall Street Journal, or (God forbid) Fox News?

Writing a blog, of course.

Yep, it's about time for another of those Media Fasts. Ya'll better be happy with heaping doses of We Owned The 80's and C.Y.I.N. Case Study. Cause is about to fall waaay back from this election stuff in a second.

Question: If (when?) Obama loses, how much can/will this be attributed to his race? Is there anything he can possibly do to avoid this inevitable fate come November 4th?

If Obama Loses, Racism is the only reason McCain might beat him. [Salon]

[1] Then again, so are the terms "Lisa Lisa big boobs" and "SuperManning That Ho". So this might not mean anything.

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