British Nobel-Prize novelist, Doris Lessing, said that she thinks Senator Barack Obama might be assassinated if elected:
“He would probably not last long, a black man in the position as president. They would kill him.”
She did not indicate who she thought such assassins might be. The public and political reaction has mostly rejected her comments and their implications as “wild” and “fearmongering.”
Lessing probably said what many observers of the revolutionary change of a black man running for U.S. president secretly fear might happen.
Lessing has long been an outspoken feminist and opponent of antiblack racism. She became famous as a fierce critic of European colonialism in Africa, and was attacked for her feminism in her 1960s writings. She was banned as a “prohibited alien” for a long period from South Africa by its apartheid regime.
Her fear that Obama might be targeted is likely conditioned on her awareness of how much violence has targeted U.S. presidents and other U.S. officials in her lifetime.
Her statement seems to many extreme and, as some put it, “fearmongering,” but the U.S. has a four-centuries tradition of whites attacking black Americans. Life under legal segregation for millions of still living African Americans was one of constant white violence (unprosecuted white murderers and other perpetrators are still living too). At least 6,000 lynchings targeting African Americans took place from the 1880s to the present. A large proportion of hate crimes, many violent, each year now target African Americans.
Recall that the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building was by antigovernment activists who were white supremacists. Months later other bomb plots were uncovered, one targeting federal buildings in Spokane and Austin. Today, numerous antigovernment militia and supremacist groups are made up of white men (and some women) very angry about current societal conditions. In 1998, a black man, James Byrd, Jr., was walking down a Jasper, Texas, road a few miles from where I am now writing. Three white men, with white-supremacist tattoos, beat him savagely and dragged him along a road dismembering him. One reportedly said to the others, “We’re starting The Turner Diaries early,” referring to violence by white supremacists in that racist novel still popular with supremacists. The Jasper lynching triggered copycat crimes in other cities. (See my book Racist America for details.)
In recent years members of white supremacy groups have reportedly stockpiled explosives and prepared bombing ventures. In 2006, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center there were at least 844 active Klan, neo-Nazi, skinhead, and other white supremacist groups. An estimated two hundred thousand whites are active or passive supporters of such groups. And, there are hundreds of U.S.-based Internet sites disseminating extreme, with tens of thousands of active members, often violent racist diatribes.
It is time to recognize that what Lessing said could really happen at the hands of white supremacists in the United States and to deal with this chilling possibility and its likely white supremacist perpetrators openly and critically in the media and other public discussions, as well as by public safety actions. In my view, we should also provide stepped-up, super-protections for the courageous Senator Obama and his family, especially if he is the Democratic nominee.
As a white researcher who gets death threats now and then just for doing research on racism in the United States, I can personally attest that Lessing’s fears are neither “wild” nor unrealistic.