Senator Obama Speaks Out on Race and White Fears

A Reuters article on the ABC News website is titled, “Obama Says Republicans Will Use Race to Stoke Fear” (Caren Bohan). This commentary by the Senator is clearly attempting to head off what is his most serious barrier to election, what we here call the “white racism factor” (and not by the quaint media term, “the Bradley factor”).
John Judis, a New Republic editor and expert on demographic/polling analyses, recently did a detailed article on whether whites (other than liberal Democrats) will vote in large enough numbers for Senator Obama to win in November 2008. His conclusion, drawing on data from the implicit association test research, political psychology research, and exit polls, is that the antiblack vote will be 15-20 percent of white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. (Already, 9-12 percent of liberal/moderate white voters in Democratic party primaries have said race affected their votes, when they did not vote for Obama.)

Yesterday Senator Obama argued explicitly about some racial matters and voters:

“It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy,” Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Florida. “We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”

He is speaking of course to white voters and is quite right about the way that the emotions of racism are key to white voting, but does not elaborate. And he hits Republicans hard on their weaknesses, probably his best strategy for winning (that is, take the focus off race and accent the economy). Then argues that Republicans have already shown their race cards:

“We know the strategy because they’ve already shown their cards. Ultimately I think the American people recognize that old stuff hasn’t moved us forward. That old stuff just divides us,” he said.

Senator Obama is trying to inoculate himself from the coming racist attacks. This is probably a smart move, although the argument that Republicans have shown their cards is a bit premature. The Republican attacks have barely begun. The argument that racist stuff has not moved us forward is certainly true, but that argument does not work well with many whites. In fact, racist arguments, if they are not too overt (like Trent Lott was on legal segregation) do in fact work well, especially with the millions of whites who hold firmly to racist stereotypes of the white racial frame and have much racialized resentment toward African Americans.

The Reuters writer then adds a very important point:

It has been rare for him to bring up the topic during his presidential bid. In March he gave a widely praised speech on the subject after receiving criticism over racially charged comments by his longtime pastor.

This writer accents what may be Senator Obama’s Achilles heel, the Dr. Wright and similar racialized stories that accent in white minds that he is a “dangerous black man,” a theme that Republicans will likely use again and again in various ways. The point about the rarity of race as a topic for the Senator is on target, for this does seem to be only the second time in the campaign that he has explicitly focused this much on racial matters. (His last major speech was whites-oriented too, but on black fathers, not on racism.) And he still has not spoken candidly about white racist views and actions being a central U.S. problem. Indeed, he has not given a major speech yet on the continuing reality of racial hostility and discrimination in society and the need to aggressively enforce civil rights laws–to mention just the start of what needs to be done on white racism.�


  1. mordy

    And in an apparent effort by ABC to continue the fine media practice of “quaint racial terminology” please read the following article here :

    “Racial attitudes among white Americans show little if any net effect on Barack Obama’s candidacy for president, an ABC News analysis finds, because negative views toward Obama among the least racially sensitive whites largely are balanced by pro-Obama sentiment among those with the highest racial sensitivities. “

    “Least racially sensitive” whites? This differs from “More racist” whites exactly how? And in addition to the patently absurd kid glove terminology, can they please at least acknowledge if this “Racist offset” exists, then by definition so does the racism that the pundits keep trying to tell us no longer exists

  2. Joe Author

    Well said, Mordy. You nailed it. We need a dictionary of euphemisms for this election.

    I saw that too and I am writing up a post from the ABC pdf report. The media love that euphemistic and highly evasive langauge of “least racially sensitive,” indeed. They cannot even bring themselves to use the word “racism,” much less “white racism.”

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