[This reflective post was written by three college student researchers, Amanda, Dave, and Hannah]
Much like Jessie and Adia, this election has been a momentous event for young people, many voting for the first time. The three of us (Amanda, Dave, and Hannah) grew up in white, middle class neighborhoods and were taught a white-washed version of history. Since entering college and realizing the gaping holes in our education, we have taken deliberate steps to learn the complete history of America. This compounds the significance of Obama’s run for President for us.
At the daycare where Hannah works, one of the few black students said to her on the day after the election, “Barack Obama has a haircut like me.” This sentiment coming from a five-year-old boy marks the significance of the election for us. Obama and his family are constant reminders to all Americans that “Joe the Plumber” is not and never was the true face of America. We hope this is the beginning of a time in our country where whites never ignore the true faces of America. We are proud of this America, the one that has elected Barack Obama, and not the white-washed one of our past, that teachers taught to us by glazing over reality. We agree with Michelle Obama, this is the first time we have felt proud of our country.
We decided to talk with white students and community members to see how they viewed this historic election. We found many people were unsure of Obama’s religion and expressed fear at the possibility of electing a Muslim president. Some respondents wanted Obama to openly declare his religion and others were explicitly hostile towards Muslims. The prevailing excuse for this overt prejudice was the 9/11 attack and President Bush’s “War on Terror.” We found that both conservatives and liberals shared this sentiment.
People often hid their racist comments to distance themselves from appearing prejudiced. This is a front stage technique and is not surprising since we interviewed people in coffee houses and other public settings.
We also found people held contradictory views about Obama as both a radical Christian and a potential Islamic terrorist. When confronted with this inconsistency, they were unable to express both views clearly. Some were confused and ended their statement in uncertainty.
As Joe has stated, many felt that Obama’s victory spelled the end of racism in America. But we found the open prejudice towards Muslims contradicts this. In addition, Obama and his family were seen by many as “white” and therefore “an exception to the race.” This statement reveals the prevalence of racism because it implies that African Americans need an exception, and it also plays into the idea that whiteness equals goodness. It attempts to minimize the significance of electing a man of color as president.
As we move forward, we must not overlook the importance of Obama’s presidency. He is our first black president and a symbol of racial progress. The election of Obama is a strong foundation for addressing our racist history but this event does not signal the end of racism or the beginning of a “color-blind” American society.