Jeff Jacoby, writing in today’s Boston Globe, argues for the “Irrelevance of Obama’s Color,” and goes off on at some length to articulate his fantasy of a color-blind America:
“The sooner we resolve to abandon the labels ‘black’ and ‘white,’ the sooner we will be a society in which such racial labels are irrelevant. And what better moment to make such a resolution than this one, when white Americans by the millions are proving that the color of a person’s skin is no longer a bar to anything in this country – not even the presidency.Whether or not Barack Obama’s bid for the White House ultimately succeeds, it has already demolished the canard that America will not elect a black president.”
And, in what I think of as the real advantage for many white liberals in voting for Obama, Jacoby describes the I-can’t-be-a-racist benefit for many:
“Far from being a strike against him, Obama’s color is manifestly a political advantage. Not only because black voters will vote for him with enthusiasm, but because tens of millions of white voters will, too. Countless Americans plainly relish the chance to prove with their vote that they are not tainted by racial bigotry. “
This sort of analysis is deeply misguided in my view, and leads to a serious miscalculation about both what’s playing out now in presidential politics and, perhaps more egregiously, about what’s going to happen in the fall. Frank Rich, writing in today’s New York Times, has a much clearer vision of what he calls “a creepy racial back story,” in which Clinton has been trying to pit Hispanic voters against Obama and Black voters, by:
“telling The New Yorker that Hispanic voters have ‘not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.’ Mrs. Clinton then seconded the motion by telling Tim Russert in a debate that her pollster was ‘making a historical statement.’ It wasn’t an accurate statement, historical or otherwise. It was a lie, and a bigoted lie at that, given that it branded Hispanics, a group as heterogeneous as any other, as monolithic racists.”
I agree with Frank Rich here, and later when he says that the Clinton campaign will stop at little and will continue to stir up racial friction, including trying to reverse party rulings so that they can hijack delegates. All this means that the Democrats are setting the stage for knock-down, drag-out fight at the convention, which is only nine weeks before the general election. While some, like Jacoby, may naïvely believe in the fantasy of a color-blind America in which race doesn’t matter, the reality of contemporary presidential politics tells another story. The danger, of course, in believing such fiction is that it distracts from the larger goal of changing the nation’s political trajectory.
Yes, strikingly, the Democratic party campaigns and reactions to them show much naivete in the general population, most especially among white politicians and other commentators, about the depths of white racism in the white population. They show just how CENTRAL race/racism remain in the United States.
There is much recent data showing that the substantial majority of whites still think about the society from a strong white racist frame with its strong antiblack and other anti-people-of color views.
See our book, Two Faced Racism (Routledge, 2007) for a great deal of data on how the majority of whites are still racist in their thinking and backstage performances and commentaries on people of color.
In addition, the hostile antiblack attacks on Senator Obama from the racist right have only just begun. There are new websites attacking him from many angles, most closely tied to old racist, antiblack framing. Watch (sadly) how they accelerate on the arch-conservative right if Senator Obama becomes the Dem. candidate.
A friend of mine who works for a leading (unnamed) democrat says that there is a lot of hate (e)mail flowing into the office from whites saying that if Obama is the democratic nominee these whites will defect and vote for McCain. And, I don’t think there is any way that the polling data can get at this. This is my fear. I think that a combined ticket (Obama/Clinton or vice-versa) will ensure a McCain presidency.