Better Poll News for Senator Obama

A recent CBS News poll taken after Senator Obama’s dramatic speech on US racial matters gives a somewhat different picture of US voters from other recent opinion polls:

Sixty-nine percent of voters who have heard or read about Obama’s speech say he did a good job addressing the issue of race relations, and 63 percent of voters following the events say they agree with Obama’s views on race relations. Seventy-one percent say he did a good job explaining his relationship with Wright.

Only four percent admitted to not hearing anything about these issues, and a significant majority of those who heard it seem to have received it favorably. Only a minority of all voters had a negative view. This seems better news than the national poll that I discussed yesterday.

Yet there was some decline in support for Senator Obama in this poll too:

When registered voters were asked if Obama would unite the country, however, 52 percent said yes – down from 67 percent last month. . . . . Seventy percent say the events will make no difference in their vote. Among those who said it would, 14 percent said it makes them more likely to vote for Obama while an equal number said it makes them less likely to support him.

The latter findings were roughly the same for independents. Thus, in this poll something like one seventh of the voters were negatively affected by the racially slanted news about Dr. Wright and/or the news about Senator Obama’s speech. (Apparently only a minority of voters have heard the whole Obama speech.)

One question asked by CBS poll does not appear in other polls I have seen. This finding is probably the most important for the Obama campaign:

Among voters who supported Obama over presumptive Republican nominee John McCain before the speech, 23 percent say they are now more likely to support the Illinois senator. Just six percent are less likely to support him, while 69 percent say it makes no difference.

Judging from responses to this question, only 6 percent of voters who were already supporting Obama admitted to being less likely to support him in the future. This is small but significant for a November election that is normally close. It appears from this national survey that, the more time passes after these first two major racialized attacks on Senator Obama, the less voters hold these early smear-type attacks against him. Stay tuned, sadly, more racialized attacks are likely coming.

Anti-Racism in Amsterdam

Today, I attended an anti-racism rally in Amsterdam along with about 1,300 other people, most of them Dutch (all photos by Jessie Daniels).   The purpose of the rally was to draw attention to what German magazine Speigel calls the “risky stunt” of Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders and what protesters call “racism.”   Wilders “stunt” is that he has made a 15-minute film that is not yet released which reportedly juxtaposes excerpts from the Koran with beheadings and stonings on a split screen.  Wilders’ message is clear; he wants the West to resist “the threat of the growing Islamization of Western society.”   It’s this sort of rhetoric that has people in Holland gathering at the Dam, in central Amsterdam, protesting. 

To put this in context, it’s important to understand what happened the last time a Dutch filmmaker made a film critical of Islam.   This piece from the Spiegel magazine article summarizes it well:

“On Nov. 2, 2004, an Islamic fundamentalist murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, a descendant of the painter Vincent van Gogh, in broad daylight on a street in Amsterdam.

The killer, a 26-year-old Dutch citizen, the son of Moroccan immigrants, shot the filmmaker at 9 a.m. as van Gogh was riding his bicycle. He then slit his throat and, using a knife, pinned a note to his victim’s chest, claiming responsibility and explaining his motives. The killer’s true target was politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But she, unlike van Gogh, was under 24-hour police protection. The bloody act was also a declaration of war against Dutch society, which, as the murderer was convinced, was controlled ‘by the Jews.’   Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali had collaborated to produce a short film called “Submission,” which uses four real-life examples to illustrate the poor treatment of women in Islam.” 

The rise of Somalian-born and Muslim-raised politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali is also important to understanding the context of race, gender and anti-racism politics in Holland.  Ali, a former Member of Parliament in Holland (and current U.S. resident), is also a radical opponent of Islam based on gender oppression – her own experience and on behalf of other Muslim women – and what she views as the violent and intolerant core of the religion.    In the U.S., Ali has been deployed by the right-wing to put a more respectable (and visibly black, female, Muslim, African) face on anti-Islamic sentiments.   And, yet somehow, the advocacy for gender equality gets lost in all that rhetoric within most of the mainstream reporting about her.   Still, Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are forever linked because of the note that Mohammed Bouyeri penned then stabbed into Van Gogh naming Ali as an enemy of Islam. Continue reading…

Bad News about Voters for Senator Obama — and for the US

      Recently, the Southern Political Report reported on a March 19, 2008 InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion poll of 807 Americans out of 1,051 who had heard of the Dr. Wright situation and Obama’s speech on racial matters (18 percent had not heard yet!).

First we should note that they were fairly careful in not asking loaded questiions:

We never mentioned the words ‘race’ or ‘controversy,’ or explained what all the fuss was about. Our first question was simply, ‘Are you aware of the situation regarding Sen. Barack Obama’s church pastor and the past public remarks he has made?’

Screening out those who had not heard of the Wright situation and Obama’s speech, they then asked, “Taking all this into account, are you more or less likely to support Obama for president? Less likely (52%) More likely (19%) About the same (27%) No opinion (2%).” The less-likely figure for white voters was 51 percent.

They also report that the negative percentage was especially significant for independent voters who were asked about their reaction to Obama’s speech:

By 56% to 13%, they said they’re less likely to vote for him because of the speech.

Like other recent polls we have cited previously, this poll also suggests a significant questioning of Senator Obama as a candidate, and a likely move away from him as a choice by some/many voters. His campaign has counted heavily on those independent voters. Once again, the effects of the racialized attacks on him are evident, and such attacks are now just in their first stages. What happens as new attacks emerge? These voter data also suggest his speech may not have helped him with some of the voter groups as much as he had hoped.

The Report’s interpretation and commentary also suggests how out of touch most white analysts of these and other racial matters are in the contemporary United States:

The charismatic Democratic presidential frontrunner likely has created a genuine problem for himself: In order to fizzle the flame that Rev. Wright ignited with his passionate, public racism, Obama had to forfeit the promise implicit in this campaign to date; that of moving beyond and above racialist rhetoric in American politics. On Tuesday, he changed course and said essentially the opposite: That we all need to face our unpleasant history. . . . In a year of great unease over foreign wars and a wilting economy, kicking the (lightly) sleeping dog of race in America may have been a mistake, unavoidable though it may have been.

So, now it is a tell-it-like-it-is, well-credentialed, well-informed U.S. intellectual and minister who is engaging in “public racism,” when of course it is whites who created the U.S. system of racial oppression that the pastor is critiquing. A great many whites, and their still racist views and discriminatory habits, and their unwillingness to provide remedies and redress for four long centuries of racial oppression, actually constitute the “problem.”

Researching or critiquing white racism from viable data is not “racism.” Racism is a systemic reality first created in the North American case in the 1600s by whites (who created 246 years of slavery followed by nearly 100 of the near slavery of legal segregation) and is still maintained by whites today. Clearly, the extensive racial discrimination (covert, subtle, and blatant) and huge racial inequalities in income, wealth, housing, and education still reported by African Americans and many researchers of all backgrounds is not worth noting well or dealing with publicly by most major media analysts and numerous other reporters and commentators–on the right, the left, or in the center–in the United States. I suggest that these dissembling commentators might start, for a change, paying attention to the extensive research on systemic racism, everyday discrimination, and whites’ negative racial views available in the contemporary social science literature.

The media and other pundit analysis of the Obama campaign, the attacks on it and on his speech, tell us far more about how much work is left to do in dismantling US racism than about the immediate reality of the Obama campaign. One cannot “move beyond racialist rhetoric” until the foundational reality of white-imposed racism is eliminated.

The Impact of Racialized Attacks on Senator Obama

     The fivethirtyeight website reports on an analysis of the last month’s changes in voter preferences for Senators McCain and Obama:

Survey USA has now released polls in fifteen states that were taken at the height of the Jeremiah Wright controversy (this past Friday through Sunday). We can compare the demographic groups in these polls to Survey USA’s previous set of polls, which were conducted in the last couple days of February. . . . I’m merely comparing Obama’s net advantage against McCain between the February and the March surveys. If Obama was leading among whites in Oregon by 6 points in February, but he trailed by 2 points in March, that would be recorded as a “-8”.

What they call the “Wright effect” is significant. Summing the effects across the fifteen states, Senator Obama’s net advantage relative to McCain has dropped by 9 percent among whites, 4-7 percent among men and women, 3 percent among younger voters and 13 percent among older voters, 9 percent among Republican voters, 1 percent among Independents, 5 percent among Democrats, and 5-11 percent among liberal and moderate voters. In contrast, black support went up 6 percent, and Hispanic support up 5 percent.


        Of course, these data are early yet in the season, and the last polling was done close to the Dr. Wright story, with no impact yet from Senator Obama’s powerful speech, but they do suggest some impact not only from the negative and racially biased way the corporate media have spun the Wright story, but also from the impact of earlier racialized attacks this month by Representative S. King and the corporate media on Senator Obama’s Muslim “connections” and “optics.”

        As I predicted two months back, these racialized attacks on Senator Obama have come just as he appears to be the likely Democratic candidate and seem to have had their intended effect in backing off some white voters. There are at least two other somewhat similar, major political attacks on Senator Obama waiting in the political wings. Such intentional attacks, because of the deep white racial framing of the “dangerous black man” in many (especially white) voters’ minds, create major hurdles for Senator Obama in his pioneering attempt to win the presidency in the fall.


Surprising Words from Mike Huckabee

In a recent interview with conservative media commentator Joe Scarborough, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee defended Barack Obama’s historic speech and the way Obama has handled the furor over his former pastor Jeremiah Wright’s recent statements. Even more surprisingly, Huckabee defended Wright himself (though, to borrow a phrase from Hillary Clinton, Huckabee made sure to “reject and denounce” Wright’s statements).

Huckabee stated that pastors frequently speak extemporaneously, and that this can often result in words said in the heat of the moment that the speaker may later wish he’d said differently:

Sermons, after all, are rarely written word-for-word by pastors like Rev. Wright, who are delivering them extemporaneously, and caught up in the emotion of the moment. There are things that sometimes get said, that if you put them on paper and looked at them in print, you’d say, ‘Well, I didn’t mean to say it quite like that.’

Huckabee also provides a rather thoughtful critique of those who would rush to rebuke Reverend Wright and minimize the impact that historic, systemic racism and discrimination have on present day experiences:

“And one other thing I think we’ve got to remember: As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say, “That’s a terrible statement,” I grew up in a very segregated South, and I think that you have to cut some slack. And I’m going to be probably the only conservative in America who’s going to say something like this, but I’m just telling you: We’ve got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told, “You have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can’t sit out there with everyone else. There’s a separate waiting room in the doctor’s office. Here’s where you sit on the bus.” And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had a more, more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.”

Though I don’t remember Huckabee ever discussing the ongoing impact of racism during his time on the campaign trail, here he seems to demonstrate an understanding of how the history of racism and discrimination in the US has an ongoing impact on contemporary race relations. He also appears to show some understanding of what cultural critic bell hooks has described as “black rage” that is “non-pathological” and an “important response to injustice”. These are points that many of his conservative colleagues seem to want to ignore or downplay, and insights that have yet to be understood by those in the mainstream media who jumped to castigate Wright and refused to put his comments in context.

It Is About White Racism: The Reaction to Obama’s Former Pastor

In an interesting commentary yesterday on huffingtonpost, Frank Schaeffer made some excellent points about religion and race, and US politics, that show that the recent attacks on Senator Obama’s former pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, are very discriminatory in their framing and probably racist in intent:

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

The religious/political language was, and still is, much stronger from many conservative white ministers and pastors, including those associated with conservative political figures, but no great political uproar has yet arisen. He continues:

Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers . . . rail against America’s sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the “murder of the unborn,” has become “Sodom” by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, “under the judgment of God.” They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama’s minister’s shouted “controversial” comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton.

Later he points out just how influential his father and other ministers got/get:

When Mike Huckabee was recently asked by Katie Couric to name one book he’d take with him to a desert island, besides the Bible, he named Dad’s Whatever Happened to the Human Race? a book where Dad also compared America to Hitler’s Germany.

Thus, a leading Republican presidential candidate admires such a minister, but not one article critiques such extreme rhetoric. Indeed, can anyone reading this have named this minister in advance? He then adds how his father was treated like royalty:

Was any conservative political leader associated with Dad running for cover? Far from it. Dad was a frequent guest of the Kemps, had lunch with the Fords, stayed in the White House as their guest, he met with Reagan, helped Dr. C. Everett Koop become Surgeon General. . . . Dad became a hero to the evangelical community and a leading political instigator. When Dad died in 1984 everyone from Reagan to Kemp to Billy Graham lamented his passing publicly as the loss of a great American. Not one Republican leader was ever asked to denounce my dad or distanced himself from Dad’s statements.

In a country with such deep and systemic racism, and white racial framing that rationalizes it, we should expect such a double standard, where black ministers are evaluated by a different, and racialized standard, and white ministers dine with presidents and the elite.

“Most Racist” Article of the Year Goes to…

I’m traveling outside the U.S. right now, so more tuned into international news of racism at the moment. Along those lines, Jerome Taylor, writing at IndyBlogs, notes that the award for the “Most Racist Article of the Year” has just been handed out by Survival International, a human rights organization that campaigns on behalf of indigenous tribal peoples. The dubious distinction goes to the Parguayan newspaper La Nacion for an article about a group of indigenous Indians who had taken over a square in the city of Asuncion. Here’s Taylor’s description of the piece:

Comparing them to a “dangerous cancer, spreading bad smells, destruction and contamination” the article went on to call this particular tribe “Neo-lithic” with a “withered culture” and said they should return to the jungle to “carry on living with the animals”.

The “award” that Survival International will send the editors of the paper is a certificate inscribed with a quotation from Luther Standing Bear, of the Lakota Souix (UPDATED: with thanks to Bryce for the correction) a Native American author who died in 1939. The inscription reads: “All the years of calling the Indian a savage has never made him one.”

More about racism outside the U.S. in upcoming posts.

Stage Two: Racialized Attacks on Senator Obama Pay Off

It took only four or so days for two-thirds of Americans, according to a recent Rasmussen national phone poll of 1,200 “likely voters,” to hear about Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s strong remarks about U.S. racism and imperialism, which were expressed in just a few seconds of selected sermons he has given now over three decades.* A clear majority of those surveyed reported they now have a negative view of Dr. Wright. Moreover,

Seventy-three percent (73%) of voters say that Wright’s comments are racially divisive. That opinion is held by 77% of White voters and 58% of African-American voters.

There is no surprise here. This sounds like a rhetorical question. Such question wording is clearly from the white racial frame, for those targeted by the racial hostility and discrimination that Dr. Wright and other black ministers regularly condemn might well have asked rather different questions of at least the African American voters, like “Is Dr. Wright correct about racism?” “Have you faced discrimination recently at the hands of whites?” “If so, what, where, and how often,” and so on.

The Rasmussen report then adds some very troubling data:

Most voters, 56%, said Wright’s comments made them less likely to vote for Obama. That figure includes 44% of Democrats. . . . However, among African-Americans, 29% said Wright’s comments made them more likely to support Obama. Just 18% said the opposite while 50% said Wright’s comments would have no impact.

There is no report of white percentages separately, but probably some six in ten white voters are now less inclined to vote for Senator Obama after just a few days of biased media snippets, and not about what he said or did, but about what his minister said. Continue reading…

Speaking about Racism: A Critical Speech by Senator Obama

This morning, March 18, 2008, Senator Barack Obama gave what is probably the most important speech ever given by a leading U.S. presidential candidate on racial matters. His speech has so far been both praised and condemned across the media and the web. Let us look closely at some points he makes.


Senator Obama’s opening statement is strong and expected, given that he is in Philadelphia’s constitution center:

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy.

A bit later he makes these excellent critical observations on the long struggle of people’s movements for change in this country:

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time. This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.

He wisely connects the current efforts to bring social-political change and unite Americans across racial lines to the long years of protest aimed at bringing the mostly rhetorical ideals (for whites) of the old liberty-and-justice frame to reality. As might be expected, he then works in some of his dramatic biography:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. . . . and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

Whatever the final results, one of the legacies of this remarkable political year will be Senator Obama’s incredible personal story, one of biracial heritage and global experience, and also of courageous struggle and success against great odds to become the first major presidential candidate who is not white. Next Senator Obama begins his commentary on Dr. Jeremiah Wright, whose brief words as put out in the mainstream media he condemns thus:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. . . . Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

After condemning the decontextualized sermon snippets the media have presented, but not their biased media analysts and extreme decontextualization, Senator Obama makes the savvy point that most people have sometimes disagreed with what their religious leaders. He goes on to condemn the points that Dr. Wright makes in the snippets, some of which are in fact well-supported by social science research. For example, of course white racism is still endemic and foundational, and very widespread in white practice today. For evidence, see here and here. Moreover, the latter part of this speech sounds like it was made by a committee, including the stereotypical sound-bite phrase about “radical Islam.” This latter point plays into the common stereotypes of Islamic peoples as “radical,” when most are not, and appears to take the U.S. government off the hook for Middle Eastern upheavals. Continue reading…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: The Only Irish Catholic President

The discussions of “only” candidates, Obama and Clinton, remind me on this St. Patrick’s Day, of another first. In a recent book, I describe the historical “firsts” for Irish Catholic Americans this way:

Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic candidate for president in 1928, was the first Irish Catholic to carve out an important role in presidential politics. Yet his Catholic religion counted against him in this first Irish Catholic presidential campaign. Not until 1960, more than three hundred years after the first few Irish Catholics had come to the United States and more than a century after sizable Irish Catholic communities had been established, was the first and only Irish Catholic (also only Catholic) president elected. Six of the thirty-six presidents, from Washington to Nixon, had Irish American backgrounds, but except for John Kennedy all of these were Protestant Irish, as were the more recent presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

In the 1960 presidential election, Irish Catholic votes in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania helped to create John Kennedy’s narrow victory. As president, Kennedy acted not only on behalf of Irish Americans but also, to some extent, on behalf of America’s other emergent urban racial-ethnic groups. Thus, Kennedy appointed the first Italian American and the first Polish American to a presidential cabinet and the first African American to head an independent government agency.

I might add too that it was black voters in a few states, like Texas, that also gave key states to Kennedy. There are some interesting comparisons and contrasts here with this year’s election.