Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Voter, please!

Is America ready for a black president?

You know, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I think they are.

Not that I’m endorsing Obama in the Democratic primary, you understand. I still think Edwards’s views about what the problems are, and how to fix them, most closely match my own.

And not that I think this country has finally given up its legacy of racism. Far from it. I think it will take many, many generations before our nation’s children will have that bred out of them. It will take many gradually less racist generations of parents before we can produce a generation of children who will enter adult life without that overwhelming fear of the other that makes mean our souls and blinds us to what people truly are and can be. Racism is like a rope that connects us to the very beginnings of our nation, and it seems we are incapable of cutting it, we can only slowly wear it away, year after agonizing year.

But even in times and places of deep and persistent racism, there have always been those black people who were allowed by white America to play by a different set of rules.

I remember once when I was but a young thing, I hooked up with a cute boy on the ski slopes of upstate New York. He invited me back to his family’s lodge for dinner, and it was during that meal that I was treated to one of the most unabashed displays of racist attitudes that I have ever witnessed in my life. I mean, when it came to epithet frequency alone, those east coast upper-middle-class WASPs could have given even the most ignorant of my hick Nebraska relatives a run for his money.

And then, immediately after dinner, they settled down to watch the broadcast premier of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. “Don’t you love Michael Jackson?” the matriarch asked me, breathlessly. “We love Michael Jackson!”

And you know what? They really did love Michael Jackson. And not because he had, even at that early date, begun bleaching his skin white, either. To them, Michael Jackson was not black. He was Michael Jackson.

Similarly, if he had been so inclined, I’m sure that especially during the height of his tv popularity, Bill Cosby would’ve been welcome to become the first black man to have the sun set on him within the city limits of certain all-white towns in Indiana. One need only witness the still-pervasive popularity of garish, oversized, fugly-ass sweaters among middle-aged white men to understand the degree to which Cosby was accepted as one of their own.

Even O.J. Simpson, because of his image and his popularity, was given a pass by the LAPD to beat his wife again and again and again. To be clear, it isn’t just money that allows a black man to live by different rules. I’m sure that 50 Cent, if he had beaten his pretty blonde white wife in Brentwood, California, would have gone directly TO JAIL.

So does Barack Obama qualify in the eyes of certain white voters as “not black”? Not to get all Joe Biden on y’all, but does his poise, his speech, his intelligence, his wardrobe, and most importantly, his fame, mean that he is, as certain relatives of mine would put it, “different”?

He’d better hope so.

And if he becomes the Democratic nominee, we, sadly, had better hope so too.


Larry Jones said...

I can't believe I'm saying this. I think of myself as an idealist. Heck, I voted for Eldridge Cleaver over Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Sure I "threw away" my vote, but I still think he would have been a better president than HHH, and certainly better than the stiff who won that year.

But politics has gotten really mean lately, and I shudder when I think of what the Republicans will do to Obama in the South, abetted by Fox News, who will no doubt insist on using his middle name in every broadcast. Even people who think they are not racist could be swayed to vote against the Muslim, educated in a madras, black man. Need I say "uppity?"

So much has been screwed up in the past seven years, this may be the most important election of my life. The right wing is good at the "fifty percent plus one vote" campaign, and they get "X" number of votes by stealing them, so they really don't even have to earn the fifty percent.

I know this is unenlightened, and I apologize to you and your readers, but I don't want to give the Republican slime machine any ammunition at all. How about if Obama is the vice president for Edwards, and president for two terms starting in 2016?

GETkristiLOVE said...

I've thought a lot about this too in the recent weeks. It seems that the liberal vote always gets split by the choice of candidates, ensuring the GWBs of the world get elected.

So, I hope to hell that America is ready for a black president (or female president), else here we go again.

dguzman said...

A woman I work with told me the other day, "Oh, we're not ready for a black president." (this was after she'd told me she wouldn't vote for HRClinton because "women are too emotional"--self-loathing, anyone?) So I asked her, "who's 'we'?" I'm ready." And of course she backtracked, stuttered out something about how "certain places" won't support him, etc.

I want to believe it's not true. I want to believe that people are so pissed off that they'll vote for anyone they think can turn this shitpot around.

But I am also realistic. I worry about what your sister said above.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Right, right, but here's the thing:

1. Obama is not Jesse Jackson. You can't really whip up a lot of irrational fear about slavery reparations and a cabinet made up of Cadillac dealers when the black man in question is so goddamn square.

2. Obama did really well among Latinos in Illinois, so I think the fears of Latino racism are overstated.

3. The slur campaign against Hillary backfired in NH. The voters identified with her because they saw that many of the attacks on her were just mean-spirited and unfair. If Obama is the nominee, and again, I hope that he isn't, but if he is, then the Republicans had better be really really careful how they attack him.

4. The Republicans clearly want to run against Hillary. That should tell you something about what they think about Obama.

CiscoKid said...

Sadly, what you say is true about our "blindness" to people's race. It does not matter what they look like as long as we "like" them or if they are "somehow-like us" then they are cool. Otherwise, our inner fears and prejudices come out blazing at the first sight of an offense by them, being black, brown or whatever. Someday, as you say, our grandchildren will be free of our fears and prejudices.

Larry Jones said...

Along with my positive reasons for supporting Edwards, I have a suitcase full of negative reasons for not supporting Clinton or Obama. Edwards is a white southern male, fer Chrissake. He's like a Trojan horse that we can roll right into the Republicans' kitchen. Do we want to make an idealist statement, or do we want to take the White House?

vikkitikkitavi said...

Cisco: Too bad we'll all be dead by then.

LJ: Yes, white southern males make good foils against the usual Republican talking points. But no matter who gets the nod, I think we have reason to be optimistic. The only one on the other side who really worries me now is McCain. He is so dangerous, and so bad, and yet people in the middle, and even on the left, persist in thinking that he is a reasonable man. He is anything but.

Dad E said...

I am hoping Romney will be the Republican candidate because I think any of the three top Democractic candidates could beat him.

Edwards needs a win soon or we will have to hope that the nation can take a giant leap and really enter a new frontier.

SJ said...

I think it will come down to a new karl rove wannabe doing a smear campaign with something like whisper...whisper... OBAMA??-- HE IS A MUSLIM! We can't have a terrorist as president!!! ..whisper... That's what I foresee anyway. I do live in the deep, deep (DEEP) South where the slightest hint of anything that goes against W and Toby Keith is pegged as a plane-crashing troop hater who wants to destroy our way of life. And kill babies.

Kerry is a total tool. I agree one hundred.

Simon Glickman and Sera Gamble said...

Oh, Jesus Fuck. What kind of president AREN'T we read for, as long as he/she/it isn't GWB? The bar is so motherfathersisterbrotherfucking low that a goddamn ball of STRING would start to look like JFK if one came along that conjured up some political ambition.

Anyone who tells you what America is or isn't ready for after Iraq, Katrina, warrantless wiretapping and Larry Craig has a crack pipe up his ass.

But hey, gosh, that's just my li'l ol' opinion.

zoe said...

I agree with Simon. Dems are turning out in record numbers to vote for all three candidates. Well, moreso for Obama. He has been speaking to packed housed of 800 people with 800 more outside waiting because they couldn't fit in the building.

I just worry that Obama would pull a "gentlemanly" retreat like Kerry did in 2004 if he starts being attacked by little rove jr. Hillary wouldn't.

Bubs said...

What y'all said.

By the way, have you read the book "Sundown Towns" by James Loewen? Fascinating, horrible stuff. You get a really different view of places like the midwest after reading it.

Bubs said...

Duh. I just took a closer look at that link you used for "certain all-white towns" It was a link to Loewen's site. Sorry.

Grant Miller said...

Perhaps I'm jaded, but I believe racism is a sad and permenant part of living on Earth. The targets may change over the centuries, but people will always find other people to hate for no reason other than they are different.

However, I think a black president would go a long way to diffusing some of the racism toward African-Americans that has plagued this country.

vikkitikkitavi said...

DadE: I hope Romney is the candidate as well. Not only is he Kerry-esque, but the evangelicals might back a 3rd candidate. BTW, I hear Edwards is doing well in NV.

SJ: I have friends from the deep south who feel similarly about the chances of a black candidate. They're all backing Edwards. I'm not so sure, however, that the fabled "southern strategy" still works.

Simon: I agree. But then, I thought so in 2004 as well, so obviously I don't know shit about the ability of the American people to tolerate and even embrace absolute fucking liarhead evil greedy fucks.

Zoe: At this point, the strategy questions can be spun endlessly, because we have no idea how these candidates will react under real pressure.

Bubs: Yes, although my home town of Marion has its own terrible racial history (famous public lynching in 1930), it was not a sundown town. However, I grew up right next to, and had relatives in, Gas City, which was a notorious sundown town. As a kid I actually had a pretty good idea which of the nearby towns allowed blacks to live in them and which didn't. And people wonder why I left that motherfucker at 18 and never looked back.

Grant: You may be right, but I think that as the people of the earth gradually become more homogenous, maybe racism will become a thing of the past.

Johnny Yen said...

Obama didn't win points with me by praising Reagan.

It's weird-- I forget that I live in an island of tolerance. Here on the north side of Chicago, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, etc. mix comfortably. Outside of the little enclaves we form in Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, etc., ignorance runs rampant, doesn't it?

vikkitikkitavi said...

Chicago itself is a study in tolerance - compare the north side to the south side. When I worked at the convention center, I worked with many young black people who lived on the south side, and they would tell me terrible stories about the isolation of different groups there, and the resulting hostilities. I used to tell them they should move to the north side. It really is different there.