Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fear Of A Black Prez

Barack Obama tries and largely succeeds in convincing his followers and hangers-on that we are living in a post-racial time; that it's all about ideals, values, and common interests, not grievances nor negative feelings from the long dead past. It's a soothing, effective narrative, especially for race-challenged white liberals seeking absolution, but also for those white fence-sitters who remain skeptical of, if not frightened by, Obama's message.

Then there are those whites who, no matter how softly and sweetly Obama sells it, cannot get past the man's skin tone and "un-American" name. For them, there is no post-racial time, since all they see is race and the stereotypes and hysteria that feed their perceptions. There are countless white people like this, spread throughout the country. I'm sure you've known or met your share. I certainly have. Hell, I'm related to some of them.

Obama's rallies appear to be uplifiting, inspirational events, so it must be a culture shock of sorts when his young, mostly white, field volunteers encounter open racism and violent emotional rejection. Kevin Merida reports in the Washington Post that Obama campaigners in Pennsylvania and Indiana met with all manner of grassroots ugliness, no surprise to us political veterans, but clearly upsetting to those kids fanning out across the fruited plain, stars in their eyes, Obama's stirring words of "hope" in their heads. From Pittsburgh to Kokomo, and various points in between, Obama's children are getting a raw, rancid taste of white-fear Americana, people who simply will not vote for a black man, especially one who is perceived by many as a Muslim agent of a foreign enemy like Hamas. But this is not limited to blue collar rubes and suburban hausfraus. As Merida put it:

"Karen Seifert, a volunteer from New York, was outside of the largest polling location in Lackawanna County, Pa., on primary day when she was pressed by a Clinton volunteer to explain her backing of Obama. 'I trust him,' Seifert replied. According to Seifert, the woman pointed to Obama's face on Seifert's T-shirt and said: 'He's a half-breed and he's a Muslim. How can you trust that?'"

I don't know if that actually occurred, but it rings true for me. I've read some lunatic attacks on Obama by loyal Hillary-heads, taking their cues from the Clintons themselves, no strangers to race-based innuendo. As Bernardo expressed in "West Side Story," right before he and the Sharks broke into a roof-top dance number, "In America, anything is possible."

I feel somewhat bad for those kids, but this experience will season them and help open their eyes to the insanity that lies just beneath the American "democratic" veneer. I did my share of door-to-door canvassing back in the day, the most challenging effort on behalf of SANE/Freeze, which pushed for a nuclear freeze between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Me and another young lefty (a Michael Harrington disciple) went through a couple of Long Island neighborhoods in the early-80s, and it was brutal. For every signature or promise of money we got, there were at least 10 angry assholes who called us Soviet stooges, chased us off their property with promises of violence, or slammed the door in our faces. One right winger I remember was calmer. He told us that we were playing the Soviet game, and that if we really loved America, we'd work for Jack Kemp. He then gave us some articles by Kemp, mostly economics, but some national security stuff, and I admired how he canvassed us without leaving his home.

Naturally, the Obama campaign is playing down any racist incidents. They're going to have a tough enough time luring uneasy whites as it is, so bemoaning ground-level bigotry is decidedly out. As we saw with Jeremiah Wright, a lot of whites don't want to hear about black suffering, and tend to get nasty and defensive when faced with these critiques. If Obama manages to win the presidency, it will of course be historical. But it will also stoke the hysterical, who'll have four ripe years to refine their hatred.