Hard, Political

One reason why we need Barack Obama

Wednesday, May 14, 2008  

I feel like I am saying the all-too-obvious when I say that Barack Obama’s candidacy is important for racial reasons. In the general campaign he himself has emphasized what he offers aside from his African heritage. Hillary Clinton and John McCain too have mostly tiptoed around the race issue. As a liberal white male I too feel a little awkward speaking about race. I don’t know first-hand what it is like to be a person of African descent growing up in the US, nor do I know what it is like to be a white working class person in West Virgina or Texas.

After a week of so much buzz about Barack Obama as the inevitable nominee, I was at first confounded by why he had not tried harder in West Virginia, and why Hillary Clinton was able to win by a margin of over 40%. Polls have shown that race played a much larger role in this dominantly white, working-class state than in other places. Most people do not admit they are racist, and I am not so naive that racism has not been a factor in many voters in every precinct in the US, including people of all races and backgrounds. But I saw a result of an exit poll from West Virginia, where 1 in 5 openly admitted that race was a factor in their vote. The bottom line is that there are too many people who cannot accept there being an African American in the White House, regardless of other issue.

When they were first married in the 1950′s, my parents lived in Virgina, solidly south of the Mason-Dixon line. My mom has told me stories from those days for example about her naively sitting near the back of the bus and being told by another white passenger that she should move forward as the back is for the colored people. As west coast Jews my parents where definitely shocked by the racism they witnessed, to see other humans regarded as something much less than human. Well a lot has changed in those times, and they were recently in North Carolina and Alabama for the first time since those days and my mom remarked how things have changed. She was saying how she is very content to see the tables turned in these places as the people strongly support the candidacy of Barack Obama.

But concurrently with the racist vote in West Virigina, I read about Obama campaign workers being confronted with blatant incidents of racism. At first I was outraged to hear about this, and I still am, but I see a silver lining too. Such a serious candidacy by a black man is forcing people of all walks of life to confront their fears of race. Like good psychotherapy, it brings these buried dark things to the surface. In all of us there exists some form racism; it is in our culture. But having a man of African heritage as the leader will force us all to come to terms in this. One guy cannot solve racism, but his candidacy alone is having such an impact, that already it may nudge the evolution of race relations to a better place. If he wins, no one could deny his significance, like the Jackie Robinson of politics.

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2 comments for “One reason why we need Barack Obama”

  1. will says:

    great post. but remember, it’s WEST virginia, a 97% white state. i couldn’t believe the comments i heard from voters. “he’s a muslim” backed with the “wright” stuff. well, which is it? pro-muslim or pro-black/anti-white christian?

    good news … it’s a miniscule state that mccain will probly win anyway … and it won’t matter


  2. peep.org/words » President Barack Hussein Obama in Argentina says:

    [...] but also his candidacy has mobilized so many voters who always took a pass in previous elections. (His race has probably hurt his candidacy more than it has helped.) The fact that he won so soundly may say as much as people’s dissatisfaction with Bush and [...]