Saturday, October 18, 2008

Racism Among Obama Supporters

Check out this essay about racism among Obama supporters.

Over at zmag.org the historian, journalist, and activist Paul Street—who has recently published his book, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics– has some very interesting commentary on issues of racism in both the McCain and Obama camps.

Street points out some of the racialized reasons that some whites support Senator Obama, reasons and issues that get very little attention in mainstream media discussions. He quotes an exchange reported in the New York Times:

between white voter Veronica Mendive and white Obama volunteer Cathy Vance: Ms. Mendive: “I’ve never been around a lot of black people before. I just worry that they’re nice to your face but then when they get around their own people you just have to worry about what they’re going to do to you.” Ms. Vance: “One thing you have to remember is that Obama, he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother. So his views are really more white than black really.”

First, here is the old worry that African Americans are not saying to white faces what they are really thinking, which in a racist system is not too surprising. African Americans do have to spend a lot of time and energy in their backstage settings recounting whites’ racist actions and figuring out how to counter them. But that is not what whites are worrying about when they think about the Black backstage. Whites seem to worry most about what Blacks might “do” to whites. The volunteer assures the voter that Obama is OK because of his white ancestry and socialization. This reasoning may well be one common way of thinking about Senator Obama among whites, and it is interesting that (to my knowledge) no one in or out of the mass media has researched this important political and racial issue.

Street then recounts another Times interview with someone who is apparently working for Obama:

According to Times reporter Adam Nossiter, Oaks is “pleased by Mr. Obama’s lack of connection to African-American politics.” Oaks spoke to fellow whites at a local church and with approval of how Obama “doesn’t come the African-American perspective - he’s not of that tradition. . . . He’s not a product of any ghetto.”

One reason that Senator Obama is getting some (many?) white votes, thus, is because they see him as “an exception to his race,” a very old notion that has been part of the white racial frame since at least the 17th century.

It's interesting to read how people rationalize two conflicting beliefs: black people are bad, but this black man is good enough to vote for.

1 comment:

Scott Ferguson said...

he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother.

Kinda turns the one-drop rule on its head. Progress...?!