Sunday, August 15, 2010

Obsessed With, But Denying, Race

Most normal people, upon hearing of the racially-infused rant (transcript here, from Media Matters) of radio psychologist Dr. Laura Schlessinger of August 12, would be respond, horrified, to her use of N_ _ _ _ _ eleven times. (I guess we can rule out a slip of the tongue as an explanation.) Or they would be focused on Schlessinger's remark "If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race." Her suggestion that a person limit his/her choice of mate to someone of the same race may be old-fasioned and antiquated, and not charmingly so.

Eschewing normality, however, I was taken instead by this portion:

SCHLESSINGER: Yeah. We've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that's hilarious.

CALLER: But I think, honestly, because there's more white people afraid of a black man taking over the nation.

SCHLESSINGER: They're afraid.

CALLER: If you want to be honest about it [unintelligible]

SCHLESSINGER: Dear, they voted him in. Only 12 percent of the population's black. Whites voted him in.

No, "dear," whites did not "vote Obama in." Certainly, many whites did vote for Obama. But that is fairly meaningless, given that Caucasians comprised 76.3% of the electorate. Even if the votes of non-whites were counted three times as heavily as those of whites- a strange way to conduct an election in a democratic republic- no one could have won without white people.

So, with a nation in recession and in two wars, public confidence in the direction of the nation at low tide, a very unopular Repub president, and a terrible GOP ticket, white people marched to the polls in November, 2008 and gave Democrat Barack Obama..... 43% of their vote. Obama won the election by approximately seven (7) percentage points- and lost the white electorate by nearly 14 points!

The idea, misguided though it is, that "whites voted him in," is critically important. It may form the basis of Schlessinger's remark "We've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that's hilarious."

On one level it's true- there has been more complaining about "racism"- from Rush Limbaugh and others on the far right who try to gin up anger against President Obama by accusing him of being racist. Clearly, though, that's not what Schlessinger is referring to.

Complaints about racism, justified or not, legitimate or not, have been going on for a long time, are still going on, and will continue to go on. The election of Barack Obama was never promised to end racism, racial animosity, or bigotry of any sort.

Does the apparent misconception of many on the right and some in the ideological middle derive from the emphasis on the "historical" nature of Barack Obama's victory? If so, a severe misunderstanding has taken place. The historic nature of Obama's victory was- and was solely- a function of a black person being elected in a nation with a tortured racial background. It is asking too much of one person (even one as extraordinary as Mr. Obama) to erase our nation's history or to wave a magic wand and make everything alright.

This is what some individuals- perhaps including Schlessinger- would have the president do. But it is not in the job description of the President of the United States to grant absolution or to bestow atonement for our national sin. That is, as candidate Obama once responded to a question from Reverend Rick Warren, above his pay grade.

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