Saturday, November 06, 2021

Guilt And Elections

At first glance, it seems dissonant that we elected, then re-elected, a black Democrat as President, a few years later electing a racist to the office, But only at first glance.

When right-wing Winsome Sears gave her speech Tuesday after winning the lieutenant governor's race in Virginia, she minimized racial disparities in the USA. The black Republican, who views her own victory as affirmation of racial equality in society, declared "we can live where we want, we can eat where we want, we own the water fountains. We have had a black president elected not once, but twice."

The last remark echoed a comment made to Axios in June, 2020 by White House advisor Larry Kudlow, who denied the existence of systemic racism in the USA, maintaining "you have as evidence of that view, our first black president, just a few years back, won two terms, and I regarded that with pride as an American."

I'll go out on a limb and speculate that both Kudlow and Sears voted against Barack Obama- as Sears would put it, "not once, but twice."

In an opinion piece recently in The New York Times, African-American linguistics professor John McWhorter defended the statement in which  Condoleezza Rice criticized critical race theory with “I don’t have to make white kids feel bad for being white.” McWhorter wrote

What’s more, I don’t completely trust white guilt. It lends itself too easily to virtue signaling, which overlaps only partially, and sometimes not at all, with helping people. I recall a brilliant, accomplished, kind white academic of a certain age who genially told me — after I published my first book on race, “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America,” two decades ago — “John, I get what you mean, but I reserve my right to be guilty.” I got what he meant, too, and did not take it ill. But still, note that word “right.” Feeling guilty lent him something personally fulfilling and signaled that he was one of the good guys without obligating him further. The problem is that one can harbor that feeling while not actually doing anything to bring about change on the ground.

The problem is that one can harbor that feeling while not actually doing anything to bring about change on the ground. That has played out, dangerously, in the past thirteen years. Four years after John Kerry was defeated and eight years before Hillary Clinton would be defeated, Barack Obama was elected President with the assistance of moderate and/or independent white voters trying to assuage their guilt.

After a reasonably successful first term, Obama was re-elected, but by a lesser margin. The next Democratic candidate was handed a loss, in part by independent-minded voters whose guilt already was assuaged. They had, Kudlow and Sears would argue, eight years earlier proven that neither they nor their country is racist. Mission accomplished, they were now free to  usher out of power the party that brought them that black president.

McWhorter was not in any way referring to the presidential election of 2008. But as he understands, white guilt can be powerful and pervasive- and it can help explain more than the controversy over critical race theory. 


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