Monday, November 3, 2008

Race and The Race

Ever since the Democratic primaries were pared down to two people, I've been thinking about just what it will mean to have a non-white President. I think it says a lot about where we're at as a country. Probably not as much as some would want to believe, but we still have to give ourselves credit.

Early on, I maintained that it was possible for us to elect a non-white President, even a black one. Doubters, especially Hillary supporters, claimed that it was impossible for a non-white to win in this country. Their claim was that racism is too strong, and the racists too plentiful. I think they sold our country short and overstated the problem. I also argued that they were proposing to empower the racists if they let that fear alone prevent them from voting for Obama.

Here we are, less than a week from the election and every major polling agency and aggregator has the race for Obama. Most of the projected leads are statistically significant. The aggregate lead appears insurmountable for the Republican, whose only chance appears to be a belief in the Bradley Effect.

I find myself particularly swayed by the arguments that the Bradley Effect won't play any roll in this election, at least not a significant one. If it appeared in the primaries all it did was keep Clinton afloat in a couple of states, but Obama outperformed more polls than he underperformed. If anything, it would seem that various sector of Obama's support are being vastly under polled. I think we're set to see a landslide and he will win at least one state in the South that was thought to be an impregnable Republican safe haven, probably Georgia if any.

That doesn't mean racism is dead.

The racist reaction was strong, if not as strong as most feared. There have been so many overtly racist events surrounding this election. Every side is guilty, but none more so than the Republicans. No one is more complicit than Sarah Palin.

All over the country the Republican base was fired up over Governor Palin. Almost universally for the wrong reasons, although we must admit that she does appear to have a decent record against corruption, even if she just replaced old corruption with new corruption. They supported her because of her subtle bigotry, her religion (in all its extremist Christian glory), and her gender. Even the gender issue is for the wrong reason, she's not a feminist, nor a ground breaker, she's trying to ride Hillary's coattails in the most offensive way possible. The message was clear: If you want to vote for a minority you can still vote McCain. Don't worry about whether your vote is for or against feminism or if it will positively impact the institutional racism and patriarchy in our society, you're voting for a ticket with less penises than the other.

Once the honeymoon faded Palin's supporters had a hard time drumming up enthusiasm. She failed to connect with anyone but her narrow base, shy of a few old perverted men. So she fell on America's current worst racial issue: Our public acceptance of racism toward Arabs and bigotry against Islam. It didn't take long for her and her supporters to complete the circle back to the early whisper campaigns. The insinuation is that Obama is a radical black Muslim, the image they painted in the minds of racist Americans (this is a subset, not an indictment of us all) was that of the Black Panther with their fist in the air. It was just shy of screaming, "C'mon, people, he's black!"

Weeks later and the Republicans have not seriously censured this group of racists. They maintain their claim that Obama is "different," even as the differences between Palin and the average American become more and more clear. Recently in Iowa, Palin spent a solid minute merely talking over the crowd's growing anger and shouts of "he's a nigger!" Has she ever stopped to tell the crowd that she won't tolerate that, that it's not right and it's not how Republicans should act? No. That is why it keeps happening, that's why it has gotten worse.

I believe that what is happening is that we've flushed the racists out. They can only think to rally around Palin as their last bastion of hope against a black President. They are scared, because racism is born of fear and stupidity. These rallies are a support group for the racists. A last effort for them to vent their anger and fear before the coming unknown. In that, I believe the results we're seeing manage to slightly overstate the true weight of the racism problem in the Republican party, America, and the individual locations that host the events.

At the same time we can't give too much credit to the Democrats, or Obama supporters in general. The ability to ignore race due to the gravity of other issues does not signify the absence of racism. Indeed, there are plenty of voters who are simply voting "for the nigger." It's dangerous to ignore what this means. This indicates that racism is still a very real problem in our country, but even racists have their limits and very few people are shallow and stupid enough to allow race to be the most important issue.

So, if he wins what does it mean?

It means that we're less racist than almost anyone gave us credit for. Or, at the very least, that we do not let our racism affect our most important decisions. What is equally important is what it doesn't mean: This is not the end of racism in America. There is still a lot of evidence that we have a long way to go, and we need to seize the moment to make things better.

This does send a message to the world. I don't think it says that racism is dead. Instead, I think it says that we're growing up and we're moving on. It says that the slack jawed ignorant self-identifying redneck is no longer acceptable as our representative stereotype. We are more complex and diverse. Most importantly, I think it signifies that we care about how our country is perceived.

The worst possible outcome here would be if we declared victory prematurely. There isn't an exit strategy for the war on racism yet. Equality does not exist in our society, and what little equality there is has not yet reached a proper level of sustainability. Having an African American President does not invalidate Affirmative Action. This country is still a patriarchy ruled by the whites. The social systems that enforce that are still in place, let alone the governmental ones. We cannot throw up our hands in victory and give up. We cannot be complacent.

Now is the time for increased vigilance. This election has forced the dormant race issue to the surface. It is within our reach, we can grab it and attempt to fix it. We're 90 percent there, we just have the other 90 percent to worry about.

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