Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Beyond FACTS: Barack Obama and the Ever-Present Question of Race in America

NPR’s Talk of the Nation show yesterday featured journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells and a discussion of the potential impact of racial and/or gender discrimination on the presumed upcoming face-off between Democractic Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Wallace-Wells wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in last Sunday’s Washington Post in which he questioned the willingness of American voters to put either a black man or a woman (presumably of any race) in the White House.

The on-air discussion was intriguing, with the first caller spouting off about the irrelevance of the questions posed and how she resented their premise. I believe she considered herself enlightened to state that a candidate’s race or gender should have no impact on how a voter votes, but instead she sounded naïve about the continued reality of discrimination against so many people in this country. Racism, ageism, sexism…they all still exist, like it or not. And yes, race and gender will influence how some people vote, regardless of candidates’ political records or auspicious plans.

While reading the Wallace-Wells op-ed piece, I came to consider the writer a bit naïve, too. Questions of gender aside (and I have plenty of those in regards to the Wallace-Wells article), I can’t help but wonder that anyone would think electing a black person president would in any way put “that old race stuff behind us.” “The election of a black man,” Wallace-Wells writes, “would be a particularly American achievement, an affirmation of American ideals and a celebration of American circumstances.” Sounds wonderful, but I have to admit I remain skeptical on this one. The fact does remain, however, that Obama discusses his racial identity with much comfort and candor. Many Democrats hope he will use that comfort level as well as his charisma to bridge divides within the party and perhaps even those that exist between the two major parties.

Certainly the issues of intolerance and discrimination in the U.S. run far too deep to be remedied with a simple election, but if people feel good about putting a young family man with a positive attitude in the White House, I’m all for it…as long as he’s the best person for the job. From what I’ve read about Obama, he sounds like a much better candidate than many others we’ve seen in recent history. And if Obama’s success on his recent book tour is any indication, I’d say it’s safe to bet people of many backgrounds will opt to hang their hopes on his rising star, hopes that a very new, unique, intelligent, and empathetic leader will help lead our country and our world to better days and a brighter future. That’s a lot to expect from a relatively inexperienced politician, but if Obama’s repeated calls for assistance to the people of Darfur, Sudan, show anything, at least they show his heart’s in the right place. Skin color shouldn’t impact important decisions for voters, but it always will. Maybe in 2008 that impact will have positive results.

Thanks to my little sister in Chicago-land, Kristen, for links to the Illinois senator’s site and this site regarding the dire needs of the people of Darfur. Some day, peace will prevail.


Blogger Matt said...

I think racism and sexism is still a pretty big influence unfortunately but I think things are starting to change and it is more possible today to elect and african-american and/or woman, to presidency than it was years ago. So were ever so slowly moving in the right direction.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Hey, Matt! I wish we could move a little more quickly on all fronts, but you're right, any progress in these areas is encouraging.

8:18 PM  
Blogger gerry rosser said...

Some people (and I mean singular, individual persons) have a set of thoughts/beliefs inimical to certain other people they categorize/stereotyp in a certain way. For example, a person might dislike or fear or hold in contempt people whose ancestry goes back to Africa in historic (not pre-historic) times. Some idividual might hold negative opinions about women (in at least some roles)

Such people are not going to change their minds. I wonder how much psychologicl damage was done to the benighted souls in Massachussets who had heartfelt negative thoughts about African-Americans and women in positions of power when the recent gubernatorial election came? Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to pay their psychological counseling bills.

See, I don't believe you can change "America". We are a nation of individuals. We'll know when enough voters are lacking the prejudices mentioned above on a national level, I suppose, when an African-American or woman runs for president and wins. Well, no, I'm wrong about that. We'll never know, because there are many factors in an election, and we cannot read people's minds. I don't believe voting for the opponent of Barak Obama makes one a racist (unless, of course, the opponent runs on the central theme of White Supremacy or some such crap).

9:06 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Gerry, I would hope people would vote based on candidates' track records, integrity, and ability to lead regardless of their age, sex, race, etc. I think this last election at least revealed voters' willingness to cross party lines when they see a real need for change. But you're right, our entire system is composed of individuals; that's certainly something I've learned from researching tolerance issues: it's the person that matters, not the group in which the person tends to be pigeon-holed.

11:36 AM  

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