Marc on Obama and Race in America

Last week I wrote a blog about Obama. I originally wrote in my essay that 30% of the people in America would not vote for a Black man for President. Jessica Phillips, one of my producers, challenged the stat, asking me where it came from. Well, I could not pin point the source, if there ever was one. Maybe it was an amalgam of things or that 30 odd percent of Americans would always vote Republican. There is an element in that number for whom it would be anathema to vote for a black man. But then again, I have met a number of traditional Democrats who have blatantly and without flinching said the same thing. So, why was that in my head?

This morning I was watching Fox News while I was working out at the gym. It is really the only time I watch that channel. I don’t watch TV much to start with. At any rate there was one time Bush right hand, yet to be indicted, slick as a slippery eel Karl Rove waxing forth on Obama. He commented that given the economic state of the nation, the war and the President’s poll numbers there is no way this race should be so close. He said it clearly showed that the American people had doubts and did not trust Obama.

OK, that may have some merit. Senator Barack Obama is not the be all end all for America’s future. He is a politician who wants to get elected, who could use more specifics, and has altered or nuanced his position in order to remain on top of the electoral heap. So, in that I am not sure how different he is from McCain other than public perception or media projection.

There is one glaring difference other than their political vision. RACE.

I know what the polls said but let’s look beneath the polls. Attitudes about race in America are more nuanced and subtle. They are subterranean and not spoken about in the open.

The New York times polls often cited also says, as Ball pointed out in his NYT column last week, that 16% of Americans think Obama will favor Black over whites and almost 20% think racial relations will get worse (that again could have many political interpretations and meanings). The poll also said that 48% of voters oppose any preferential treatment for minorities. Now that is striking and deserves greater exploration.

A third do not know or work with someone who is Black, a quarter think America is not ready for a Black president, more than a quarter feel they have been discriminated against because they are white and 27% say too much is made of problems facing black people in America.

OK, so maybe I have no scientific or polling evidence to say what I almost wrote last week, but something is going on here. Race is a reason a majority of Black folks will vote for Obama and why a deeply significant number of White people will not vote for Obama whether they are open about it or not.

We are not in a post racial world; people and institutions are not color blind. It is not really more nuanced but it is more complex. It involves wars of class and generation in the Black world, as well as changing attitudes about race in younger generations. Race in America is beyond black and white and is Mexican, Latino, Asian, immigrants, and it is still in white America wrestling with itself and our collective national legacy.

Maybe we are in a perfect moment to have a really different and open look at race and ourselves as a nation. It won’t be in our schools or our churches; they are mostly made up of one race or other. Won’t be in the media, much too substantive not to mention frightening for their bottom line, which is not our well-being.

Where? I don’t know. Maybe we will have to start it together.