Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What role race in race?

Will whites for for a black candidate? Are poll respondents not telling the truth when asked?

Political strategists once assumed that polls might well overstate support for black candidates, since white voters might be reluctant to admit racially tinged sentiments to a pollster. Newer research has cast doubt on that assumption. Either way, the situation is confounding aides on both sides, who like everyone else are waiting to see what role race will play in the privacy of the voting booth.
It's often called the Bradley effect, named after Tom Bradley, mayor of LA, who lost the governor's race in California; polls showed him being comfortably in th elead.

“If he were white, this would be a blowout,” Mr. Ickes said. “I think the country has come a long, long, long way since the 1960s. I think everybody would agree with that. But if you talk to people in certain states, they will say there are impulses that do not benefit Barack Obama because of the color of his skin.”

If he were white he might not even be ahead; Obama's lead is because of who he is. And because of the economy's shape.

Saul Anuzis, the Republican chairman in Michigan, said he had become accustomed to whispered asides from voters suggesting they would not vote for Mr. Obama because he is black. “We honestly don’t know how big an issue it is,” Mr. Anuzis said. But Representative Artur Davis, an African-American Democrat of Alabama, said race was no longer the automatic barrier to the White House that it once was.

America sure has come a long way in 20, let alone 40 years. Yet some things, and some people have not changed. Some old ideas remain in place; even youngsters share old prejudices.

Throughout this campaign season, many commentators and politicians have proclaimed today’s youth to be a colorblind generation in which racial prejudice has receded and diversity is embraced.

To make blanket generalizations is nonsense. The 1960s was supposed to be an age of young people embracing equality and dropping racial prejudice; that was simply not true.

But in two days of interviews here and north of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, most young people acknowledged — or even insisted — that race was still a powerful if subtle factor among their peers.

Prejudice is learned, at home.

At the University of Cincinnati, Anthony Galarza, a graduate student in urban planning, said he had heard off-color jokes about an Obama presidency that suggested the White House would become “more ghetto” with “barbecues on the front lawn.”

“I would think on a college campus we would be a little more liberal,” said Mr. Galarza, 29. “To hear it so openly talked about, it’s disturbing — it really is. I don’t think anyone who is colorblind would make a comment like that.”

Adam French, a 21-year-old white senior and supporter of Mr. McCain, said: “It would be interesting to consider if Barack Obama had the same credentials but was John Smith, a white guy from Texas, that he would be in the same position to run. I don’t think anyone with his credentials could come anywhere close to being on a presidential ticket” without being black.

Of all the students quoted in this article in the Times, this one jumps out at me: it misses the very point that being who he is makes Obama such an inspirational leader.

And then there are the yahoos that spout absolutely pure nonsense, the same sort of nonsense that was spouted 40 years ago, even if in slightly less offensive terms.

The McCain campaign’s depiction of Barack Obama as a mysterious “other” with an impenetrable background may not be resonating in the national polls, but it has found a receptive audience with many white Southern voters.

Not just in the South: here in New York there is plenty of opposition, which I consider to be racial prejudice, though the reasons expressed are indirect: lack of experience, not sure of his support for Israel, and so on.

Being the son of a white mother and a black father has come to symbolize Mr. Obama’s larger mysteries for many voters. When asked about his background, a substantial number of people interviewed said they believed his racial heritage was unclear, giving them another reason to vote against him.

“He’s neither-nor,” said Ricky Thompson, a pipe fitter who works at a factory north of Mobile, while standing in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store just north of here. “He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.”

Say what? Can this bozo visualize, or understand, the mixing of the races throughout American history? Doubtful; it ain't in the Bible.

“I would think of him as I would of another of mixed race,” said Glenn Reynolds, 74, a retired textile worker in Martinsville, Va., and a former supervisor at a Goodyear plant. “God taught the children of Israel not to intermarry. You should be proud of what you are, and not intermarry.”

Clearly not just the young have such ridiculous ideas. I wonder what Master Reynolds thinks about Thomas Jefferson.

“He’s going to tear up the rose bushes and plant a watermelon patch,” said James Halsey, chuckling, while standing in the Wal-Mart parking lot with fellow workers in the environmental cleanup business. “I just don’t think we’ll ever have a black president.”

Some people don't bother with ambiguities. He only failed to use the word nigger, this jerk.

“He doesn’t come from the African-American perspective — he’s not of that tradition,” said Kimi Oaks, a prominent community volunteer in the Mobile area, with apparent approval. Ms. Oaks, along with about 15 others, had gathered after Sunday services at Mobile’s leading Methodist church to discuss the presidential campaign. “He’s not a product of any ghetto,” Ms. Oaks added.

Yet even some of those who support Obama can't see past their own prejudices: does Miss Kimi really believe that all US blacks come from a ghetto?

At the same time, however, she vigorously rejected the idea that race would be important in the election, a question met with general head-shaking from those assembled; Ms. Oaks said she was “terribly offended,” as a Southerner, at even being asked about this.

And then some have the issue become personal: Bud Rowell, a retired oil field worker interviewed at a Baptist church in Citronelle, Ala., north of Mobile, said he was uncertain about Mr. Obama’s racial identity, and was critical of him for being equivocal and indecisive. But Mr. Rowell also said that personal experience had made him more sympathetic to biracial people. “I’ve always been against the blacks,” said Mr. Rowell, who is in his 70s, recalling how he was arrested for throwing firecrackers in the black section of town. But now that he has three biracial grandchildren — “it was really rough on me” — he said he had “found out they were human beings, too.”

At least he thinks his grandchildren are people; nice of him.

“I would think on a college campus we would be a little more liberal. To hear it so openly talked about, it’s disturbing — it really is. I don’t think anyone who is colorblind would make a comment like that.” ANTHONY GALARZA, in Cincinnati, speaking of off-color jokes about an Obama presidency.

“He’s neither-nor. He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.” RICKY THOMPSON, in Mobile, Ala., speaking about Barack Obama

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