Calling a Spade a Spade

Yesterday Matt posted a video that had moved me deeply, and I think cut to the heart of the matter not just in how much more work there is left to be done in regards to race relations in this country, but also in the political struggles that face minority and women politicians as they struggle to etch a name for themselves.

Focusing on the political side of things, as I tend to do, it is highly significant that we see the high-wire act that Obama’s campaign has had to maintain because of his ethnicity, and we caught a glimpse of the lack of trust that is still harbored against him among the same African American demographic that is too easily counted as in the bag for the Democratic party’s likely nominee.

If you are a white politician, you are free. There are, of course, things that you can’t say, but that’s no matter; if you really want to go down a certain route, that’s what they make dog whistle phrases for. No one worries about whether or not the white candidate is a BIG SCARY WHITE candidate, or those that do are too far in the minority for their fears to be adequately heard.

But if you break out of the White Christian Male mold, you are faced with that tightrope obstacle, maintaining your identity, while at the same time casting it off. To give Mrs. Clinton her due, this has always been an unfair hurdle for her to cross as well, if not more so than Mr. Obama in that her femininity had to be addressed, that she had to be a “real woman” but at the same time, she had to prove she could play with the “big boys.”

In retrospect, this is likely one of the major factors that is at the core of the problems Mrs. Clinton has had in identifying herself during this election season.

But for Obama, the challenge was steep as well. A black man in America, especially one running for president, is going to meet with racism. And for his part, he has chosen not to talk about racism until he was backed into a corner on it. And when he did so, he did not blame people for racism but encouraged open and honest debate on the subject.

And this has largely colored my own approach to discussing race in this campaign. Yes, I have gotten caught up in the race and gender baiting arguments that have stemmed from the actual campaigns and its supporters, but you get the feeling that doing that much is okay. I’m a blogger, we’re many of us bloggers commenting on the behavior of political operatives, and this is all just the nature of the beast. Politics is a full contact sport.

But outside of what is perceived as the boundaries encompassing “active players”, players whose skin you know must be thick enough to take it or they wouldn’t be in this game, outside of that, I have bit my tongue. I have watched as demographics have been cut and dissected and analyzed, and I’ve done my own analysis here and there, and through it all I have kept some thoughts to myself because that’s not how Obama ran his campaign, and to do so may be counterproductive.

And then I read this WaPo article which I have to say truly shocked me. This because I really haven’t seen any kind of reports about vandalism and blatantly racist verbal attacks on campaign workers. I never knew that yard signs were being burned and phone bank workers were actually listening to people suggest that the candidate they were working for be lynched.

In fact, as I reflect back upon the course of the campaign, the last time I remember any kind of static occurring on the local office level of this stature was way back in New Hampshire when a few of Clinton’s staffers had been taken hostage in their office.

Where were the news reports? Why haven’t we heard about this? While I can’t answer that question definitively, I was equally surprised to hear that the Obama campaign has taken steps to keep such incidents quiet in the past, hushed them up. A cynical politician would usurp these events for personal gain; Karl Rove would turn it into the crux of his candidate’s campaign, and we know this because in the past when there wasn’t a villain to blame, he made them up.

But this only reinforces the tightrope that Obama has to walk. His campaign workers are berated, campaign offices vandalized, threats, racial slurs galore, and he thanks them for being decent.

And me. I’ve bitten my tongue. I’ve tried not to essentially point out what I have personally viewed as the “racist vote.” I’ve refrained from looking at the split in West Virginia, and while I’ve whispered it here and there, I’ve held back at saying, “OF COURSE HE’S GOING TO LOSE THERE! THOSE PEOPLE ARE RACIST AS FUCK!”

And why? Because the campaign hasn’t done that, and because I’m afraid of, what? Pissing off white people? Making them feel guilty? Stirring up racial tensions that I know to exist?

Because I still want them to vote the Democratic ticket in the fall?

Don’t cause too much of a ruckus. Folks are going to be racist, but it’s not the American thing to do to call them out on it. The folks who wave the Nazi flag, they’re okay to call out, but heaven forbid you should discuss the racial tensions the Bars and Stars evoke.

And all of a sudden it seemed silly. We’re looking at how Obama can’t win the white vote in the Appalachians and the Rust Belt and the SOUTH of all places, and we’re pretending it has something to do with him being elitist because we’re all too afraid to insult white folks by claiming maybe some of them, maybe just an eensy teensy bit of them might be just a little itty bitty bit racist.

Because then the racists REALLY wouldn’t vote for us.

So I don’t know. I get torn between what’s in my heart and my head sometimes. My heart tells me Kentucky and West Virginia will be blowouts thanks to rank racism and that is something no one should be proud of, that no one should be waving around like a triumphant victory. My heart tells me that today will be a sad day.

But my head still looks at politics, at offending the wrong people, at pushing the only marginally racist people over the line when we could have gotten their vote, that there will be time later on to paint that broad streak from the Appalachians to the parishes of Louisiana and say, that is not about latte sipping liberals, it’s about hate. That can come later, now we have an election to win.

But at some time we have to call this all out for what it is, and we have to find a strong voice to condemn it as unacceptable. “Hang that darky from a tree,” indeed; and this is a part of America I’m supposed to be proud of?

At some point, we’re going to have get to a point where we can call a spade a spade.

They wouldn’t hesitate.

(edited by DrGail)

4 Responses to “Calling a Spade a Spade”

  1. slag says:

    I think many Obama supporters are feeling that exact same conflict. Reading that WaPo article, I was torn between being glad that racism is being addressed (to some extent) and disheartened that just talking about it hurts Obama’s chances. I guess it’s all about perspective. The same article could have been done on Hillary because she’s a woman. And I’m sure there’s some subset of people out there who won’t vote for an old white guy, in the case of John McCain. So, it comes down to percentages, and that’s what we need to keep in mind. So far, this election has shown us that we outnumber them. Which means that, if we work at it, we can take ’em!

  2. Craig says:

    If you painted the picture with any broader of a brush, it would be a two-person job!

  3. Plumb Bob says:

    A cynical politician would usurp these events for personal gain; Karl Rove would turn it into the crux of his candidate’s campaign

    Obama is, indeed, a cynical politician. However, he won’t use racial issues for personal gain at this time because his campaign strategy has been to paint himself as above such mean, pedestrian considerations as partisan politics, race, or gender. He’s the Everyman candidate, not the Black candidate, so he’s going to avoid highlighting racial incidents in order to avoid getting tagged as the Black candidate.

    Note that he has no objection to being seen as “the Black candidate” among blacks; he just doesn’t have to say it, it’s taken for granted among blacks. That’s why they’re turning out in such large numbers.

    Rove probably would do exactly the same thing.

    By the way, you should note two things that the WaPo article avoids mentioning:

    1) They never say how many incidents there have been; it may be a very small number, but you’d never know it from the article; and

    2) This is happening entirely among DEMOCRATS.

    You might hear more about racism during the general election, not because there will be more racism, but because Obama may find it useful for attracting Independents if he can paint Republicans as racist. As I said, Obama is a cynical politician.

  4. Craig, I had every intention of using a very broad brush.

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