Race Matters


I'm not the only one to have been somewhat taken aback by the onslaught of the last few weeks, and trying to make sense of it. A reader writes:

When people tell me horror stories about American racism, I usually dismiss them as the product of the actions of a very small minority. See, I moved to Massachusetts from Latin America 8 years ago. I'm 30, married to a white woman who doesn't think twice about my and my family's race, and I've been able to work and study and make a good living in this country with exactly zero opposition or discrimination from any American of any race I've come across. For me, my ethnic background has been about as much of an issue as my shoe size in living a full and productive life in this country.

Then all the attacks on Obama's religion, his pastor, his skin color, his culture, et cetera started coming out.

I mean, I'd heard O'Reilly and Limbaugh and Dobbs and Coulter stoke the fires of xenophobia and racial hatred in the past, but again, they always looked to me like rambling lunatics with no real credibility among people with IQ's over 54. I guess I was proven wrong yesterday, when Hillary won the PA primary at least partially on a platform of deceit and innuendo about Obama's race. Much to my amazement, it actually seems to have worked. That old white people so overwhelmingly came out to vote for her in PA can only be explained by the kind of racism that I've been dismissing for years from my progressive home state. What did she get, like 2/3 of white seniors?

I've learned a lot about Americans' attitudes toward race in the last few weeks - in fact, it feels like I've been beaten with a learning stick. Today, for the first time in 8 years, I feel vulnerable about my own race and my standing in American society.

I think all of us who once dismissed the fashionable view around the world that a black man would have a real problem becoming an American president have had a learning experience these past few weeks. I don't believe that racism explains all of it at all. To my mind, the kind of tactics deployed against someone like Obama were deployed against Kerry and Gore and Clinton. Class and gender and age also weighed in the balance. And the fear of another Carter has motivated some. But the insane hysteria over Wright, the racist incidents in Pennsylvania that are only now being aired fully, the "Hussein" and "Muslim" memes, the sense of white entitlement that is so embedded in the Clintons that they don't even fully see it: you have to be blind not to see the impact of race. Imagine if John Edwards had achieved what Obama has achieved. Imagine if he had won more delegates, votes and states than Clinton. Would Clinton have ever offered him the veep slot? Of course, race has affected this campaign, if only because the white entitlement that infuses the Clintons is invisible to most.

I still believe a black president is possible in America. Within another generation, it is far more conceivable than it would have been a generation ago. But I also now understand better why it will be an almighty struggle. And why neither Republicans nor Democrats have completely clean hands in this.

(Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty.)