Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Mysteriously Under-reported Campaign Story


NOUN: 1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. 2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.
* * * * *

I once knew someone who took great pains, during any conversation that seemed to broach the subject of race, to proclaim that he was color-blind. My friend repeated this statement so often that I started to wonder if he was trying to convince others or if he was really trying to convince himself. To twist a phrase from Shakespeare -- my friend did protest too much, methought.

I didn't hold these frequent protestations against my friend. I actually applauded him for trying so hard. Many people don't make that much effort. I never told my friend that he was missing the point. The goal is not to be color-blind. The goal is to see and appreciate the differences in color (gender, religion, culture, etc) without attaching a value judgment.

My friend was not a racist, a long way from it. He was just someone trying to integrate the values of his culture, his personal beliefs and his life experiences with living in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society. And isn't that the story of the United States. Not to be a melting pot but a rainbow.

Most Americans aren't overt racists. They're just people struggling to live in a world that includes people who are very different than the nuclear family and community in which they were raised. On most days they're people who are kind, loving, generous and fair. Yet they're often people, who given the right nudge, can think, say and/or do things that shock even themselves. Racial understanding is a journey and some people are a lot further down the road than others. Unfortunately, the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign has proven that as a nation we're not as far down that road as most of us thought.

During this campaign I have heard statements from some of my Black, White and Hispanic associates that have (forgive me for saying this) shocked the sh!t out of me. And I'm a very hard person to shock.

Yes, we all knew that there is a segment of our society comprised of card carrying Aryan Nation, KKK, Neo-Nazis. And yes, most of us knew that there is an element in the GOP that views anyone whose ancestors didn't arrive on the Mayflower as a drain on American society. But did any of us realize that there was a dark under belly to the Democratic party? Or, that this ugly little secret would become so visible during a primary election season that should have exemplified everything that the Party was supposed to stand for?
In many cases the Democratic presidential primary campaign, and the media coverage of it, has been both subtly racist and sexist. Both campaigns have, in their own way, manipulated the racial divide while simultaneously declaring that the voters are "better than that".

On the other hand, the media coverage (mainstream media and the partisans in the blogosphere) has been there to give the faithful just the right nudge. Can you count the stories devoted to Bill Clinton's comments in South Carolina, Michelle Obama's "proud to be an American" comment, Geraldine Ferraro's stumble, Jeremiah Wright's sermon, bitter Pennsylvanians -- need I say more?

Meanwhile, virtually all serious discussion of the issues (like the Iraq War) has been put aside. And has any of this lead to an open and honest discussion of race relations in America? Judging by the following story, not really.

excerpt from:Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause

By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff WriterTuesday, May 13, 2008; Page A01

    For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

    The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight.

    Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!"

    Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across "a lot of racism" when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."

    Obama campaign officials say such incidents are isolated, that the experience of most volunteers and staffers has been overwhelmingly positive.

    The campaign released this statement in response to questions about encounters with racism: "After campaigning for 15 months in nearly all 50 states, Barack Obama and our entire campaign have been nothing but impressed and encouraged by the core decency, kindness, and generosity of Americans from all walks of life. The last year has only reinforced Senator Obama's view that this country is not as divided as our politics suggest."

    Campaign field work can be an exercise in confronting the fears, anxieties and prejudices of voters. Veterans of the civil rights movement know what this feels like, as do those who have been involved in battles over busing, immigration or abortion. But through the Obama campaign, some young people are having their first experience joining a cause and meeting cruel reaction.

    On Election Day in Kokomo, a group of black high school students were holding up Obama signs along U.S. 31, a major thoroughfare. As drivers cruised by, a number of them rolled down their windows and yelled out a common racial slur for African Americans, according to Obama campaign staffers.

    Frederick Murrell, a black Kokomo High School senior, was not there but heard what happened. He was more disappointed than surprised. During his own canvassing for Obama, Murrell said, he had "a lot of doors slammed" in his face. But taunting teenagers on a busy commercial strip in broad daylight? "I was very shocked at first," Murrell said. "Then again, I wasn't, because we have a lot of racism here."

    The bigotry has gone beyond words. In Vincennes, the Obama campaign office was vandalized at 2 a.m. on the eve of the primary, according to police. A large plate-glass window was smashed, an American flag stolen. Other windows were spray-painted with references to Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other political messages: "Hamas votes BHO" and "We don't cling to guns or religion. Goddamn Wright."

    Ray McCormick was notified of the incident at about 2:45 a.m. A farmer and conservationist, McCormick had erected a giant billboard on a major highway on behalf of Farmers for Obama. He also was housing the Obama campaign worker manning the office. When McCormick arrived at the office, about two hours before he was due out of bed to plant corn, he grabbed his camera and wanted to alert the media. "I thought, this is a big deal." But he was told Obama campaign officials didn't want to make a big deal of the incident. McCormick took photos anyway and distributed some.

    "The pictures represent what we are breaking through and overcoming," he said. As McCormick, who is white, sees it, Obama is succeeding despite these incidents. Later, there would be bomb threats to three Obama campaign offices in Indiana, including the one in Vincennes, according to campaign sources.

Interesting, very few of these racially motivated incidents have made the evening news. Strange, for a media that seems to be obsessed with election night analysis by racial demographics. Don't you think?

Could it be that no one really wants an open and honest discussion of race? After all that might involve a little self examination and, no one wants to realize that they've been guilty of giving that little nudge.

Updated 5/14/04 12:48am

Sorry I just had to add this. It seems to make the point.

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