Obama and Hidden Racism
Mike Tomasky believes that, despite the fact that three-quarters of black Americans are middle class and that “[m]ore black and white people go to college together and work together than in probably any other racially mixed society in the world,” he thinks we’re essentially a segregated society.
I haven’t been able to find any numbers on this, but here’s my educated guess about the America of 2008. I’d bet that most white Americans have never been to black person’s home. I’d bet that most have never had a black person in their home (let’s be blunt: I’d bet most would, at the least, feel funny about it). I’d bet that most white families don’t have any sense that black families live the same kinds of lives they do, and have the same kinds of values they do.
Can that really be right? An ABC News-WaPo poll (which I examine in depth here) conducted last week asked, “Do you yourself know any (black/white) person whom you consider a fairly close personal friend?” 79 percent of whites and 92 percent of blacks answered in the affirmative. Even accounting for lying to look good to the pollster, it’s hard to imagine that most white Americans have never been to a black person’s home.
It is often said of people’s presidential vote that they’re voting for someone they’re going to be essentially inviting into their living rooms every night for the next four years. A white couple in the Obamas’ position — Harvard Law grads, residents of a racially mixed urban neighborhood — would have to demonstrate, as the Obamas do, that they’re “normal,” whatever that means. But the bar for the Obamas will be higher. For black people in America, it always is.
On one hand, it’s demonstrably false. Indeed, as Chris Rock jokes, white people seem to be impressed when a black four-star general is “articulate,” something that would be simply presumed of a white in that position. Obama has far and away the least impressive resume of any major party nominee in my lifetime, perhaps ever. He was plucked out of essentially nowhere — a state legislator running for a Senate seat — and made the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and became an instant contender for the presidency the second he got elected to the Senate. That’s unheard of. The sheer novelty of “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” is almost certainly at least part of the explanation.
Are there whites who wonder whether one of “those people” would can be trusted with the presidency? No doubt. But, last I checked, Obama was the frontrunner to be the next president of the United States. So it would seem that, whatever misgivings whites have about inviting a generic black man into their living room, they don’t apply to this particular black man.