Obama as Racial Litmus Test
Today will be a crucial day. It will be a day when we will discover if America’s racial environment – and the emotions and feelings and anger and fears that it entails – can allow for a black man – with all that entails – to become president.
This is followed by a moving essay on the difficulties faced by minorities — specifically blacks and gays — in reconciling multiple cultural identities. As a straight, white guy, I’m sympathetic to the struggle even though I can’t truly understand it.
My position on the Jeremiah Wright controversy has been rather similar to Andrew’s. I’m willing to grant enormous latitude to how an older black man expresses himself on race relations, especially in the context of trying to inspire his community to better themselves. If a man with the natural gifts and relative privilege of Obama finds the man inspiring, one imagines that those with less cause for hope would, too.
At the same time, I reject the implicit suggestion that tolerance for the struggles of others requires ignoring our own interests at the ballot box. If Wright had, like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, presented himself as a candidate for national office, my acceptance of his excesses would have vanished because of the radically changed context.
Because I believe Obama believes what he says about getting past our racial differences, I’ve concluded that he’s taken the good parts of Wright’s message and rejected the bad as the rantings of a “crazy old uncle.” But, surely, others are free to draw their own conclusions? We are, after all, talking about a man seeking the most powerful elective office on the planet.
Andrew’s post talks about his own struggles with how to deal with the “roughest edges of a gay subculture” and his desire to tolerate it while living outside it. It’s a personal choice and I can accept and even sympathize with it. At the same time, I’d predict that the first openly gay man to win national elective office won’t do it whilst campaigning in spikes and leather.
Joe Biden got into some hot water for gushing that Obama was “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” But that has in fact been a large part of Obama’s appeal. That he considers Wright a mentor is threatening to tarnish that image. That may be unfair. But democracy means that the people get to make that gut-level decision for themselves.
That Obama is facing this from the position of front runner, having won dozens of mostly white states against a white woman with all the conceivable institutional advantages, demonstrates how radically far we’ve come on the race relations front. If he ultimately fails because the public holds him to the same standards they would a white candidate, that’s progress, too.