On January 3, 2008 Barack Obama, a junior senator from Illinois defeated Senator Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the Iowa Democratic primary to become the first African-American to win that state. Iowa’s population is 98% white. Later, during Super Tuesday, Senator Obama would go on to win other white dominated states such as Connecticut, Utah, Delaware, Minnesota, Colorado, Alaska, Idaho, and North Dakota. Senator Clinton maintains a slight delegate lead over Obama due to picking up larger states such as New York and California (delegates are given in proportion to state population), but the surprising thing, that goes against conventional wisdom, is that those wins come because of her minority support in those states. Regardless, the pattern that has emerged is that Obama is winning white dominated states.
His wins have created a perception that racism has ended in America. Mainstream pundits everywhere have latched on to the idea that Obama’s rise to fame is a harbinger of an era of colorblindness in the US and the fulfillment of MLK’s dream. But is this really the case? Are white people voting for Obama because they’re not racist? Or is there another underline reason? Long answer short? Yes…and no.
Racism is a tremendously complex issue that is political, economic, and psychological. It’s roots go far deeper than a presidential campaign and to say that Obama’s wins are proof that there’s no more racism in America is like saying that Amy Winehouse doesn’t have a drug addiction because she spent a week in rehab. Racism is ingrained into the American consciousness and it will take generations, if ever, for it to full be excised from our collective soul. To say that it’s over and done is a reductionist fantasy.
However, just because there is no panacea for racism doesn’t mean that it can’t be treated and it’s symptoms addressed. Legally the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil Rights Act have been cures, economically Affirmative Action and other social reforms have tried to give blacks and other minorities ways to get better educations and thus better jobs, while psychologically black artists from Miles Davis to James Brown, Richard Wright to Alice Walker, and Richard Pryor to Chris Rock have all elevated both white and black awareness regarding the stark inequalities of our nation. To this end, Obama’s rise is both a treatment of racism and a result of past remedies. There’s no doubt that his advent has forever changed the racial landscape of America.
Still though, one cannot say that Obama’s wins are only because of some anti-racist fever infecting America. Like many of you, I’ve heard such ridiculous theories that Iowa, and many of the other white states that have gone for Obama voted that way as not to be considered racist. What utter nonsense. As if the entire state of Iowa got together in a secret meeting and all decided they better vote for Obama because…because what? Because black people won’t move there? Because G-Unit won’t play Des Moines? Because black people wouldn’t eat corn anymore? Or because white people would look ‘down’ on them? Give me a break. And why does it even have to be about race at all? Couldn’t Obama’s rise to fame be because he’s a electrifying speaker who’s oratory style is light years above his competition? Or maybe it’s because he’s a tremendous organizer who knows how to bring out votes and manage a campaign? Or maybe it’s because his message of change, while arguably quixotic and maybe even a tad cliché, is the perfect message at a time when people are disgusted at these last eight years of Bush?
And don’t forget about his competition. At this time last year Hillary Clinton had somewhere between a 20 to 30 point lead over Obama. He wasn’t even on her radar and she planned accordingly. As he snuck up on her she was caught flat-footed and today he not only has more states, but has raised and continues to raise more money, from more people then she does. He’s gotten the endorsements from people and groups she was depending on, and has swiped her media attention. All and all he executed a perfect jack move on her whole campaign, and now she’s borrowing money from herself just to stay afloat. Just as much as Obama has gained the white vote, Hillary with her high negatives, her perceived cockiness, and her Lady Macbeth persona (a persona she may or may not deserve) lost the white vote.
And still, she may win the nomination. It ain’t over till it’s over–Just ask the Patriots.
So as we move into the last leg of the primary season, and we look at Obama’s white support I can’t help but feel optimistic about the decay of racism, but I must temper my optimism with perspective. When we look at the problems facing African-Americans today that stem, in part, from institutionalized racism: poverty, crime, lopsided incarceration rates, police brutality, and the scourge of drug addiction, we can easily see that a black democratic nominee or even a black president isn’t going to make these problems vanish when he puts his hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office. It’s not about what color the president is, it’s about what bills the president signs, and to really address these issues a President Obama would have to take some very controversial steps. When his actions begin to speak louder than his words, then we’ll truly see how color blind his white supporters really are.
The Wolf runs a blog on political matters at www.wordofthepeople.blogspot.com. His first novel, The Intellectual Prostitute, will be dropping this Fall