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Posts Tagged ‘Race Relations’

National Public Radio’s fascinating roundtable on race and the presidential election continued today with a segment on Morning Edition and another on All Things Considered. This is a reconvening of the diverse panel of black, Latino, Asian, and white voters from York, Pennsylvania. Their candid discussion is worth your time.

A few questions occurred to me as I listened to this morning’s segment that I’d love to hear you interact on:

  • What does the McCain/Palin slogan “Country First” suggest to you?
  • Who is Joe Six-Pack?
  • When Sarah Palin says things like, “[Obama] is not a man who sees America as you and I see America. We see America as a force for good in this world,” what does she mean by “we”?
  • Does Barack Obama include pictures of his white grandparents in his political ads as a way to reassure white voters?
  • Would an African American with darker skin have gotten as far as Obama has in a presidential race?
  • What does it really mean to be patriotic?
  • Do you think there will be any type of post-election violence motivated by anger and tension from either side of the race line? 

Those are just a few of the questions that spring to mind. You may have others. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Alright, I’m just gonna go ahead and post on this. I’ve been trying to resist, since it seems all I ever blog about anymore is Obama and race. But the cultural Zeitgeist is what it is.

Earlier this week, Politico ran a series of articles on the role of race in the current presidential battle. The pieces covered all the now-familiar terrain, speculating on how big of a role race (or racism) could play in the upcoming election. For me, the most interesting piece was a report on “How Obama Quietly Targets Blacks.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Obama’s campaign has been the delicate balance he must strike between reaching white voters and black voters. The unspoken understanding has long been that if Obama does too much to appeal to the African American community, he’d scare off many in the white community. While I think this is silly and perhaps insulting to many white voters who have no problem with Obama’s skin color, I also think it’s true a lot of the time. Again, the Zeitgeist is what it is.

And so, for the majority of his campaign, Obama has found it necessary to treat the African American community the same way a bashful eighth-grader does that pretty girl in English class—glancing at her only in quick snatches, lest his secret crush become a topic of public discussion among all the middle-schoolers. Here’s one of that Politico article’s most riveting quotes:

“What [Obama] has done is he’s shunned black voters — but he knows that they know that he’s black. And he knows that they know in our communities we have a certain feeling that he’s got to do that to get those white votes,” said Kevin Wardally, a New York City political consultant who worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton. “We inherently believe that what he’s doing he has to do — he has to not be in Harlem to get those white votes.” 

As I read that, I wondered how some white readers would interpret this statement. Would it seem to them that Obama is being sneaky or disingenuous? Would they be able to recognize the sad irony in all of this? The thing is, white politicians can often be very upfront about appealing to the cultural sensibilities of white voters. For instance, when Sarah Palin talks about Obama not feeling that “our great country” is perfect enough, something tells me she’s not thinking of non-whites when she says “our.” If an African American politician like Obama were as brazen with black voters, he wouldn’t stand a chance.

I confess that I was intrigued by these Politico reports. But to tell you the truth, I think these types of articles are getting old. Every day brings another examination of the role of race. Will the “Bradley Effect” rob Barack Obama of the presidential race, even though the polls keep putting him well ahead? Will the “Bubba Vote” save John McCain? Did McCain mean something sinister during the debate when he said, “That One”? Are Sarah Palin’s frequent slams against Obama before mostly white audiences (“This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America”) racial code for something else?

I could give you my opinion, but what difference would it really make? Who really cares anymore? Are any of us truly ready to see the argument from the other side’s perspective? Some will call it racism. Some will call it down-and-dirty campaigning. It is what it is. And depending on your personal experience, your political affiliation, your cultural background, and perhaps the color of your skin, you’re going to have a different opinion about the meaning of it all. Honestly, at the end of the day, none of that really matters.

What does matter, however, is how we’re treating our fellow citizens, how we’re treating our brothers and sisters. Sometimes I almost think it would be best to put real life on hold during the high theater of this phase of the election season, when emotions are high and partisan rhetoric is running at a fever pitch. In these latter days of the race, there’s usually no room for banal values like respect, compassion, and grace. Right now, it’s all about getting our guy (or gal) elected.

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With the collapse of the U.S. financial system, all other news tends to pale in comparison. Still, sticking with the main theme of this blog, here are a few of the interesting news items and blog posts that I stumbled across over the past week.

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From a new Associated Press report:

Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them “lazy,” “violent,” responsible for their own troubles.

The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about two and one-half percentage points.

Certainly, Republican John McCain has his own obstacles: He’s an ally of an unpopular president and would be the nation’s oldest first-term president. But Obama faces this: 40 percent of all white Americans hold at least a partly negative view toward blacks, and that includes many Democrats and independents.

Read the full article here. Also, Glenn Loury and John McWhorter continue their engrossing conversation about the election over at Bloggingheads.tv. These two scholars continue to offer some of the most intelligent, balanced, and unpredictable commentary on the political and social implications of the presidential race.

Update, Sept. 21:The Race Discussion Obama Didn’t Want,” Politico.com’s analysis of the AP-Yahoo poll.

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I knew actor/director Tim Reid from his roles as Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati and Ray Campbell on Sister, Sister. I knew Tom Dreesen from his frequent guest spots on The Late Show with David Letterman. What I didn’t know is that the two of them once comprised “the nation’s first black and white comedy team.” That is, until I saw this article in today’s Chicago Tribune and learned about a new book, Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, that traces their unique history.

From 1969 to 1974 (several years before Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder teamed up for their first film together), Reid and Dreesen performed at black, white, and sometimes mixed nightclubs across the country. In an era when racial humor was still too hot to handle for most folks, the duo did satirical bits such as “Superspade and the Courageous Caucasian.” Unfortunately, their act was considered too dangerous and controversial for the socially turbulent climate of the early seventies, so the pair eventually broke up. Though they each went on to achieve individual fame, they were never able to break into the top ranks of show business as a tandem.

Still, for a brief, heady period in pop culture, Reid and Dreesen were out there using comedy to defuse and illuminate the volatile subject of race in America. In their own way, they were pioneers in racial reconciliation.

Update, Sept. 20: NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday featured a nice interview with Reid and Tom this morning.

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A few folks have asked if I planned to blog about the Obama Waffles fiasco. I really don’t want to, though I suppose this post will, in effect, constitute me “blogging about it.” Here’s the official website from the folks who are pushing this “satire.” And here’s what Christianity Today.com said about it. And my friend Gina Dalfonzo over at The Point says this (though I wasn’t aware that she and I had been having so many disagreements about the election).  😉

As for me, I’m feeling too weary and cynical to offer anything useful about this. I guess I’m experiencing a relapse of the “Reconciliation Blues.”

In an email, a friend of mine recently confessed that when his faith is weak, he is vulnerable to becoming severely depressed and feeling hopeless about the race issue in America—and in the church. I knew exactly what he meant. My faith has been feeling that weakness lately. Sometimes it seems as though any progress we’ve made on the racial healing front has been forgotten. Cultural ignorance and fear, as well as divisive maneuvering for the sake of political gain, remind me that racism is alive and well.

Sometimes, I too confess, my heart echoes the cry of that desperate father pleading to Jesus: “Lord, I do believe! But help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

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I don’t want to get too partisan here, but most of you have probably figured out I lean toward Obama in the current presidential race. I realize that many will immediately think I support him because he’s black, and there might be some deep psychosocial truth to that. But, honestly, my main interest in him has more to do with the spirit of racial and cultural reconciliation that I detect in his message and manner—this was also a chief reason why I voted for George W. Bush in 2000. Nevertheless, I really don’t want to promote one candidate over another on this blog. When I talk about Obama here, it’s usually because of the social and religious questions that his candidacy highlights and stirs up.

We touched on this latest question in an earlier post, and I had no intention of pursuing it any further, but it’s been on my mind a lot the past couple days. So, here it is: In American politics and society, is it more acceptable to play the gender card (especially when the alleged victim of the sexism is white) than the race card? I ask this question sincerely and without guile. I really would like to know.

I could ramble on at length about how one side seems to be able to get away with crying “sexism” and “you’re playing the race card” whenever they want, while the other side seems scared to death to even mention the word race (even in the wake of cynical comments about “community organizers” and “uppity” behavior), but I’ll save that for later. However, I will excerpt from a reader comment on TheRoot.com that made me wonder about this question. The comment was in response to an article that contends Obama is playing too nice and needs to start getting as mean as his opponent. The reader cautioned against this, saying:

A snide remark from a Black mouth is not digested the same as a snide remark from a White mouth. Obama is not stupid. He is a Black man in America who understands how the game is played. And if he starts meeting barb for barb, we will all surely lose, hands-down! I have been tempted to question his tactics as well…it’s hard, but in the end, it will be worth it. Meanwhile, I’m praying.

What do you think? Is Obama constrained by his race—and perhaps, now, by his gender—from getting too down and dirty in this presidential contest?

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