• DOUBLETAKE 08: “Taking a second look at race and racism in the 2008 presidential elections”

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White Democrats and “Obama’s Race Problem”

Let’s tease out some of the information offered to us in the recent interactive AP/Yahoo Survey on race and the elections.

What’s helpful about this poll, from a white anti-racist perspective, is that it focuses on various attitude of white Democrats in particular, how they view the experience of African Americans and how that impacts their vote. As someone who cares about building a culture free of racism among white people, it’s helpful to know how many liberal to centrist Democrats view race.

The survey provides statements about “the Black experience” and tests how much white democrats agree:

“Irish, Italians, Jews and other minorities worked their way up; blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

42 % white Democrats AGREED with this statement;

61% of those are voting for Obama.

“Over the past few years, blacks have gotten LESS than they deserved.”

20% white Democrats agree;

90% of them are voting for Obama.

“Generations of slavery have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way our of the lower class.”

27% of white Democrats agreed with that statement;
93% of those are voting for Obama.

These numbers communicate that most white Dems see racism as a Black person’s problem, and only a minority of white Dems view racism as a systemic issues. The title of the survey itself reflects this “race-as-a-personal-issue”: it’s called “Barack Obama’s race problem.”

I think “the race problem” actually belongs to white people. Such variant responses and perspectives among white Democrats, and also the general denial about the realities facing Black communities across the nation, speaks to the way institutional and cultural white privilege distorts many white people’s understanding of race relations in the U.S.

Because white people don’t have to think about race, we can fail to see clearly the grim realities facing people of color communities– realities that take root in generations and generations of state-facilitated poverty, trauma, and disenfranchisement.

As an example of how white folks can’t or don’t have to see race: an African American friend of mine recently pointed out how the stereotype that “Black people steal” follows her into every retail store. She has been followed, watched, and has witnessed other Black customers being followed. She makes sure to buy something every time she goes to a convenience store (even if she doesn’t find what she wants) JUST so the store owners don’t accuse her of stealing. As a white person, rarely does my race ever factor into considering how I’ll be treated.

Just recently, I caught part of a documentary of the Ku Klux Klan on the History channel. The history of the Klan is heinous in all respects, but what stuck with me is that in the 1920’s the Klan was 5 million members strong and brutal lynchings of Blacks were common place throughout the South. The 1920s! We are sadly mistaken if we think that that sort of trauma disappears in a generation or two.

Indeed, racism is a white person’s problem… and responsibility. And in that responsibility, there is opportunity to rectify the misdeeds of the past, and be active agents of change and healing in developing healthy, multiracial communities.

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