by Latoya Peterson
New York Times op-ed columnist and blogger Nicholas D. Kristof has been paying a lot of attention to how race has played out in the 2008 Presidential Election, often expanding his thoughts to what this means about race relations in the United States.
On Sunday, in a column called “Racism without Racists,” he wrote about how “our unconscious minds engage in racial or sexual bias.” Now, this is nothing new to most of our readers, but I’ve been following these conversations in the mainstream media with some interest.
Has the national conversation really changed since Obama’s speech on race?
On his blog, Kristof elaborated more on his thoughts and opened the floor to comments. Interestingly, the comments were mixed in terms of reactions with many people acknowledging their prejudice, engaging with the data, and challenging each other’s ideas in a mostly civil manner. Now of course, there were those who claimed that “blacks are the real racists because they are all voting for Obama!*” or who claimed they were tired of reading about race, but I was heartened by the introspective nature of most of the comments.
Some of what caught my attention (of the first 300 – there are now 598) below.
I am a racist in the sense that, other things being equal, I would prefer to work and associate with other white people instead of African-Americans, Indians, Arabs, and all the other races that the diversity-mongers keep forcing on me. I am unique only in that I say so.
In spite of that, I support Obama. Other things are not equal. The white guys in the Bush-Cheney regime have almost wrecked the country, while McCain and Palin are certifiable loons.
Obama has shown that he’s an intelligent and thoughtful man. I have no way of being sure that he’d be a good president, but I do know for sure that McCain would be a disastrous president — perhaps even worse than Cheney — excuse me, Bush.
I’d prefer it if Obama were white, but race isn’t everything.
— Posted by Miles Gloriosus
While “white guilt” or a desire to be explicitly non-racist might fuel the desire of a sizable number of Obama supporters, I really believe that white guilt is very much the enemy of overcoming the “unconscious” racism you’re talking about.
My sense is that far too many of us white folks have taken an overly simplistic approach to dealing with racism. We declare ourselves non-racist, label those who are less tolerant than ourselves to be bad people, and then believe ourselves to be finished with the matter.
But it’s a bit more involved than that, because the “stuff around the edges” remains there until we confront it and work through it. And guilt is a barrier to that process because it makes the notion that we may harbor unexamined racism so painful, so intolerable, that we sweep it under the rug (and into our subconsciousness) rather than acknowledge it, confront it, and deal with it.
It would be nice to think of racism as a dragon we could simply slay with the sword of good intentions. But it’s not; it’s more of a weed that grows in the gardens of our souls.
So rather than view it in simple binary terms, I would suggest we take a more gardener-like approach to the matter. We didn’t plant the weeds. We needn’t berate ourselves over the existence of the weeds. We just need to get out in our respective gardens and get to work.
And we can save our breaths when it comes to our self-declarations of non-racism and tolerance. My hunch is that Black folks and other minorities tend to let such declarations go in one ear and out the other, preferring instead to simply peak over the fence and see if we’re working on the weeds.
— Posted by Mark
I’ve heard people say, about Obama, that “I don’t really know him.” What I think they really mean is that “I don’t really know anyone like him.” It may not be racism, but to these people he is the “other.”
— Posted by Marco
I agree that there are unconscious racists. I have been having a lot of discussions with white professionals who would seem to be not prone to racism, but then they say about Barack Obama: “There’s just something about him I don’t trust,” “He just doesn’t seem to share my values,” “I don’t really like John McCain, but there’s just something about Barack Obama….” I attempt to question them about experience, ask if they have read his book, gone to his website, looked at the issues — really dig into the reason. They just can’t put their finger on the what it is they don’t like. They would never see themselves as racist, and would deny it vehemently because they believe in the value of equality. But believing in the value and putting it into practice seem to be quite different.
— Posted by kat
“And at times, Mr. Obama’s race helps him: … and it wins him overwhelming black votes and turnout.”
I am still shocked at all the angst and racial commentary associated with Barack Obama. Stop complicating this. Less than 2% of the republican delegates were black. Did JC Watts or Colin Powell speak? Hmm. Could it be most black voters are actually registered Democrats or Independents and are voting their Party and issues; want a government that works; and like what Obama has to say?
You need to get beyond your disbelief and add a bit more diversity in your relationships. There are a lot of undercurrents in this campaign that are more powerful than race. We are identifying ourselves with our generation, gender, economic group, education level, and neighborhoods. I still don’t know who “Joe Sixpack”.
— Posted by sj brown
*Just as an aside, it has been projected that Obama would win about 90% of the black vote. A recent Gallup poll bears this out, citing 89% of Non-Hispanic blacks voting for Obama. For sake of comparison, 88% of black voters voted for Kerry in 2004.
(Photo Credit: New York Times)