Friday, May 28, 2010

Obama And Race: A Different Take

OK, fair warning - I'm going to make some people very uncomfortable here and it's not going to be who you think. 

I'll also say upfront that I hesitate to take on racial issues:  I'm a middle aged white male who admittedly has a very limited understanding of what is called "the black experience in America."  I try to be empathetic but I have never suffered discrimination of any sort due to the color of my skin.  However, I am seeing a dynamic going on concerning our current President that I have to talk about.

The dynamic in question is what in drama is called "subtext" when it comes to that man in the White House. 

The reaction to Obama's election among the r-word set was totally expected (They get so upset when they get called racists so I'll try not to do it.).  Someone remarked that the r-worders considered it OK now to drop the public polite masks and wave that r-word flag high because with Obama's election "white guilt" was now dead and they wouldn't be hit so hard when they let their bigotry out to play.  Many examples abound that show that but one subtext is screaming out from them: 

Obama MUST be far left and secretly hates America because he's black. 

That's an old one too.  I used to be told directly and indirectly that black people couldn't possibly be patriotic about America.  I never have figured out how that worked either.  Were the r-worders saying that because they believe that the level of patriotic fervor increases the paler your skin is?  Was it their own admission of the "white guilt" that they decried and were they admitting that black people had been treated so badly in America that they think that blacks couldn't love the country that did that to them?   Who knows, deep thinking isn't exactly a requirement to join the r-word club. 

Like I said, unsurprising.

There is another side to that coin and you find it among the "disappointed in Obama" wing of the left.  With about everything the President does, someone on the left will pop up to complain that it didn't go far enough and was this what we voted for?   I, for one, don't know who they thought they were voting for either. Obama ran a centrist, barely liberal campaign of national unity and he's governing the way he said he would.  Some people thought he was something else even though his centrism was always right there to be seen and heard in position statements and speeches.  Subtext? 

Obama should be far left BECAUSE he's black.

Two sides of the same coin and both just as racist as the other.

Anyone squirming out there right now?  Well, the first of anything has powerful myths to overcome - good and bad. I don't think the racism on the (white) left is conscious or purposeful, however.  This stereotype is much more benign.   We love to poke holes in the mythology believed by the right and not so much when it comes to ourselves.

The example of a myth strongly believed by those of us white folk even slightly on the left that crashed to earth comes from my youth in the Sixties.  The running myth at the time was, since men had done such an awful job at it, when women ran things everything would be all better.  No woman would send another woman's sons to die in a war, the myth went, and since women were such mysterious, all-compassionate creatures intolerance and hatred would be a thing of the past. 

Then came women in power like Indira Gandhi who imposed a strong-armed dictatorship on her country.  Let's not forget Margaret Thatcher, aka "Britain's Reagan" who was never thought of as particularly cuddly and nurturing.  The myth died but the lesson learned was that gender doesn't dictate behavior and when it comes down to it, women in power really aren't any better or worse than their male counterparts.

I'm not saying that President Obama is so bad that the same lesson will apply to nonwhites -- I think he's doing as good a job as can be expected given the problems he was left to deal with and has accomplished so much in his first two years that he is being favorably compared to FDR. That ain't too shabby.  He's no Messiah (we never thought he was), he is human and will get things right and other things wrong just like any other (white) Democrat would if they were in office right now.  If some of our friends on the left can figure this out and see the man who was actually elected instead of the one they created in their heads, the same lesson will be learned though.

Should that happen and we start seeing that people are people regardless of outward pigment and other minor differences with no guarantee of anything, President Obama will have inadvertantly given the nation a gift that will dwarf even his most ambitious proposals and programs.

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