LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

"I hate to crush your buzz, but this is NOT a 'post-racist' society": Obama worries, part 2


About 3 weeks ago I wrote a blog post called Why am I so worried that Obama will be assassinated? Should I be? in which I confessed to being unable to stop myself from worrying that Obama might be assassinated.

Over on blogher the post began attracting more readers and comments (13!) from people who shared my worries and wanted to talk about why. Just yesterday *.Lee wrote:

Like many, in my lifetime, I never, ever thought that I would see a black man in the Oval Office. ... I couldn't be more pleased and proud as to what that says about America, but there is the shadow of worry in my heart as well. I didn't think that the country was 'ready' for a woman or a black man as President. I was wrong. ... And no doubt, as the old adage goes, a black man has to work twice as hard to be considered half as good... and no doubt, there will be those who will never be ready, and will never accept this historic event.

The readiness of America is an important issue, because frankly, although America found a way to elect a black President, it hasn't jumped at the chance to take a good clear look at the race issue.

It's a thought I have every time I hear someone gush about how the election was "color-blind" and racism is dead, how this is a brave new world of equal opportunity and love among brothers.

Not where I live. And I'm pretty sure, not where you live, either.

I haven't wanted to dim the afterglow or undermine the enormity of Obama's achievement, but I'm considering making bumper stickers saying, "I hate to crush your buzz, but this is NOT a 'post-racist' society."

I'd be feeling better about race in America if Obama's election didn't feel like such an anomaly.

I'd feel better about the safety of the Obama family if at any time during the 44 years since the Civil Rights Act, we'd seen a steady increase in the number of African-Americans elected to serve in our federal government.

But in fact there have only been three black senators since the post-Reconstruction period -- and one of them was Barack Obama. (His current seat was once held by Carol Mosely Braun, the only African American woman to have served in the senate).

OK, it's partly an issue of demographics. To be elected by a statewide electorate, any African-American candidate needs a lot of white votes. Even in the states with the highest African-American population, black people are still outnumbered by white people by two to one.

But the problem is more than a shortage of numbers. It's a shortage of narratives. Our national imagination is bereft of stories and images of capable, competent African-American in public office. Oh, praiseworthy African-American politicians exist -- it's just that no one has been singing their praises.

Just after Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones died, I tuned into a local NPR station discussion of who might take over her congressional seat and how that might be decided. One caller in particular stuck in my mind, a citizen who had been sought out by WCPN's "The Sound of Ideas" (9/10/08).

"In this entire mix, somehow it is completely forgotten that there are roughly 200,000 voters out in the eastern fringe of the 11th district that are white voters," said Marta Kirsch of Pepper Pike. "What I'm not hearing, not seeing, it has never been broached, is the possibility of nominating a white person for this job. There seems a disequity in that and it's very uncomfortable for me."

Fmr. Rep. Louis Stokes fielded her question with more patience that I would have, pointing out that the unique demographics of Ohio's 11th District make it the only Ohio district to elect ever elect an African-American Congressperson -- the first was Stokes himself, and the second was Tubb Jones, his handpicked successor (Jones succeeded by Marcia Fudge). Otherwise, Stokes said, it is unlikely that any African-Americans would have been elected to Congress from Ohio.

After the show ended I was haunted by the bald-face bias in the caller's complaint. She clearly did not believe that an African-American congressperson would look after the interests of the white minority in his/her district. It wasn't clear whether she thought an African-American congressperson would be unwilling to act on behalf of white constituents or unable.

The ludicrous implication is that white politicans can be trusted to act in the best interest of African-American constituents, but not the converse. If white people perceive Obama as the exception is due entirely to the man's formidable knowledge of government, his intelligence and authority.

Still I'd rather be launching our first African-American First Family, with its 2 little girls, into a much more tolerant and trustworthy world.

Our country desperately needs more images of and stories about competent, intelligent, creative and commanding Africa-Americans -- in government and everywhere else. We need to elect them, and then we need to brag on them.

If a college-educated liberal Democrat has that sort of biased understanding of the impact of race on leadership ability, I shudder to think what her opposite number (poorly educated, conservative and/or Republican?) imagines when she get a mental picture of an African-American leader.

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N.W.O.O. December 12, 2008 at 2:08 PM  

good post.

B.Rachael December 12, 2008 at 2:25 PM  

I understand these fears also because my friends have thought the same things- Its a wonderful thing but everyone does notfeel the same way- just the other day I was driving and saw a NOBAMA bumper sticker- which can be no obama or no bama,either way,it snapped me back into reality, that everyone does not agree with the direction the election went but I feel confident in reassuring everyone I know that he has been under protection since 2007 & that was before a lot of people even knew he was runnning ! i hope that makes you feel better & I hope whoever is even contemplating doing something tohim knows it wont be easy & they can possibly start a riot that could end up bad for them and their loved ones! But I am extremely confident in Secret Service & soemthing like tha would be too cliche since its the first thing on most people's minds !

Susan D. December 13, 2008 at 6:49 AM  

I know not everyone is behind Obama. I know what it is like to live for 8 years under a President that I did not vote for and to watch while the decisions he made affected my life negatively. I watched as we started a war I did not believe in, ignored the economy, environment and the constitution. I would never want someone to feel disenfranchised as I did.

There are many the did not vote for Obama due to race; however many who did not vote for him did so for political reasons. I voted for him based on policy. I think it is wonderful that I actually had a candidate that shares many of my views who also just happens to be African American.

I once read an article many years ago on why women choose a doctor that is a woman. They said that as recently as the 50’s Gynecologists’ did not believe that women had PMS during their menstrual cycle. It was not till there were more women Gynecologists that this complaint was taken seriously.

The prejudice in this country will not be taken seriously until there are more minorities in power. I have personally seen and experienced sexism, racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination against the disabled. This makes the Obama victory even sweeter as we now have someone in the Whitehouse that will not just talk the talk but walk the walk.

So yes I think I would be great if Stephanie Tubbs Jones’ seat was filled by an African American woman; however if an amazing candidate is found I will be just as happy.

Susan Dratwa

lonestar April 26, 2009 at 8:40 AM  

I stumbled onto this from your more recent post, and couldn't help but respond to that last paragraph - surely you're not implying that one must be "poorly educated" to hold conservative views?

LilaTovCocktail April 26, 2009 at 12:58 PM  

Oh, lonestar, yes, that's probably what I did mean to imply when I wrote this post! In apology, I confess that it was a throw-away line with unintentional implications written in the heat of the moment.

In my own defense, at the time I wrote this post I was still reeling from the footage of local Palin rallies where poorly-educated, bigoted Ohioans (who happened to be voting Republican) raved on hatefully about how civilization as we know it would end if Obama -- whom they believed to be Muslim and/or anti-American -- were elected president.

Not that I don't think there aren't also poorly-educated, bigoted and hateful Democrats,or well-educated, thoughtful, socially enlightened conservatives (some of my best friends are ....).

But in writing this I wasn't truly mindful of any group but the well-educated, liberal intellectuals with whom I usually identify, who had suddenly begun making these dangerously (to my mind) naive statements about race in America.

Thanks for reading!

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