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.
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.