Category Archives: Obama

White Backlash: Yes, It’s Real

For frequent readers of this blog, you’ve probably read several posts in which I discuss the anti-minority, anti-immigrant White backlash phenomenon. For those who aren’t familiar with such arguments, the White backlash is basically the idea that many (as in a large number, perhaps even most, but not all) White Americans increasingly feel destabilized and even threatened by many of the following developments in American society:

  • The changing demographics of the U.S. in which non-Whites increasingly make up a larger proportion of the population and the projection that in about 35 years, Whites will no longer be a majority in the U.S.
  • The political emergence of non-Whites, best represented by the election of President Obama, and also illustrated by the growing Latino population.
  • The continuing evolution and consequences of globalization, the growing interconnections between the economies of the U.S. with other countries, and the economic rise of China and India.
  • The “normalization” of economic instability and how, even after this current recession ends, Americans will likely still be vulnerable to economic fluctuations that affect the housing market, stock market, and overall unemployment.
  • The unease about the U.S.’s eroding influence and military vitality around the world.
Tea Party protester © Jeff Malet/maletphoto.com

Taken together, these institutional developments and their negative consequences have been increasingly been felt on the individual level by many Americans. But in the case of White Americans, they have had a particularly significant impact because, as a group, their position at the top of the American racial hierarchy is increasingly being threatened — politically, economically, and socially.

That is, even though many Whites will deny their position at the top and the privileges that they directly and indirectly enjoy, ultimately very few would be willing to trade places with a person of color if given the choice. So as many Whites see these shifts and changes taking place around them, they increasingly feel confused, defensive, and angry about what is happening to “their country.”

For those who say I’m overreacting, take a look at Gregory Rodriguez’s recent article in Time magazine where he basically points out the same thing:

As much as Americans pride themselves on the notion that their national identity is premised on a set of ideals rather than a single race, ethnicity or religion, we all know that for most of our history, white supremacy was the law of the land.

In every naturalization act from 1790 to 1952, Congress included language stating that the aspiring citizen should be a “white person.” And not surprisingly, despite the extraordinary progress of the past 50 years, the sense of white proprietorship — “this is our country and our culture” — still has not been completely eradicated. . .

This [White backlash] won’t take the form of a chest-thumping brand of white supremacy. Instead, we are likely to see the rise of a more defensive, aggrieved sense of white victimhood. . . . one can hear evidence of white grievance in many corners of the country. And it’s not coming just from fringe bloggers.

In the spring of 2008, candidate Hillary Clinton appealed to “hardworking white Americans” to help her campaign against an ascendant Barack Obama. Last March, conservative commentator Glenn Beck suggested that the white man responsible for the worst workplace massacre in Alabama history was “pushed to the wall” because he felt “silenced” and “disenfranchised” by “political correctness.” . . .

[E]ven though they are still the majority and collectively maintain more access to wealth and political influence than other groups, whites are acting more and more like an aggrieved minority.

Columnist Frank Rich at the New York Times makes similar points:

The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver [African American members of Congress] — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse.

When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from. They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress.

The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

As others, including many of my fellow sociologists, have already written about, we can see examples of this White backlash throughout American society, such as the growing militancy of Tea Party members, the Texas school board elections, and the recent racial incidents and tensions at the University of California campuses, to name just a few of the most recent examples.

I anticipate that there will be plenty to say and write about in terms of this growing White backlash movement for the foreseeable future, so for now, I will leave it at that and just say that whether White Americans like it or not, and whether they want to recognize it or not, this backlash among many White Americans is real and it is absolutely centered on racial issues, conscious and unconscious.

Dr. King, Race, Politics, and a Colorblind Society

Today we celebrate Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and legacy as a national holiday. I would like to use this occasion to reflect a little bit on one part of Dr. King’s dream and how far we have come toward accomplishing it.

Specifically, I refer to Dr. King’s wish that one day soon, we would live in a society in which, as he eloquently put it, people “would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” a vision that we commonly refer to as a “colorblind” society. This ideal has remained an ultimate goal for many in American society, from a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. But are we there yet? How close are we to achieving that dream?

Martin Luther King Jr. © Howard Stroman

Many Americans thought that Barack Obama’s election was the culmination of Dr. King’s dream and concrete proof that we have evolved into a “post-racial,” colorblind society. Unfortunately, as I and many other sociologists and commentators have argued, even in this past year, we have seen numerous incidents that illustrate just how prevalent racial distinctions and racism still are in American society.

As another example, just recently, there was the uproar over Senator Harry Reid’s comments from the presidential campaign that Barack Obama had a good chance of being elected because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Many conservatives charged that Senator Reid’s comments were racist and that similarly due to the racist comments uttered by former Senator Trent Lott, Reid should resign. Others pointed out that conservatives were being hypocritical in pointing out this particular example of “racism” while basically ignoring other examples of racism directed toward Barack Obama over the past few years.

Similarly, others like Professor Joe Feagin point out that Harry Reid was just verbalizing an implicit reality that still operates within American society — the “backstage” racism that still exists among many White Americans who are reluctant or unwilling to vote for an African American candidate (or even any candidate of color) unless that candidate looks and acts as “White” as possible.

The point of these examples is to illustrate that in contrast to what many Americans had hoped, unfortunately we are not yet close to living in a colorblind society. While Dr. King’s dream remains the ideal, the realities of the U.S. racial/ethnic landscape are quite different.

With this in mind, I would also argue that allies and supporters of anti-racism and racial equality should accept this reality, that race is still a significant marker of differentiation in our county, rather than naively proceeding with the assumption that being colorblind is the best approach within this context.

In other words, many Whites (and other Americans of different racial/ethnic identities) try to fight back against racism by trying to be colorblind in their daily lives. They try to treat everybody they meet, interact with, or hear about, solely as an individual rather than as a member of a racial group. They genuinely believe that ignoring race is the best way to move forward toward a colorblind society. Even worse, many Americans who otherwise consider themselves “progressive” criticize people of color for “obsessing” over race and that we somehow create our own oppression by recognizing race.

While trying to be colorblind is indeed a noble and well-intended idea on the individual, interpersonal level, the problem is that the idea of colorblindness is not reinforced on the institutional level and therefore, it is just not practical given how American society continues to be racialized, as I described above, and how racism continues to largely operate independently of individual motivations. In other words, ignoring the problem will not make it go away, nor will it solve anything.

As many educators point out, if anything, trying to be colorblind only makes racism worse because people then mistakenly and naively believe that all forms of racial inequality and discrimination have been eliminated, that everybody is now on an equal playing field with equal access to all social opportunities, and that American society is a true meritocracy.

More generally, the fundamental problem is not racial differences themselves. Instead, the root of racism is that certain racial markers or characteristics have been assigned institutional value judgments of “good” versus “bad,” “normal” versus “abnormal,” and “human” versus “sub-human.” This process has led to certain racial groups being privileged and systematically advantaged over others. Or in the words of Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Ultimately, the best way for us to work toward achieving the ultimate colorblind ideal is to recognize, accept, and understand that racial distinctions still matter and that they are still the basis for continuing discrimination and inequality in American society today. Only by doing so will we move forward on achieving Dr. King’s final ideal — true racial equality.

Racial/Ethnic Relations in 2009: The Best & Worst

As we near the end of 2009, it’s fitting to review the major events, developments, and trends in U.S. racial/ethnic relations in 2009. Therefore, below is my look back at some of the positive highlights as well as the setbacks in terms of achieving racial/ethnic equality, with a particular focus on Asian Americans (my area of expertise). This list is not meant to be an exhaustive review of all racial/ethnic news in 2009, but rather the ones that I covered in this blog and ones that I believe have the most sociological significance.

The Best

The Worst

As we turn the page on 2009 and the entire decade (one that many Americans would like to forget), let’s hope that 2010 and the new decade will lead to more prosperity, equality, and harmony for Americans from all racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

The U.S. and China: A Love-Hate Relationship

As all the major media organizations are reporting, President Obama is in the middle of a high-profile trip to Asia, visiting many of our major allies and trading partners, particularly China. Rather than focus specifically on the political and economic policies about which he and his Asian counterparts will speak, haggle, and disagree, I’d like to take his visit as an opportunity to focus on the love-hate relationship that the U.S. seems to have with China these days.

It is undeniable that globalization has made the economies of the U.S. and China much more intertwined and dependent on each other. One result of this trend is that when the U.S. economy is struggling (like it is these days), China has resources in terms of investing in U.S. businesses and opening up markets in China for U.S. businesses to sell to, both of which help alleviate some of those struggles. For example, and as a nice “Globalization 101″ lesson, the Washington Post has an article that uses a few examples to describe U.S. companies vying for Chinese investment:

On visits to Shanghai and Beijing, Obama will encounter not simply a rising global power but a nation that is transforming and challenging the way Americans live overseas and at home, from college classrooms to real estate offices to the ginseng farms of central Wisconsin. . . .

“Years ago, it didn’t matter what we grew. They bought everything we had,” said Randy Ross, a 54-year-old former dairy farmer who has been growing ginseng since 1978. “Now we’ve got to learn how to satisfy them. They are changing us.” . . . Hate it or love it, China is a major player in American life. . . .

Meanwhile, in a state that has lost more than 160,000 (or one-third) of its manufacturing jobs in a decade, local newspapers have been running editorials praising the People’s Republic and blasting those who oppose closer trade ties or Chinese investment. “China is a friend to Wisconsin and its businesses, not an enemy in a trade war,” the Wisconsin State Journal said in an editorial.

At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Chinese undergraduates now account for more than half of the 1,109 Chinese students there. That increase is another sign that China is coming because Wisconsin, like many state schools, doesn’t provide scholarships for international undergrads. Last year, Chinese students paid out $2 billion in tuition nationwide. “That money is keeping some American colleges alive,” said Laurie Cox, who runs the international student center at the Madison campus.

The Washington Post article lists several other ways, many just using businesses in Wisconsin as examples, that Americans and American companies have become dependent on China. In reading over these accounts, one might conclude that to a certain extent, many Americans see China as an “economic savior,” without whom they would be much worse off.

On the other hand, we can contrast those positive sentiments with other, more negative assessments and suspicions about China’s impact on the U.S. I’ve already written Americans being upset towards China for unsafe consumer products, human rights abuses, and allegations of spying and espionage.

More specifically, within this same process of China investing in U.S. companies, many Americans allege that the main reason China is doing so is to take them over and use them to eventually dominate and “take over” the U.S. economy. These suspicions were illustrated loud and clear in a CBS 60 Minutes segment from April of 2008 (entire episode is below, about 12 minutes long):

As I mentioned, these suspicions about China’s “real” intentions are opposite sides of the same coin and are great illustrations of the love-hate relationship that we Americans have with the Chinese. We love their money and their 1.3 billion consumer market, but we hate that their money might lead to them having a say in how our business is run or may eventually lead to them taking over the business completely (this is sometimes referred to as the “New Yellow Peril.”)

In fact, this kind of love-hate relationship that the American society has with Asians, Asian Americans, and Chinese Americans is not new. Starting with when the first large-scale immigration of Chinese to the U.S. in the mid-1800s, reinforced through subsequent decades, and continuing these days, these kinds of contradictory sentiments have manifested themselves in different ways.

For example, mainstream American society loved our cheap labor, how hard we work, and that (at least in the past), we were relatively powerless in asserting our rights for equal treatment. But they hated that we wanted to settle here, raise families here, and that our hard work frequently resulted in us making more money.

In the past, mainstream American society and the White majority also did not want us to freely intermingle with them — that’s why they passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and various other local and state laws that restricted where we could live, what jobs we could work in, and who we could marry. Such rampant hostility forced many of us to live in segregated ghettos as a matter of survival. But at the same time, they also criticized us for congregating in our own ethnic communities and accused us of not wanting to assimilate and to be American.

Fast forward to today and the same kind of cultural schizophrenia still exist in regard to the relationship between Asians/Asian Americans and the rest of American society and the White majority. The most visible example seems to be simultaneous hopes and fears over China’s investment in the U.S. economy. Such contradictions are also seen when Asian Americans are both praised and criticized for supposedly being the “model minority.”

Alas, this seems to be the consistent pattern in terms of the relationship between Asians/Asian Americans and the rest of American society — two steps forward, one step back.

Gary Locke and the Future of Asian American Identity

As news organizations are reporting, the Senate has confirmed Gary Locke as the new Secretary of Commerce. Below is an Associated Press news clip of President Obama introducing Secretary Locke:

If you’re keeping track, Sec. Locke is the third Asian American in President Obama’s cabinet, following Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Three Asian American cabinet secretaries is unprecedented in American history and needless to say, I join many others in expressing my elation and gratitude at President Obama’s picks for his cabinet.

For those who haven’t heard of Sec. Locke before, as Governor of Washington between 1997-2005, he was the first Chinese American governor in American history and the first Asian American governor of a mainland state. He was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and a possible Vice Presidential candidate. However, he declined to run for Governor after his second term and returned to private life thereafter.

As illustrated in PBS’s excellent 2005 documentary Searching for Asian America, Sec. Locke is known for being very intelligent and detail-oriented and as such, in many ways personifies some common cultural assumptions about Asian Americans. That’s not to say it’s good or bad, just to say that he represents a “safe choice” for President Obama in that way and was an attractive option since Obama’s first two nominees for the position both dropped out.

But I think another reason that President Obama chose Gary Locke is because, as also pointed out in the PBS documentary, Sec. Locke has many ties to the land of his ancestors, China. Therefore, it’s probably safe to assume that President Obama felt those personal and professional ties to China would come in handy as our nation and its economy tries to navigate through this recession and the 21st century global economy in general, one in which China will play a major role.

As such, Sec. Locke is the latest example of a theme that I’ve been writing about for some time — how Asian Americans are forging a new identity for themselves, one in which our “foreignness” or more specifically our transnational cultural ties and networks back to Asia, are seen as assets, rather than liabilities as we assert our identities as legitimate Americans in the 21st century.

In other words, in this era where American society is inevitably becoming more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse and where economic issues are likely to be a paramount concern for Americans individually and American society institutionally, we as Asian Americans now have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to American society. In the process of doing so, we can also help to reshape the image and definition of what it means to be an “American.”

This expanded definition of being an American includes not just emotional attachment and patriotic loyalty to an American identity, but also involves helping to achieve greater economic prosperity for American society. As we’re seeing right now, economic issues have emerged as significant factors and challenges to American society and its overall sense of national identity.

Within this contexts, Asian American are poised to make significant contributions to rebuilding the American economy and helping it become more competitive in the 21st century. These opportunities can involve many different examples. First, we know that at the aggregate level, Asian American households have the highest median income of all the major racial/ethnic groups.

Even when it comes to personal/per capita level, as data is beginning to show, US-born Asian American have matched or even exceeded the income level of Whites. Of course, we have to be careful and recognize that not all Asian Americans are economically successful, but overall, I think our community is doing well.

In fact, a recent article at New America Media noted that said communities of color have an estimated $282 billion in purchasing power, with Asian Americans possessing about $90 billion of that.

There was also the recent commentary in the NY Times which suggested, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that one way to stimulate the economy is to let in more Asian immigrants, who would buy up all he sub-prime homes, work 14 hour days to do it, improve the national savings rate, and start up businesses that will employ American workers.

More realistically, we’ve already seen examples of Asian enclaves proliferating around the country — in both urban and increasingly suburban areas — that have resulted in these areas becoming revitalized, with new businesses, jobs, homes, and other amenities being created.

The point is, the economic contributions of Asian Americans to the American economy is undeniable.

The second way that Asian American can contribute to a new and stronger American society relates more to the cultural level. As I mentioned earlier, it is clear that the world in general and American society in particular is becoming more diverse, globalized, and transnational. With that in mind, Asian Americans occupy a very central role in this evolving process.

As the U.S. seeks to maintain its influence around the world, it has no other choice but to embrace these global trends and to build more mutually-respectful connections with countries around the world, particular in Asia. In fact, Hillary Clinton has been doing just that as Secretary of State — in February she made high-profile visits to Japan, South Korea, China, and Indonesia.

So with this mind, Asian Americans can serve as a valuable facilitators in these connections because on the individual, community, and institutional levels, we still have strong ties and networks to Asian countries. This can take many different forms — maintaining relationships with friends and family and sending remittances back there, or using our bicultural skills and resources to do business back in Asia, or bringing our educational expertise to work on issues and projects focused on environmental sustainability, social equality, or human rights.

In the case of Secretary Locke, I think he represents this new form of Asian American identity — a “real” American of Asian ancestry but whose Asian ancestry can be a significant asset and advantage in terms of making significant contributions to strengthening our country, our economy, and our society.

Many Asian Americans (and for that matter, Americans from all kinds of backgrounds) are in a similar situation and as such, also have the same opportunity to become leaders in their community and in our society in the 21st century.

The Language of Obama and Black Politics

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize that Barack Obama is not like most of his predecessors. This can be applied not just to the obvious fact that he’s our nation’s first African American President, but also in regard to his “style” or more specifically, the way he expresses himself, verbally and non-verbally.

Politico.com recently had an interesting article that explores Barack Obama’s sense of demeanor, presentation, and language, how it has different effects on Whites and Blacks, and how it compares to George W. Bush’s style of expression:

On his pre-inaugural visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a landmark for Washington’s African-American community, President Barack Obama was asked by a cashier if he wanted his change back. “Nah, we straight,” Obama replied. The phrase was so subtle some listeners missed it. The reporter on pool duty quoted Obama as saying, “No, we’re straight.”

But many other listeners did not miss it. A video of the exchange became an Internet hit, and there was a clear moment of recognition among many blacks, who got a kick out of their Harvard-educated president sounding, as one commenter wrote on a hip-hop site, “mad cool.”

On matters of racial identity, many observers in the African-American community say he benefits from what’s known as “dog-whistle politics.” His language, mannerisms and symbols resonate deeply with his black supporters, even as the references largely sail over the heads of white audiences. . . .

“The code words matter, how you dress matters, how you speak matters; it’s all subliminal messaging, and all politicians use it,” said Michael Fauntroy, professor at George Mason University. “Ronald Reagan used to talk about making America the shining city on a hill, which is about America as divinely inspired, and it has a deep vein in the evangelical conservative movement.” . . .

[George W.] Bush used phrases lifted from church hymns and the Bible to signal an affinity for like-minded Christians. The phrase “culture of life,” became part of the political lexicon when Bush used it weeks before the 2000 election — it was a less political, more evangelical version of “pro-life.” . . .

Beyond speech, blacks have picked up certain of Obama’s mannerisms, particularly his walk, that signal authenticity. Bush had his cowboy strut, and Obama has a swagger — a rhythmic lope that says cool and confident and undeniably black.

The article basically notes that virtually all Presidents have their own unique “style” of verbal and non-verbal expression and they use subtle words, phrases, or mannerisms that reflect and appeal to a particular group of constituents to let them know that he’s “one of them,” but without making it so obvious that it turns off more mainstream Americans.

What makes Barack Obama’s style different of course, is that it’s a “Black” style, something Americans have never seen before from our President (Bill Clinton came as close as any previous President could, but obviously he had his limitations).

So what should we make of Obama’s unique style, or should it even matter? As a fervent fan and supporter, I personally love his style and find it to be a welcome change and a breath of fresh air for Washington DC and our country as a whole. But does it risk alienating White Americans who aren’t used to it?

That’s a hard question to answer. On the one hand, we’ve already seen and I’ve written before about the ways in which some Whites are reacting negatively to his victory and the growing racial, ethnic, and cultural diversification of American society in general. So it’s possible that these particular White Americans will use such examples of Obama’s “blackness” to reinforce their extremist and racist views of him and non-Whites like him.

But on the other hand, I’m confident that most others will recognize that different doesn’t have to mean bad or inferior. That is, I hope that the vast majority of Whites in this country will understand that America is inevitably changing — politically, economically, and culturally. With that in mind, there is now more room for different forms of an American identity to emerge, one that expands on the “traditional” image of American as being White, middle class, and Protestant.

Rather than denying or resisting such an evolution of American society and our national identity, my hope is that we can embrace them and use them as a source of strength and unity to create an inclusive collective identity as Americans in the 21st century. Sure, we’ll still have our differences, but my point is that such differences are good for America and will make our society stronger, not weaker.

Physicist Steven Chu Nominated as Sectretary of Energy

Following up on his recent nomination of Eric Shinseki to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Barack Obama has named another Asian American — Steven Chu — to be his Secretary of Energy. As news outlets report, Professor Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics and is the latest Asian American political trailblazer:

Chu, [director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory], shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics and is a former chairman of the physics department at Stanford University in California and head of the electronics research laboratory at Bell Labs.

The Lawrence Berkeley Web site says Chu was an early advocate for finding scientific solutions to climate change and has guided the laboratory on a new mission to become the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.

I have to be honest again and admit that I had not heard of Professor Chu before today but nonetheless, as always, I trust Barack Obama’s judgment and based on Professor Chu’s recent accomplishments, I have no doubt that he would be an excellent choice.

More specifically, I am also very pleased to see that President-Elect Obama has chosen an academic for a cabinet position. I have long been an advocate for making academic research and data relevant and accessible to as wide of an audience as possible. This very website and blog is my modest attempt to make good on that promise.

Hopefully this position as Secretary of Energy will be an opportunity for Professor Chu to use his expertise to apply academic knowledge to address real-world issues. In other words, knowledge isn’t much good unless it’s turned into action.

Congratulations to Professor Steven Chu and I wish him the best success.

Post-Election Racist Incidents

Last week, I talked about how many people have observed that Barack Obama seems to have a very calm, cool, and Zen-like approach to his life and the tasks ahead of him as our incoming President. It certainly looks like he’ll need to remain cool as he prepares to tackle numerous problems facing our country.

In addition to the economic crisis that’s at the forefront for many of us, since Obama’s overwhelming victory, plenty of Americans — academics and otherwise — are talking about what it means for race relations for our society. More specifically, one question that keeps coming up is, does his victory mean that racism is on the decline?

There are plenty of opinions out there on this question and I anticipate that I for the foreseeable future, this will be a recurring theme in many of my upcoming posts in this blog. But in the meantime, here is a story that should make things very interesting: as CBS News reports, Obama’s victory seems to have spurred several incidents of racism since the election:

Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama.” Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars. Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the post-election glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.

There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes. . . .
Obama has received more threats than any other president-elect, authorities say.

The article lists several examples of racist incidents that have taken place since Obama’s win, all of which illustrate the level of hate, bigotry, and intolerance that still exists in American society today.

As I’ve posted about previously, Obama’s win is a significant step forward for American society, but it does not mean that all African Americans have now achieved equality and in fact, racial incidents were common during the presidential campaign.

Therefore, nobody should be surprised that these incidents of racism have taken place and will continue to take place for the foreseeable future. Change is never easy, especially for people who fear that their “country” or their “power” is being taken away from them — politically, economically, and socially. My regular readers know that this has also been a recurring theme in my posts on this blog.

As I’ve also written previously, while I remain optimistic in the long run, in the short run, I unfortunately anticipate that anti-Obama, anti-Black, and anti-people of color racism will only get worse before it gets better.

Zen and the Art of Being President

Throughout the presidential campaign and nowadays, as he prepares to officially become the next President of the United States, many people have remarked that Obama seems to be very calm and even-keel in almost all circumstances. That is, he doesn’t ever seem to get visibly angry, frustrated, or on the other hand, seems rather reserved when everyone else is celebratory and even euphoric.

In other words, we might say that Obama is very Zen-like in that way. As Buddhists like to say, he seems to be very “equanimous” — he shows his emotion and determination to achieve his goals, but is very cool and unflappable in doing so and even once he achieves victory, maintains his calm and placid demeanor.

I bring this up because acclaimed writer Alice Walker (her most famous work was The Color Purple, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize) just wrote an open letter to Barack Obama, in which she reinforces many of these “Buddhist” observations and characteristics that Obama personifies. Here are some excerpts of her letter (emphases in bold are mine):

Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. . . . Seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. . . .

We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about. . . .

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. . . .

We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate.

One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. . . .

I would further advise you not to take on other people’s enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. . . . It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely.

However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people’s spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children.

A good model of how to “work with the enemy” internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies.

And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

As someone who feels connected in many ways to Buddhism, Alice Walker’s words capture many of the same feelings that I have towards Obama and the task ahead of him. And based on his character and his equanimity, I am very confident that he will do just fine.

14 Exit Poll Statistics About Obama’s Victory

There’s not much more that I can say that others have not said already regarding the significance of Barack Obama’s election as our next President: historic, monumental, amazing, inspiring, emotional, and quite simple, awesome. As a sociologist and demographer, I’d like to offer a few statistics on his election to be our next President:

  • 136.6 million Americans voted, representing a 64.1% turnout rate, the highest since 65.7 percent in 1908.
  • Obama is the first Democrat to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

From CNN’s exit poll tabulations:

  • Obama received 49% of all the male votes (vs. 48% for McCain) and 56% of the female votes (vs. 43% for McCain). But once you break it down by race, Obama only received 41% of the White male vote (vs. 57% for McCain) and 46% of the White female vote (vs. 53% for McCain).
  • 95% of African Americans, 66% of Latinos, and 61% of Asian Americans voted for Obama. Along with the previous statistic, what this tells us is that while large numbers of Whites supported Obama, ultimately non-Whites helped put him over the top.
  • 66% of voters under the age of 30 voted for Obama.
  • 52% of voters making $200,000 or more voted for Obama (vs. 46% for McCain).
  • By level of education, the groups that voted for Obama the most were those at both ends of the spectrum — those who have no high school degree and those with a postgraduate degree.
  • 54% of Catholics voted for Obama (vs. 45% for McCain), although among White Catholics, 47% voted for Obama while 52% for McCain.
  • 50% of voters living in the suburbs voted for Obama (vs. 48% for McCain).
  • Among voters who felt that their taxes would go up if Obama were elected President, 43% still voted for him.
  • 64% of all voters felt that McCain unfairly attacked Obama, while only 49% of all voters felt Obama unfairly attacked McCain.
  • 47% of all voters felt that, regardless of who is President, race relations are likely to get better in the next few years, and of those, 70% voted for Obama. In contrast, 15% felt that race relations are likely to get worse and of those, 70% voted for McCain.
  • 9% of voters said that the candidate’s race was an important factor and of those, 53% voted for Obama.
  • 58% of voters said that issues, rather than personal qualities, were more important to them and of those, 60% voted for Obama. In contrast, 59% of those who believed personal qualities were more important to them voted for McCain.

For me, the most telling and interesting of these statistics is first, that shows 52% of voters making at least $200,000 voted for Obama versus 46% voting for McCain. In my opinion, that is pretty astounding — those in the upper 6%-7% of the nation in terms of wealth supported Obama more than McCain, even though their taxes are likely to go up slightly. I give these voters a lot of credit for supporting Obama and goes a long way to counteract the stereotype of them as caring only about their wallets.

But perhaps the most significant statistic is how Obama captured almost all of the African American votes and a huge percentage of the Latino and Asian American votes and how, most likely, this was likely a big factor in helping to put him over the top.

It is certainly true that White votes still outnumbered non-White votes for Obama and that in the end, the scope of Obama’s victory shows that he has significant, broad-based support from Americans of all racial backgrounds. Nonetheless, I think it’s pretty clear that the Latinos and Asian Americans did constitute a crucial “swing vote” and ultimately, they overwhelmingly rallied to Obama’s support.

While observers, commentators, and scholars will debate this particular issue for the foreseeable future, it does appear that, combined with their continuing population growth, Latino and Asian American voters are poised to have this kind of potential impact and power for years to come.