If you’ve been following the Democratic presidential nominee campaign even just a little bit, you already know that for good and for bad, Obama’s candidacy has thrust the issue of race into the national spotlight, front and center. But within this context, one of the issues that we haven’t heard much about is the opinions and attitudes of “ordinary” White voters and whether or not they will vote for Obama.
In other words, the question before us is, just how much as American (specifically, White) society changed? Or to put it bluntly, have Whites become less racist? Well, as CBS News reports, several incidents involving his campaign volunteers have called into question whether or not many White voters are in fact, more racially tolerant these days compared to say, 50 years ago:
For all the hope and excitement Obama’s candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed — and unreported — this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces.
They’ve been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they’ve endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can’t fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president. . . .
“The first person I encountered was like, ‘I’ll never vote for a black person,’ ” recalled [one Obama volunteer canvassing in Indiana]. “People just weren’t receptive.” . . . One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn’t possibly vote for Obama and concluded: “Hang that darky from a tree!” . . .
On Election Day in Kokomo, a group of black high school students were holding up Obama signs along U.S. 31, a major thoroughfare. As drivers cruised by, a number of them rolled down their windows and yelled out a common racial slur for African Americans. . . .
Obama has won five of 12 primaries in which black voters made up less than 10 percent of the electorate, and caucuses in states such as Idaho and Wyoming that are overwhelmingly white. But exit polls show he has struggled to attract white voters who didn’t attend college and earn less than $50,000 a year.
I see this as a classic case of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.
That is, should we focus on the fact that Barack Obama has waged the most successful presidential campaign of any person of color in American history and is on the verge of being the Democratic nominee for President, or do we focus on the fact that a significant percentage of Whites, particularly working class and non-urban Whites, flatly refuse to even consider voting for him simply because he’s Black?
This is not just an academic question that only intellectuals care about — this question goes to the heart of the current state of American society and the level of racial prejudice that still exists in this country. I’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself how you want to interpret these sentiments against Barack Obama.
What I will point out is that this question about where do we stand as a nation on the question of race, is not going away any time soon because it is a question that symbolizes a much larger epoch in American history and is a question that will become more politically and socially salient as American society becomes increasingly diverse and globalized.
We are reaching a crossroad in American history. The path that we choose to go down will ultimately determine the fundamental nature of the American identity and our unity as a nation.