Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tandoori chicken, reheated: Obama and race.

Picking up where we left off last time, here's something that astounds me (though I don't know why it should, anymore): In the very same articles where reporters and self-styled pundits wring their hands over the possibility that white racism may obstruct Obama's path to the White House, they neglect to talk about how black racism may ease his path there. In the AP story I took from my local paper, the Morning Call, there is not a word, not one word, about black racism and how it may figure in the campaign. It simply isn't even considered. Time after time, the writer, Charles Babington, uses the term racial prejudice as a shorthand for white prejudice against blacks, as if it's the only kind that exists.

We've talked about this on the blog before, and I won't belabor the point except to remind people that Barack Obamawho, remember, is my guywon the so-called black vote in the last few Southern primaries by margins like 9-to-1. That's mind-boggling, unheard of. Under normal circumstances you couldn't get nine out of 10 voters to agree on whether they should be allowed to have casual sex with the celebrity of their choice once each month.

I suppose that mainstream writers think it's gauche and impolitic to mention black racism (or even to endorse its existence). This is probably for the same reason that people frown on the work of Charles Murray and William Shockley, whom we mentioned in passing last time: It doesn't fit the liberal, social-justice paradigm. Ergo, when blacks favor the black candidate on the basis of race (see No. 2 in the dictionary definition provided in my last post), we regard it as reasonable and expected
—commonsensicalbut if whites oppose the black candidate on the basis of race, well, hey now, no fair, that's prejudice. We do the same thing with gender. If some women from the Hillary camp betray their core principles in order to defect to Sarah Palin, we call it "feminism" of a sort. But let a guy say he doesn't like the idea of having a woman in the White House...well, how dare a man still think like that in 2008!

Please don't misunderstand me here. I'm not saying that I, Steve Salerno, know for certain that Obama's 90 percent endorsement by blacks indicates prejudice. It is possible that they like the man for his politics, just as it is possible that some (or many) white Americans dislike the man for his politics. But both are equally possible, and I don't see how any right-thinking reporter, no less a "pundit," can mention the white opposition while ignoring the black support. What makes this all the more ironic is that Obama himself, in an interview last week with 60 Minutes' Steve Croft, addressed that very situation head-on. Asked if it disturbed him that some white Americans might reject him because of race, he replied, more or less, "I'm sure there are black Americans voting
for me because of my race, too. So I think that's a wash." Good for you, Barack. I like you even better now. Astute SHAMbloggers will recall that I wished for Obama to address that very point some months back, and I'm gratified to see that he hasthough I would've been even more gratified, if not downright giddy, if he'd taken the clear next step and challenged the nation to remove the race card from its politics altogether. He could've said something like, "I don't want whites opposing me for racial reasons, and I don't want blacks supporting me for racial reasons. Period."

In any case, I think Obama is right when he says it'll be a wash. Though there are a lot more white voters than black ones, the intensity of racial feeling
appears much less pervasive among whites than among blacks. The 90 percent of black voters should be enough to offset the much smaller percentage of white voters who openly admit they won't "vote black." We shall see.

Lastly, now that Obama appears to have gotten past his squeamishness about addressing the race card as it applies to both constituencies...I wonder when the media will get past its White Guilt and do the same?


NOTE: If you're wondering why I added the rather lame and over-obvious tag-lines to my original headings for this series of posts, it's because I'm now told that I limit my readership by giving the posts the oblique, "catchy" titles I've always tended to favor. Apparently it has something to do with the way blog materials are indexed; so, even though these posts are highly pertinent to the campaign, people using certain search methodologies or news filters would be far less apt to find them if the only heading had to do with tandoori chicken. I suppose I'll have to keep that in mind for all future posts as well. That's disappointing, but what's a guy to do?


RevRon's Rants said...

Back during Civil War days, a popular saying was that "God made man, but Sam Colt made them equal," referring to the .45 Peacemaker revolver for which he is most famous. Nowadays, the weapon of choice isn't a revolver, but an idea. And for those who lack the ability or motivation to effectively formulate ideas, shorthand dismissals are their preferred weapon.

Can we really expect the media, whose primary function nowadays is to pander to the broadest cross-section of their audience, to abandon the lowest common denominators of communication when such a large percentage of that audience clings to that shorthand?

We've all seen first-hand how readily an insupportable mindset is reduced to allegations of racism. When one cannot refute a point or accomplish something through their efforts (or wishful thinking), the last line of defense deteriorates into allegations of racial bias. And there is no shortage of opportunists willing - even eager - to take refuge in such absurdity.

Until such time as humans collectively assume responsibility for their own thoughts and actions, the practice of a superior "us" blaming an evil or inferior "them" will continue, and the mechanisms charged with reporting human activity will dutifully follow along. We can't end racism anywhere but within ourselves - a task made even more difficult by those who insist upon keeping racism alive and at the forefront of our consciousness. Perhaps so doing might provide a model for those closest to us (a grandiose notion, I'll admit!). Perhaps they will then follow suit and discard such illogic, and serve as role models for others.

As strongly as I reject much of the gobbledygook that passes for New Age "thought" nowadays, one of their most popular sayings does carry some real authority: "let peace begin with me." The same can be said of the elimination of race from the common consciousness and dialog. And the old "he did it first" excuse is a cop-out that should have outlived its usefulness by the age of seven.

ellen said...

What's a guy to do? Do both, cover all your bases, exactly as you have done. I am a great fan of the scattergun approach when appropriate.
Reading revron's rant reminded me of a sketch that seems pertinent, although John Cleese and the Two Ronnies are addressing class rather than race. I have taken a leaf from Crack's book (not too proud to learn from anyone) since they say it better and funnier in 1.34 minutes than I could:

I think the human dynamic behind this observation is universal and applies to all types of discrimination, both positive and negative. You're right, Steve, that it is taboo to mention black racial prejudice, probably because we are afraid of being exposed as politically incorrect, a job and reputation destroyer at the moment.

Something that I found even odder is that black people discriminate amongst themselves on the basis of colour. We have a sizable population of West Indians (Caribbeans) and Africans here. In a very broad generalisation, the West Indians look down on the Africans because the latter have darker skins. The West Indians discriminate amonst themselves also, grading very light skinned types better and darker skinned as worse. I have often heard Jamaican men and women boast about their light skinned spouse as if that factor was the worthiest attribute. (as it may well be in social terms)
I read some US historical stuff on colour where the hierarchy is even more systemised with quadroons, maroons and high yellows.
Similarly, amongst Africans, Ethiopians and Somali's seem to be on the bottom of the pecking order purely because they are generally very dark. One Ethiopian with an almost blue-black skin, possibly the blackest man I have ever seen, told me that his shade of skin made him almost an untouchable amongst paler Nigerians and Zimbabweans etc.
Gays do it too. I made the assumption that, having been opressed themselves, they would be more tolerant of other deviations from the norm but a pecking order exists there too. Gays look down on bi-sexuals, transvestites look dowm on transexuals. My knowledge of that world is sketchy so I'll stop there.
I think Obama is smart enough to know this (this may be my hopeful projection but it will do) and I also hope that he doesn't get panicked by the polls into playing too much to the lowest common denominator.
Increasingly, we are becoming so interdependent that we are all becoming 'us' but the groupings seem to shift and change according to the circumstances. And we still need a 'them' because otherwise how do we know who 'us' is?

Steve Salerno said...

Ellen, during my career in sales, some of the most shocking racially based remarks I've ever heard came from the mouths of my West Indian customers, who would go off on tirades about "those blacks" who were ruining the neighborhood for everyone. It was very uncomfortable, because they talked to me with that same sense of shared purpose and outlook that I'd sense from my Italian friends, who were furious about the blacks (ironically including the West Indians) then just moving into the outskirts of Flatbush.

Elizabeth said...

OK, Steve, methinks it's really, really hard to draw an equivalence between white racism and black solidarity (I use the term purposely as black 'racism,' as applied to the US, somehow cannot pass through my typing fingers).

When you do that (treat both phenomena as equal), you pass over the fact that the whites, historically, are the privileged and power-ful race in the US, while the blacks are, historically, the oppressed and disenfranchised (in the vilest meaning of both words). Yes, I get that 'technically' we can call it racism both ways, but it really is not the same thing. IMO.

Furthermore, given what the blacks were subjected to for so many generations, what exactly should the whites expect in return -- the other cheek? Sounds noble (and desirable perhaps), but improbable -- or at least rather difficult (imo again).

This is a recurring theme on SHAMblog, isn't it -- I remember we've had this discussion before. We also talked about cultural biases and limitations of IQ tests used to measure intelligence of blacks (and other ethnic groups) and drawing broad conclusions based on the results, conclusions that really should not be drawn given the limitations of the tools used to make the assessments as well as other factors influencing development of intelligence and one's performance on IQ tests specifically. (I remember I talked about it here already.) You mentioned yesterday prejudice infiltrating science -- Murray and Shockley are indeed examples of prejudice masquerading as 'objective' science, just not quite the same way.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, I know and accept that I'm in the minority (ahem) in this position of mine. But racism is racism. And I direct you to the dictionary definition (which appears to be impartial and nonpartisan), in my defense. And you know, this isn't purely a matter of abstractions, either. Where a person comes down on this debate has much to do with, say, affirmative action, Title IX, etc. That's why people like Ward Connerly and Shelby Steele--both of whom are, of course, black--are among my greatest heroes, for the courageous stance they took opposing affirmation action. You don't achieve equality by orchestrating and institutionalizing prejudice, even if you think you're doing it for a noble cause.

In fact--though I realize there is no way of achieving this--if we're going to have anti-discrimination laws that are part of the U.S. Constitution (and, of course, we do), it should be absolutely illegal to vote for a candidate due to race and/or gender. That's my view, anyway.

Elizabeth said...

And we still need a 'them' because otherwise how do we know who 'us' is?

Good point, Ellen. Isn't it always the case -- nothing bonds us so strongly as a shared prejudice.

Steve Salerno said...

Stupid question: Why do we need an "us"? Why can't the world simply be an aggregation of 6 billion Mes?

Steve Salerno said...

In fact--just to throw this out there, and I haven't really thought it through--isn't that the first thing real self-help would do? Is tell you to cut your ties to everything that binds you to an external definition--heritage, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.--and simply focus on what makes you unique?

Elizabeth said...

You don't achieve equality by orchestrating and institutionalizing prejudice, even if you think you're doing it for a noble cause.

OK, I hear you, Steve. My question (for you) is, how do you propose we achieve equality (given the reality of discrimination present in (almost?) all aspects of our life)?

RevRon's Rants said...

"nothing bonds us so strongly as a shared prejudice"

Except, perhaps, a sense of guilt for a prejudice, albeit not one of our making. That guilt is, itself, an insidious form of prejudice.

Elizabeth said...

Stupid question: Why do we need an "us"? Why can't the world simply be an aggregation of 6 billion Mes?

It's not a stupid as much as a provocative question -- and you know it, Steve. :)

I share your noble desire here, but, c'mon, you can answer this question perfectly well. Think tribal mentality, safety in numbers, "other" as danger to a group's cohesiveness, etc. etc. We are not far from other primates in this respect.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the last two presidential elections, blacks voted for the democrat white candidate about 90% of the time. It's safe to say that Gore and Kerry already had "the black vote".

Obama will get maybe 96% of the black vote - which isn't that big of jump since blacks account for roughly 13% of the voters - 6% of 13% is still a total increase of less than 1%.

If whites are 60% of the total voters, then if only 2% of the white voters go with McCaine soley based on race, then Obama is losing net voters.

Only one-in-50 white voters has to make a race-based decison to impact Obama.

But in the grand scheme of politics, that's nothing. I'll be that voter fraud is probably 5% or more.

Chad Hogg said...

I've thought about this quite a lot since your post on the topic a few months ago, and I have come to the following conclusion:

I think the reason some white people will not vote for Barack Obama is because they believe that no black person could possibly do a good job, and that the reason most black people will vote for Barack Obama is because, more than any viable presidential candidate in the history of the country, they believe that he will understand and identify with their needs and perspectives.

Both are a case of making a decision based on his race, but I think one is much more insidious than the other. One is an absurd and irrational belief about the abilities a person has, while the other is a belief about shared experiences, which I find quite reasonable.

Fast-forward to a time in which roughly half of the nation's presidents have been black, and I do not think that you will find that black candidates have nearly as much of a stranglehold on the black voting block. (Hopefully by the time that could possibly be the case we will live in a post-racial society, but that is beside the point.)

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Anon 12:12, for helping to ground this in actual numbers. But remember, I was talking about voting in Democratic primaries, which is a different--and telling--scenario, I think. We were told (at first) that the Clintons' popularity among Black America--what with Bill being "the first black president" and all--would make Obama's candidacy an uphill struggle. But by the end of it, when it became clear that a black man was indeed a viable candidate, much of the minority support that the Clintons initially counted on had shifted over to Obama. Don't you wonder why?

Steve Salerno said...

Chadd, I don't disagree, necessarily, and I think your comment also goes to Eliz's question (11:49) re "what do we do about it?"

Sometimes we just have to let these things level out on their own, I guess. It's not a very satisfying answer, and it's an answer that no doubt would outrage people who have been victims of discrimination and want to see things "made right." But at the end of the day, I come back to the same question: How do you "solve" one kind of discrimination by instituting another kind? Especially when (as in the case of employment quotas, college admissions and "diversity requirements," etc.) the white people being victimized today have nothing to do with the sins committed in the past.

ellen said...

'isn't that the first thing real self-help would do? Is tell you to cut your ties to everything that binds you to an external definition--heritage, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.--and simply focus on what makes you unique?'

In theory yes, but in practice what keeps those ties in place is fear, fear of being alone in the world, fear of not actually existing. It's a very real loss of identity and done precipitously can result in psychosis.
India is jam-packed with holy fools ( here they would be in locked wards so the Indian solution is probably the more compassionate) who have tried this.
The terror is overwhelming. This is one of those 'Don't try this at home , folks'

ellen said...

Returning to this one, though it is probably out of date and forgotten by now, but this is a blog about self-help and its abuses.
One of the main planks of formal meditation training is confronting and dealing with our own feelings, emotions. I may not take on board the belief system but I really like stuff that works. Underneath all other feeling is fear, primarily my own fear of my own death. Makes sense if you view it in terms of fight and flight and our genetic memories of running away from sabre-tooth tigers. Makes even more sense if you allow that not one of us comes out of this particular human adventure alive. There are no survivors. Fear of death is primal and universal. So the first thing any sane person embarking on a self-help programme should consider is not to cut ties willy-nilly, but to learn by hook or by crook to handle-not contol or eradicate--but handle his/her fear of his/her own death. Whatever they subsequently accomplish in the self-help sphere is as nothing if the person accomplishes the great boon of some grasp on their own fear of death.

ellen said...

Before focussing on what makes me unique, (in buddhist terms this would be termed the 'ego'--not a buddhist btw, just find their methods useful. Ramana Marharshi, a genuine Hindu sage posed this as 'Who art thou?'--this is risky stuff, all those holy fools again) I would try to answer the questions: 'Am I unique?' 'Is there anything, once I have stripped away the accumulation of ideas, culled from society, culture, the past, dreams, wishes, ambitions, delusions, religious notions etc that could in any way be called unique?'
This can be an intellectual expedition, safer to begin with than the much more dangerous forays into the emotional minefields.
In practice that accumulation of ideas is what I call my 'self'--as far as I can see the only thing that distinguishes me from any other person, the bit that makes me unique.
From my own experience, beneath all of that I am just generic human material-a sobering thought.

But generic human material that I can then, if I wish, have a hand in shaping, given that it is impossible to entirely wipe the tapes of the past which are hardwired into our brains.
The effort of consistent, painful thought(and action) over time, in fact causes new neural networks to form (scientifically validated) which can bypass, to some very small extent, the old conditioning. Then it is a bit like a democracy, constant vigilance required to maintain the new conditioning while keeping the old in a quiescent state. If done long enough this vigilance becomes habitual and enters the realms of conditioning itself, a great relief. (and the basis of cultic operation ) This is enough.
It is very important, though tricky, to maintain some sane judgement during this process for the 'ego' is itself a chimera and a fraud, and knows this on some level so fights very hard (almost a life/death struggle)to avoid exposure.
U.G. Krishnamurti, a 'finished man' got it right when he said:'If you knew what this is, you would not want it.' Which is why I think most religions (and now new-age self-helpers) dress it up as bliss, heaven, nirvana, 70 virgins in paradise etc and wind up causing far more problems than if they told the truth in the first place. But if they told the truth they could not accumulate any money or power- for this cannot be bought or sold or even properly communicated in any comprehensive way.

Steve Salerno said...

These are two very interesting and thought-provoking comments, Ellen. I'm not so sure about the "generic human material" part--for any of us--but when I receive comments like this, it makes me want to open up the blog to some of the more delving, introspective/philosophical discussions I used to try to kick-start in the "bad old days"-- on the nature of being, reality, "what is the Self?", etc. I did try a few times, in posts about Barry Bonds, Charles Manson, etc. But they never got very far.

I don't know. Maybe it would be different today, with the different cast of participants.

ellen said...

I am speaking from my own experience-whose experience could I otherwise speak from? Yours of course would be different, you have a different background, different perspective on life. And of course if you are not sure about my conclusions there is only one way to verify whether or not I am correct--try it yourself and see. For myself, I have never been satisfied with someone-elses conclusions hence no gurus; teachers yes, at the beginning but the only teacher necessary later is what you find in yourself, the human thinking machine which is always working and the great big world outside which poses endless questions and teachings of its own. That thinking machine is always working, even when we think we've switched it off.
In reality there isn't much to be gained from discussing this in a theoretical way, you are either moved to do it or not. But you posed the question and I have always been a sucker for an unanswered question.

Steve Salerno said...

Ellen, I'm not sure that experience alone ("try it for yourself and see") validates either of us, or any of us, as "correct." As for the "human thinking machine," that machine is capable of constructing some awfully contrived and self-serving conclusions. And as I've said many times before, I'm not even sure that most of us are really thinking when we're thinking: We may be feeling (or "intuiting") and then finding rationalizations to fit, all of which happens beneath the threshold of consciousness. But maybe such topics are best saved for some future day, when pragmatic considerations (like winning an election and, one hopes, taking meaningful steps towards fixing a broken nation) are less pressing.

ellen said...

I'm going to write this and then shut up on this because these theoretical discussions can literally go on for centuries.
There is no 'correct'.
You have to work your way through all the self serving conclusions, rationalisations etc (and to get biblical they are legion) to the bitter end -all ego.
What is feeling, intuition, instinct if not rudimentary thought below the level of concious awareness? Ask Revron why he sits and what happens when you sit regularly over a long period of time.
Experience may not be enough for you but it is all we've got at this moment in our evolution so it will do for me until someone comes up with something better. Apart from the answer beginning 'In my experience....' the only honest answer to any question is 'I don't know'