Wanted to share some insightful emails responding to my recent story on the debate over whether Obama's opponents are motivated by race. One of the great things about this job is that I am always learning.
From a very wise, black, older woman who has been in government service and the national spotlight:
As I recall almost everybody called Bill Clinton Bill Clinton when he was President and no one called it racist; for matter when Reagan was President everybody just said Reagan ditto for Jimmy Carter.
Reminds me of when I was on CNN during the 2008 campaign and the question was is it racist to call him Barack Hussein Obama and I pointed out that though the person using it might have , I don’t know, wanted to remind someone of Sadaam Hussein, when Obama took the oath he would say I Barack Hussein Obama just like Bill Clinton said William Jefferson Clinton. I got e-mails and phone calls from black people saying I should have said it was racist--go figure.
Identity politics is sometimes terrible it can make poor white people ally themselves with their exploiters and make black people who are suffering from unemployment love the policies that keep them unemployed.
From a white man in Mississippi:
The example from Susan Glisson, whom I know personally, masterfully illustrated the minefield that we Americans can find each other's sensitivities to be.
I'll add another example: Years ago I was a lay leader in a Christian congregation that was roughly 50-50 black and white. It took me a couple of years to realize that when I used the word "conservative," even though I meant "fiscally responsible, supportive of law and order, morally upright," black church members, because they (or at least their parents) had experienced Mississippi's apartheid, would hear "racist." You can imagine how much love and grace it took for them to listen to me give a Bible study after hearing me assert, according to their experience and culture, that I was a racist. ...
I would take exception to dismissing Bush 41's Willie Horton ad chiefly as an appeal to racial bias. Horton's race undoubtedly mattered to some people - including those who played the race card in demanding that he be off limits as a campaign issue - but a bigger part of the truth even then, I think, was that Horton was a prime example of Michael Dukakis' illogical and frightening policy of furloughing murderers who were under life sentences without possibility of parole. ... As someone whose life was almost ended that very year by a criminal whose skin was as white as mine, I can attest that terror is an equal-opportunity employer.
From a white California liberal:
I think it's actually because he's not white. The underlying racism is, I think, more subtle that that to which we usually point. The issue here is that Obama, who happens to be black in his non-whiteness, is the symbol that power, money, and influence are no longer the provenance of people who are of european heritage. As white folks have long held the (almost) sole ability to be (good or bad) politicians, professionals, rich, etc, etc, and as no group in history has willingly given up their unique access to these things, the racism we are seeing is that of white society not wanting to share the pie, in our increasingly non white society, as there is probably not enough pie for those who have been receiving the slices, however large or small the slices have been, to continue to receive the same size.
"Share the pie." "According to their experience and culture." 'Identity politics is sometimes terrible." Those are the phrases that are sticking with me.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com