I got a whole bunch of reader email about my latest story, which discussed the debate over whether Obama’s opponents are motivated by racism. More than 95 percent of the email was from conservatives who assumed that I was accusing all conservatives of racism, instead of reporting on the existence of a contentious debate. Such as:
So you drip condescension all over us conservatives like rancid sweat from a sewage worker walking into a fine restaurant without taking a bath first. We’re all racist, WE JUST DON’T KNOW IT, HUH…?
…It’s becoming easy to quickly humiliate anyone defaulting to the racism charge: I just shout them down as cowards, terrified to talk about welfare waivers, terrified to talk about 1992 book promo brochures shrieking Kenya as Obama’s birthplace, terrified to talk about that slimy political machine Obama comes from, CHICAGO. News Flash, smart a**: A welfare queen is a WELFARE QUEEN, regardless of whether the b***h getting checks under a dozen different names is BLACK or WHITE…! Oh, and yeah… More whites are on welfare now than blacks…! ‘Think you ought to pull your intellect out of the nineteen-fricking 70’s…?
Your article was a pathetic attempt to keep the ‘ALL CONSERVATIVES ARE RACIST…’ charge alive, now that we’re adept at slamming you liberal creeps back in spades.
As a boy, walking with my cousin, a black boy on an oncoming bike dismounted but accidentally bumped into me. I used a slur to object to it, the boy then said hello to my cousin. They knew each other and easily could have been friends. I was humiliated. I did not forget it all my life, and it has influenced my conduct in EVERYTHING…! Now I wonder what my guilt all these years has been about as I navigate the word ‘racist’ in ANY discussion of Obama…!
Of those negative emails, about a third of them say some variation of, “Black folks are racist because 95% of them voted for Obama.” Such as:
PLEASE stop this nonsense. You didn't mention in your article that 96% of blacks voted for Obama in 2008 - is that not racial bias against John McCain?
Now, I’m terrible with numbers, but I’m always amazed that folks make this argument. Black people usually vote Democrat, no matter if the candidate is black or not. Gore got 90% of the black vote in 2000; Kerry got 88% in 2004. So one might look for signs of racial bias in 5-7% of Obama’s black vote—right?
That said, 2 million more black people voted in 2008 than in 2004 (in addition to 2 million more Latinos and 600,000 more Asian-Americans). It’s fair to say that most of those extra millions of people came out because Obama is black. But is that the same thing as someone NOT voting for Obama because he’s black?
And what about those Deep South states where Obama’s share of the white vote was well below any recent Democrat’s? What’s that about, and did it offset the extra votes Obama got in the turnout and that black 5-7 percent?
(For the record, from what I have observed through my job and everyday life, I think the percentage of black people and white people who are racially biased is about the same.)
I’ve met black Republicans who said they voted for Obama simply because he is black. They did so out of pride—that a member of a group that had been oppressed for so long finally had a shot at the highest office in the land. “I’m doing it for my son, so he can see that he can achieve anything he wants to do,” one such Republican told me. This motivation for voting seems much different than the mentality that pushes people to vote for someone because they are white, or to vote against a black person because they are black.
I’m not vouching for the pride thing, or saying that it’s a good way to think. That’s a whole other discussion. I’m just saying the motivation behind a pro-black vote seems different than the motivation of an anti-black vote or a pro-white vote.
And that we need to be careful when making assumptions about why Obama got 95 percent of the black vote.
Of course it is. That's the conventional wisdom, anyway, among millions of Americans--that societal institutions like education, housing, and employment have baked-in barriers to black and Latino opportunity. These barriers are often described as unintentional remnants of the Jim Crow era, "deeply entrenched historical legacies ... produced through interactive networks of individuals and institutions." Recently, though, a friend of mine has been doubting this scenario. His point is that in the year 2011, opportunity is there for whoever wants it. So what, he says, if you're poor or go to a lousy school--work hard and you can succeed.
But does the poor kid stuck in a lousy school have an equal opportunity to succeed as the middle-class kid in an average school district? If not, does that disparity fit the definition of structural racism? And what data is there on structural racism in general? I had to admit that I have not looked closely at the primary evidence. I tend to believe in the concept, but I'm operating on a lifetime of absorbed statistics, logical arguments, books, articles, anecdotes, and the experiences of my friends, family, and myself. I need to examine some hard numbers. So I've decided to go on a data quest.
Why bother? Well, I'd like to win the debate with my friend. If I can convince him, that's one more person who could help eliminate structural racism. I will have built a set of statistics to use in my work. Also: I believe it's important to challenge my own beliefs, because race is such a subjective subject to write about. And if I can't convince my friend, because the data shows something other than what I thought--well, then I'll have with a greater understanding of the forces affecting black and brown people in America. I will have learned something new.
So let the journey begin. I'll report back along the way. Suggestions welcome--especially from sk
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com