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The New York Sun


Looking for Any Excuse

August 28, 2008

By John H. McWhorter

There they go again.

They couldn't cry racism in Iowa or even in New Hampshire, and Hillary Clinton's loss further inconvenienced those sitting ever at the ready to play the Cassandra and warn America how racism lives on in this country with a vigor that could deny Barack Obama the White House.

But now they've got new fodder: the NewYork Times / CBS poll showing that one in 20 whites would not vote for a black presidential candidate—not exactly a scary number—but more notably (and quotably) that one in five think most of their friends wouldn't either.

Manna from the heavens—the new wisdom is that racism is the only possible reason Mr. Obama hasn't left John McCain in the dust.

Even though the knuckledraggers in Denver who seemed to be hatching a plot to shoot Senator Obama have turned out to be a ragtag trio of methamphetamine users who probably could barely have found the Pepsi Center, they will be passed around in-boxes as valuable evidence, amidst the cheering and speechifying at the Democratic Convention, that we'd better not forget about that racism "out there."

The question, though, is not whether there is racism but whether it is important. The failure to process the difference is based on fetishization.

Imagine a poll where most white people said that most of their friends were not racists. Social scientists, journalists, and fellow travelers would compete with tart dismissals, jeering at the idea that it qualifies as science to canvass people about how their friends think, studiously reminding us that we are all more racist deep down than we or others think we are.

But here's this poll asking people to speculate about their friends and it's received as a message We All Need to Hear. The reason smart people are suddenly so uncritical is because that poll is telling them something which they, in a way, want to hear.

The assumption seems to be that the only reason anyone could deny Mr. Obama their vote is bigotry against black people. But folks, as admirable as the man is, he is not perfect, as he is the first one to admit. As such, when people polled say that race is a "factor" in their voting choice—the pollster question that most arouses journalists on this issue—it can mean that they are opposed to black people, but it can also mean much else.

If a white person is put off by the anti-white theatrics of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and found Mr. Obama's dissociation from him a tad studied, this does not make her a bigot.

If a white person has decided that Michelle Obama seems "angry" and that her speech at the convention was a pose, I would disagree, but it does not mean he does not like black people—he may well have been put off by a white candidate's wife who seemed "angry."

If a white person never quite got past the "bitter" comment and has yet to hear a compelling message from Mr. Obama on what "change we can believe in" is, she is responding to serious problems with the Obama campaign at present which even I, a supporter, am worried about. But she is not a racist.

All of that is really pretty obvious, and the tripwire readiness to instead look to bigotry first as the reason a fencesitter would decide to choose John McCain is based on a witch-hunting mentality. Such people see all of these "racists" as lacking empathy, i.e. for the history of blacks in America. But don't they lack empathy, for the way innocent people unconvinced by Barack Obama as a candidate may be thinking?

The Wall Street Journal has described this obsession as a "bitter glee." Part of me resists accusing people of outright glee here, but I cannot help detecting a note of self-congratulation. Whatever it is, it disses Barack Obama and black people. It implies that black people are a peculiar, fragile race exempt from real criticism, such that any such criticism qualifies as a grievous breach of civility that only someone who despises black people overall could consider committing.

If Mr. Obama loses, it will be impossible to conclusively plumb the minds of the voters who tipped it to Mr. McCain, which will leave the field open to assertions that racism was the culprit. It will surely be what a goodly chunk of people feel in their guts. I envision forums "discussing" whether racism did the campaign in, with the conclusion tacitly foreordained and weirdos like me invited to be on the panel for "balance."

Of course, if a black person actually ended up in the White House some years later, there would be no logical way to cry racism. But then, if this person did not happen to have a gift for speaking with a preacherly flavor and a dark-skinned black American spouse—and it would be hardly unlikely if the person lacked both of these traits—the fashionable cocktail-party assessment would be that they weren't "really" black anyway.

Original Source:



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