In 1988, I was on the phone with a white man who didn't know I was black. He launched into a rant about how "the n-----s are coming at us from the hills."
This is the kind of thing we are to assume may keep Barack Obama from the White House. Racism is still "out there." Outward appearances - interracial marriages, Oprahmust not distract us from the scary, deep racism Out There, just under the surface in America.
However, the issue is not whether racism still existsbut whether it is significant.
Polls have repeatedly shown that about 1 in 20 whites say they will not vote for Obama because he is black. Is this significant?
CNN's polling now has Obama 8 points ahead of John McCain nationally. Obama will attract a massive upsurge in the youth votemany of whom lack landlines and are therefore missed by some pollsters. Though the market may rebound, the broader economy, which has been a yoke around McCain's neck, will not turn around by Election Day.
Yet the enlightened response is still to shake one's head about those Out There, supposedly set to make McCain President despite the polls.
We're warned that whites chronically tell pollsters they will vote for a black candidate and then vote for the white one. That's the Bradley Effect, named when this happened to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley during his run for governor of California in 1992. At a recent forum I participated in, Cornel West rocked the house by acting out a vignette of a white person stutteringly unable to pull the lever for Obama in the booth.
But the Bradley Effect is history; 1992 was a generation ago, and in 2006 Harold Ford Jr., Lynn Swann, Kenneth Blackwell and Deval Patrick all did better than most polling predicted, as did Obama in Iowa.
Recently, the Princeton Election Consortium analyzed polling data and election outcomes from 133 gubernatorial and Senate races from 1989 to 2006. They found that while polls did overestimate support for black candidates before 1996, since then, the effect has vanished.
Finally, we're warned to brace for a modern variation on the Bradley Effect a scenario whereby working-class whites opposed to voting for a black person are simply less likely to participate in polls. Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center has traced Obama's unexpected failure in the New Hampshire primary to this.
Is that "Kohut Lacuna" worth fearing? We will see. There are no glib answers here. I see two possible outcomes.
One is that latent working-class white unwillingness to vote for a black candidate makes McCain our President. If that happens, then while I will continue to argue that racism is no longer the main obstacle to black America's advancement, I will admit that we have not come as far as I thought. That will be my responsibility as someone seeking to engage honestly with American reality.
However, if Obama is elected President, the people, both blacks and whites, so worried about the folks Out There have a responsibility: To stop wringing their hands and admit that we have come further on race than they thought.
And for real. It won't do to switch into ruing that Obama didn't win by wide enough a margin and continue aggrieved musings about what's Still Out There.
There will always be some racists. There will always be evil. Humans will always be given to overgeneralization and tribalism.
But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made institutionalized racism illegal. Cultural policing since then has made racism socially disrespectable. Erasing it entirely from people's psychologies would be like trying to eliminate sin.
People like the man I was on the phone with will always be with us. But if they cannot keep a black man from the White House, then the conviction that we are to clutch at our pearls upon reading about themor even consider them worthy of extended thoughtis officially obsolete.
Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2008/10/15/2008-10-15_stop_the_handwringing_about_how_racism_w.html