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New York Post

 

Of Course Race Mattered

November 09, 2008

By John H. McWhorter

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All year Republicans and media folk have been thrown by my support for Barack Obama. Why do I feel vaguely insulted by that?

After all, I have a reputation, albeit oversimplified, as a "black conservative." I work for a free-market think tank. I'm supposed to be "controversial."

But this means the people expecting potshots from me against Obama have assumed that his race has no resonance for me. They have assumed that I would argue not to take his race into account.

There is a conservative part of me that went there at first. Two years ago, when most people didn't know much about Obama beyond his 2004 speech at the Democratic convention and some "Yes, we can" rhetoric, I irritated many with an editorial saying that if Obama were white, no one would yet consider him special. And at the time it was true.

But as time went by, I realized that where the Obamenon was concerned, race did matter. This time, assessing Obama by the content of his character alone would evidence a lack of genuine concern about getting past race in America.

This has not been a mere matter of supporting Obama because he's "a brother." Rather, I firmly believe that with Obama in the White House, people insisting that America is all about racism will have to rethink their message. Joe Six-Packs were in diners telling reporters they wouldn't vote for a black man? Well, there will be a black man riding in Air Force One. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, those yokels "have no power here"—Obama does.

Over the next few years, our professional Cassandras will be tying themselves in knots trying to get across their old message in an America where the President we see on our laptops year-round is black. This is absolutely crucial, because the aggrieved obsession among our thinking class with "racism" wastes mental and spiritual energy that would otherwise be devoted to forging effective solutions to the problems Black America faces.

Now, Obama would leave me cold if he were not also brilliant, or if he did not have a visceral interest in urban policy. It also doesn't exactly bother me that he is brave enough to reject the idea of privileged black people like his children getting Affirmative Action, and to embrace faith-based initiatives.

But even if Obama did not espouse these positions, I would have been for him this year. Race matters—yet his Presidency will make it matter less so.

The folks calling me up, waiting for the black case for McCain, have supposed none of this would be important to me. But surely the queasy feeling I got was not because they were being presumptuous. It's something more personal.

The queasiness is because, in my heart of hearts, there is a part of me that thrills to the Obamas because of a red-blooded racial loyalty. There. I admit it.

After Virginia and California were called, everyone at my house all got on our phones. I called my step-grandmother Bobbie Leland, who turned 90 this year and is better at the electric slide than I am. When she was born, women couldn't vote and most black people still couldn't either. She had brought a photo of her grandmother to the polls.

My oldest friend George—we met as toddlers—was in tears.

Our 60-year-old neighbor, a dedicated (white) liberal, remembering the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the brothers Kennedy, was without words.

Our Japanese friend was honored to see the United States elect a minority as President, given that in Japan, the election of an immigrant remains unthinkable.

My sister and I noticed that Obama "looks like us" for real—he happens to match us rather well in specific skin tone and darn it, that does feel kind of good.

And: Young people growing up under an Obama administration will see it as normal for the President to be black, and be that much more past race than we are. My wife looked to me and pointed out that our future children will be, as I have termed it, Obamakids.

This messy tribal feeling has not been my main reason for supporting Obama. But it's been roiling underneath. And it's why I am so uncomfortable with the anti-Obama image many people had of me. In their minds, almost every black person on earth is toasting and jamming the phone lines, while I'm sitting glumly in a bar grumbling about taxes and William Ayers.

Sorry, folks—I'm not that controversial. Tuesday was a glorious night and I can't pretend it wasn't. There's going to be a brother in the White House! Yeah—I feel it too.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/11092008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/of_course_race_mattered_137814.htm

 

 
 
 

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