Senate Majority leader Harry Reid apologized profusely for his unguarded quip that Obama's light skin and non-Negro dialect stood him well with him and by implication other whites. President Obama graciously accepted his apology and applauded him as a supporter and friend. But the embattled leader spoke the awful truth that millions did give Obama a racial pass. The pass did not win the White House for him; money, timing, a skillful campaign, and most importantly Bush blunders and GOP disgrace ultimately tipped the White House his way. But Obama's racial pass made a difference, maybe a crucial difference.
Two months before the presidential campaign wrapped, a survey found that one quarter of whites held negative views of blacks that were laced with the standard stereotypes. The respondents said that blacks use race as a crutch, are not as industrious as whites, they opposed interracial marriage, and are terrified of black crime (Obama mildly chided his white grandmother in his so-called race speech in March 2008 for saying she feared black men). Yet nearly a quarter of them claimed they'd vote for Obama. In every poll taken from the instant he declared his candidacy the overwhelming majority of whites were adamant that race had absolutely nothing to do with whether they'd vote for him or not. The difference was not just his lighter coloring, but his words, demeanor and political approach. His race neutral campaign was widely perceived as a soothing departure from the race baiting antics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. But others liked him because of, and were plainly fascinated by his racially exotic background. It supposedly didn't fit that of the typical African American. This was Reid's point.
Obama's light color, the downplay of his blackness, his clipped King's English delivery, and his tireless pitch as the blank slate, every person's candidate, made him personally and politically attractive. It also made him the textbook racial exceptional. This is the penchant for some whites to make artificial distinctions between supposedly good and bad blacks. It's apparent in the unthinking infuriating, insulting, and just plain dumb crack made to some articulate, well-educated blacks in business and the professions that they are different than other blacks. Or that they are not like other blacks.