As Obama generates excitement not seen since Kennedy, the assumption that America is not ready for a Black president is increasingly cast in doubt. Indeed, with not only Black and young voters turning out in unprecedented numbers, but virtually all groups of Whites drawn to Obama, (a majority in Virginia and Wisconsin), it is starting to look as though the U.S. wants a Black president.
How is this possible in an America where racism is far from dead? At my last teaching job, I participated in a series of discussions of race led by two courageous Black members of the faculty. They made me more aware of the daily slights they faced as well as of my own racist assumptions. They also taught me that acknowledging my own racism was a step forward.
I’m sure all Whites in American make racist assumption, but I also believe that many share my longing to have Blacks more integrated into their daily lives and power structures. Images of the White old boys’ club in Congress made me sick in the days of the Vietnam War and still do. When I started leafleting against going to war in Iraq, I found Blacks’ world view made them more likely than Whites to share my suspicions about our government’s motives. Blacks in Congress have more consistently voted against the war. White liberal friends, especially women, share my perspective that minorities are more likely to speak for us.
I suspect that many Whites feel sad to be cut off from a large part of our society. Like me they long for Blacks and other people of color to disabuse us of racist assumptions and bring us in touch with their cultures and a part of ourselves. We are grateful to half-white, Harvard-educated, inspiring, intelligent, and likeable Obama, for making it so easy—some might argue too easy. He manages to project such inclusiveness that a white male friend said, “I think he would like me if he knew me. He wouldn’t hold my being a Republican against me.” Obama’s unlikely surge reflects not only his exceptional talent, but our inchoate longing no longer to be divided into enemy camps that damage the oppressors as well as the oppressed. Part of the hope Obama represents is that we can put some of our divisive history behind us and become a larger and more united nation.