"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Will you vote on character or race?

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

One of every two people reading this – statistically – is anti-black and/or anti-Hispanic. In fact, slightly more than that. Statistically.
For some time, I’ve held the opinion racism has been a large – but unspoken – factor in our national politics. A very large gorilla in our universal living room. Some of you have challenged that. Some have even called me “too sensitive” or “just plain wrong” when responding to my concerns. When it comes to expressing opinions, that’s O.K. When it comes to fact, it’s not.

I have in hand the results of a new Associated Press national survey as exhibit “A.” It was conducted by Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago. While the combined results might be questioned because of regional differences, that’s hard to do when so many widely separated institutions come up with some very comparable statistics. Very.

Here is the AP’s direct quote on its survey results. “Racial prejudice has increased slightly since 2008, whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked respondents about racial attitudes or through an experimental test that measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about the topic directly.”

In sum, 51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes compared with 48% in a 2008 survey using the same system. But, in the questions that let to an implicit showing of racial attitude, anti-black expression jumped from 49% to 56%.

As for Hispanics, those institutions did their baseline work in 2011. They found 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. In just one year, the 2012 results jumped to 57% in the implicit test!
If those racial results are accurate – and it seems they are when compared to similar research – what are the direct implications for President Obama when people are asked about his performance in office? Is the increase in anti-black sentiment because people are displeased with his actual performance or is it easier to be critical when you factor in his race? Even if you do so implicitly – meaning you may not know you’re harboring those feelings but they showed up in questioning? Could he have been expected to succeed even under the best of times? Which these certainly are not!

The subject of how Obama’s race would factor into how he’d be treated as president surfaced in my thinking during the 2008 campaign and was renewed after his election. I don’t mean to say I was looking for instances of different treatment – only that it was a part of my thinking about a president that had not been there before. Why should it?

The first time I made a connection was when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted out “You lie” during a speech by Obama to a joint session of Congress. No historian can remember any such outburst and the breaching of what remains of congressional decorum. Wilson, it should be remembered, was one of only six members of the South Carolina Legislature who voted to keep the Confederate battle flag flying over his state capitol. A flag that symbolizes the nation’s years of slavery to America’s black population. His legislative voting record on this and other issues is certainly open to scrutiny in matters of race.

Then, when the crazies of the Tea Party hit the streets in Washington, it was impossible not to connect the President’s race with the message. Depictions of him as a black Hitler, racist signs about Kenya and birth certificates, open carry of guns that hadn’t happened in such numbers under any Caucasian president. Protests in that city were not new. The depictions were.

The “birther” nuts. Even today, polls show more than half of Republicans – more than half – believe the president was not born in America. Anyone ever challenge John McCain (born in Panama) or John Sununu (born in Cuba of a Palestinian father and a mother from El Salvador)? No. But this president? You bet. Even Mitt Romney played to the idiots in a Detroit campaign speech by noting he was born in Detroit and no one ever asked for his birth certificate. Unfounded as the “birther” non-issue is, denying it’s racial is not possible.

Challenges to Obama’s college background. Anyone in your memory ever make an issue of where Bill Clinton went to law school? Or where Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter or Herbert Hoover got their higher education? Anyone ever ask for – yea, demand – their college transcripts?
Anyone in your memory try to link a sitting president with the political or social views of his deceased parents? Anyone? Anyone ever call a president a “creature of affirmative action programs?” Anyone?

To deny anti-black sentiments in the country with the extremely harsh – and often completely unjustified – treatment of this president doesn’t wash any more. And I’m not even going near the flatulent Limbaugh or the professional haters like Beck, Savage and the dozens of others.

When the greatly admired Colin Powell, known to be a Republican, made his full-throated endorsement of President Obama for the second time a few days back, that “great Republican American” John Sununu claimed it was because the two men were of the same race. In multiple interviews. A Romney surrogate and his national co-chairman. Campaign denial? None.
Within the last week, someone whom I deeply admire nailed it in the national media. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Lawrence Wilkerson was Colin Powell’s chief of staff at the Pentagon and at the State Department. A man respected in the military and by many in foreign service nearly as much as his longtime boss.

“I’m a lifelong Republican,” Wilkerson said. “And my Republican Party (today) is full of racists.”

You can’t say it any clearer.

This national racial division did not come about overnight. It never does. No one – not one – is born with a hatred of those who are a different color than ourselves. Oscar Hammerstein wrote so many years ago “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” In the case of our current feelings about race, it seems there’s been an awful lot of hatred being taught our young.

Had Obama started his presidency under normal economic, social and military conditions, he’d likely not be viewed so harshly at the end of his first term in office. But that wasn’t the case. It’s been an uphill slog on nearly every front a president can face. How well he’s done is for each of us to decide.

That AP poll suggests race will be a significant factor in our voting when it should not be. But will we make our decisions based on his performance and strength of character? Or on the basis of skin color? The numbers are not encouraging.

Share on Facebook