The Things We Can't Talk About, When We Do Talk About Race, And Barack Obama

Although this is my first entry at MyDD, I have been blogging for about a year and a half on my own; the election, and writing about it, has helped attract readers, and bolster my confidence as a writer, things for which I am grateful. It's a little odd to me that I would choose a dicey subject like our racial divides as a jumping off point, but it's something I care about (and have written about, as the links will show), and I think someone has to try.  My intent, of course, is not to offend, but to invite a dialogue, and a way to get into a difficult subject. Whether it succeeds or not... is up to you.

It doesn't surprise me that one outcome of this week's primary results is that the tensions of talking about the dynamics of this election season have gotten rougher; a lot of Obama supporters - which could easily be described as "the media" - have had to readjust to the fact that Clinton's win in PA was solid, as good as her supporters expected, if not better, and made it clear that things we'd been saying were turning out to be true. And that, in turn, has led to some expected hand-wringing about the kind of divide the results exposed.

Put another, less PC way... it's gotten hard to ignore that some white people don't vote for Barack Obama.

The question, of course is why.  And in order to discuss that, naturally, we need to talk about some difficult subjects. And race, really is only part of it.  It's also class, and economics, and cultural tensions... but simmering under and around all of it is people talking frankly about race in a way that most people find uncomfortable, a way that has to acknowledge perceptions and prejudices without, necessarily, giving into them.

And I mean that both ways: some, I think, struggle with a way to talk about working class white voters that doesn't resort to "redneck" or "trailer trash" type stereotyping; the opposite, of course, is sweeping generalizations about black people that  are clearly prejudiced if not flat out racist. Complicating it are perceptions, stereotypes and casual notions many of us hold, things we rarely admit, or discuss with strangers.

This tension, I think, is why Obama's fine "conversation on race" speech was okay, but not great. In laying out the notion that we had to move a "conversation on race" to a new level and talk in a different way, Obama himself offered virtually no ideas on how to change it or how to do it differently. He made it clear what he thought of as "bad" or the "rhetoric of the past"... but left out the part about the future, except to suggest somehow, in a utopian way, we would get there. Well, here's hoping. Still.

But we're not there; and just a casual stroll around the blogosphere can illustrate it pretty starkly. People are angry. Charges fly. Everything is touchy, and dicey. And the ground keeps shifting.

I think there's a few things we should all keep in mind, and that might help clear the air, or at least keep this discussion on track:

  • It's entirely possible that white people who don't vote for Barack Obama are not racist. Exit polling in Pennsylvania reiterated what has been seen across the nation: that while some minority of white voters do vote on race as a criteria, most do not; those who do "vote on race" do not, necessarily vote for Hillary Clinton (which is to say some vote for Obama... and understand the complexity of the question). Broad brush assertions that "working class voters have a race problem" will get us nowhere, and only further cloud the real problems Obama has attracting working class voters that are beyond race. Those are ones we need to talk about.
  • We do, though, have a problem with racism in this country, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. Ignoring the complexity of what it means to have a black man running for President doesn't help either, something I've had to watch myself in overstating the notion that there aren't prejudiced working class whites, just as there are among most groups.  No one, I think, should pretend that results we've seen in states from Mississippi to Georgia, from South Carolina to Tennessee, across the South, don't reflect the depth of a racial divide that remains ugly and difficult (nor pretend that people outside the South are somehow immune, or better). That, too, needs to be confronted. However, we can't do that without raising it, without climbing under and around the ugliness and seeing it for what it is.  And too often, we shun the people who talk about it, especially when they are not "appropriate" bringers of the discussion.
  • And then, there's the even more difficult discussion of prejudices within the black community.  We can't have this conversation while pretending one set of people are untouched by prejudice; all of us carry stereotypes and preconceptions that need to be examined and confronted. In Pennsylvania, half of all black voters said race was not a consideration in their decision about a candidate for President, and 91% of them voted for Obama. This isn't to say people aren't being honest; it's simply to say that there's a complexity to talking about race that people don't see, or can't acknowledge.

Look, I don't have the answers. I'm as uncomfortable bringing this up as anyone, and I know what i say is as subject to seeming as prejudiced as anyone else.  I don't claim the high ground here... simply the middle. I've lived this country's unique (to put it mildly) tensions on race from all sorts of angles and sides; the only thing I know to do is not overgeneralize, and to keep in mind that no person's take on race can be predicted or assumed... something I learned, often painfully, dealing with friends, not enemies. We learn, I think, that race is a "third rail" topic of discussion among friends first, and most of all. At least until we wade into it.

The bottom line here, for me, is that we're going to have this discussion, like it or not, agree with it or not. My own suggestions, from a life of this, is patience, tolerance, and some measure of acceptance.  To hear out the worst, as well as the best. To realize there are things on which we all can't agree, and there are some things we just have to live with. And that progress, and change, on a lot of this stuff, is slow, and yes, often generational. And sometimes not even that. Most of all though, I think we have to stop being afraid - afraid of prejudice, afraid of each other... and afraid of ourselves. And maybe, just maybe, we can move this conversation forward. But let's not get too hopeful too soon. There's just too much history that we've never discussed, and too much silence. And that's our choice: Silence... or this.

Crossposted from

Tags: Class, clinton, obama, Presidential Politics, race (all tags)



Re: The Things We Can't Talk About, When We Do Tal

Thank you for referring to misconceptions about race amongst members of the black community as "prejudice" instead of "racism".

To often lately, I've been reading about black racists or reverse racism in reference to this campaign.

I think quite few people would benefit from a basic sociology course so they might understand the difference between the two.

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 05:15PM | 0 recs
Re: The Things We Can't Talk About, When We Do Tal

I dont want you to take this the wrong way but did you really say "I think quite few people would benefit from a basic sociology course so they might understand".  You dont think that just a little bit condesending.  

You have decided that some people need to take some "course" so they may better understand.  Doesnt that seem kind of like thought police.  Re-education course so others know how to think??  I am just asking.


by giusd 2008-04-25 05:40PM | 0 recs
Re: The Things We Can't Talk About, When We Do Tal

How is encouraging people to become educated condescending?

I didn't really understand the concept of racism until my wife, who has taken more classes, read more books, and done more thinking about the topic explained it more thoroughly to me. And I must admit, at first I didn't buy the more nuanced theory.

However, her prodding inspired me to read more and think more about it.

Are you trying to say that education is a bad thing?  

Racism is a lot more complex than discriminating against someone because of the color of their skin, but you sure wouldn't learn that by watching the mainstream media or in your average conversation.

It's like the difference between watching Jeremiah Wright for 30 seconds on YouTube or watching Bill Moyers interview Jeremiah Wright for an hour.

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 07:02PM | 0 recs
Re: The Things We Can't Talk

Welcome to mydd. I think this is a fine first diary and I am recommending it. We do need to talk more openly, less threateningly and I think what you present here is a good start. I think the subject of prejudice in the black community will be very difficult. Anti-semitism is something both Obama's campaign and his supporters would rather pretend is not present.  

by linfar 2008-04-25 05:16PM | 0 recs
Re: The Things We Can't Talk
Thanks Linfar; part of what inspired this post was your post on Classism, and the discussion that followed. I'm a little anxious even raising these issues, but I agree, these are things that need to come out and be discussed.
by nycweboy1 2008-04-25 05:21PM | 0 recs
OK, let's talk race.

I am white.  I am female.  I grew up in Detroit in the 40's and 50's.  I went to MSU.  I was one of a few women to attend college at the time.  And I am called a old white women by Obama supporters.

But this old white women was STUNNED by the Rev. Wright.  Why?  Because I didn't realize whitey was hated so much.  Really.

I thought things had gotten better during my lifetime.  I remember my grandfather being upset that an AA was driving a DSR (Detroit Streets and Railways...back then) bus - that just wasn't supposed to happen!

(Whoops - just got distracted by a Hillary Phone Call and a $200 donation!)


I've seen interracial marriages become OK.  I've studied law along side some great AA students.  I have been happy to call them my friends.

But Rev. Wright shocked me.  I didn't know they hated me. My feelings were hurt (I know, BahWha!!)
and I no longer understand race relations in 2008.

So I'm kind of nervous.  

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 06:20PM | 0 recs
Another old white woman

... from the South.  I've seen and heard racism up close and personal.  And I too thought things were much better.  I think AAs also think things are better.

I've felt for some time that while we've come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

Many years ago, a person was talking to me about "problems" with blacks and he said, "I think the blacks are going to be the ruin of this country."  He was rather shocked when I answered, "And it may be the fair thing to happen."  Chickens coming home to roost?  Laws of nature?  Laws of God?  

You can't treat people like crap and expect it all to be sweetness and light.  I know, because I've been one of those treated like crap and the "crappor" thinks that he ought to be able to dictate to me, the "crappee", just how I ought to respond.  Not!  He had the right, or privilege, or he took the privilege to dump on me.  I have the same right to respond the way I want to!   But ... I digress.

by Southern Mouth 2008-04-25 06:32PM | 0 recs
So where are you now?

"And I too thought things were much better.  I think AAs also think things are better."

What happened? Where did we go wrong?

I (IMHO) think race relations have been set back 50 years by Obama and his supporters.  I am much more hesitant than I have ever been - I worry that I will offend, but I am also pissed because I know that I will never - intentionally - offend.

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 06:37PM | 0 recs
Re: So where are you now?

Talking about race is not setting it back.  He didn't bring it up, it was brought up for him.

by shalca 2008-04-25 06:54PM | 0 recs
Excuse me...Mr. Obama did a speech

- you know, words that supposedly count.  (Oh, only when you want them to count, right?)

I didn't bring it up.  He did.  And his supporters have flung it in the Clintons' faces since SC.

The Obamanation has, indeed, set race relations back 50 years.

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 07:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Excuse me...Mr. Obama did a speech

So now you're saying that his speech on race set race relations back 50 years?

by shalca 2008-04-25 07:26PM | 0 recs
His entire effort has.

From the SC memo to cast the Clintons' lifelong service to the AA community as racist to Rev. Wright and the speech, this has been a long nightmare for this country.

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 08:09PM | 0 recs
the truth is .... no one "brought it up"

Race relations in America ... is up!  The issue has not been dealt with fully; it may never be dealt with fully.  Sometimes, when people do bad things, there is such a neverending ripple effect.

Freeing slaves didn't "fix" race relations.  The civil rights movement didn't "fix" race relations.  Integration didn't "fix" race relations.  These were all going in the right direction.  Reparation comes to my mind all the time.  I personally think it's GOT to come to that and then STILL, race  relations will not be "fixed".  Why?  Because 100 good people who have become aware of the tragedies and are truly understanding will be followed by 1 a-hole who can mess things up all over again.

Being the victim of prolonged abuse, I know about PTSD and lifelong injuries.  "I'm sorry" doesn't make it go away.  And people saying, "Well, it just happened so long ago.  Why don't you just let the past stay in the past?" doesn't help.  It only hurts again.  The past isn't in the past if it's still affecting the present.

by Southern Mouth 2008-04-25 08:10PM | 0 recs
New info:

(See the new diary about the BBC report on BO)

Details Tony Rezko and and Rev. Wright as well an interesting inteview with a woman, Linda Thomas, from his church..."When you are at Trinity, white culture is outside the church, and African-American culture is inside the church."

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 07:24PM | 0 recs
Sadly I caught only the end of Rev Wright

.... with Bill Moyers.  What I saw was very good.  Actually, I agree with a lot of what Wright said about America - about vengeance, about race relations, about atrocities committed by Americans.

As for "chickens coming home to roost", I found that no more and even somewhat less disconcerting than hearing Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell explain why God allowed 9/11.  Fact is, like many bad things that happen, we will never know.  The world is not a nice place.  Others may think so, not me.

The soundbytes will be played over and over ad nauseum and that cannot be changed.  For some people, they will not look beyond AND hearing a black preacher talk in his own peculiar presentation mannerisms will be offputting.  Having been in black churches, I would be comfortable listening.  

I thought that the part I saw was very good.  I just hope it airs again and again, so more people can see the entire show - including ME!

by Southern Mouth 2008-04-25 08:05PM | 0 recs
I agree with some of what Wright

says, too.  It's the other things that I very strongly disagree with.

And I do not think that he helps his cause by the anger that goes along with those things.

I have always been a supporter of civil rights - for all people.  But I never realized how hated I am in some aspects of the AA community.  I am now more cautious about things I say - which causes me to examine everything I think and do.  No longer can I just "accept" the AA community - I have to labor over it.

That's sad - because now I am "forced" in my reactions and responses.  I am worried that I might offend.  And for my entire life, I never worried about that because I never did offend a person because of race, creed, gender or national origin - at least not intentionally.

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-26 05:54AM | 0 recs
Re: OK, let's talk race.

You should really watch the Bill Moyers interview with Wright that aired tonight on PBS.

I did, and I am unable to come to the conclusion that Wright's ministry is about hating "Whitey".

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 07:05PM | 0 recs

Sorry - tonight he's in a business suit, tranqualized and under Axelrods' direction and he doesn't hate whitey.

Well, how about the past 20 years, every Sunday, week after week?

Hmmmm.  Will the real Rev. Wright please stand up?

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 07:21PM | 0 recs

Did you actually watch the interview?

It made me think about my own Lutheran childhood when he talked about churches that don't dare discuss politics.

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 07:26PM | 0 recs
I don't have time to listen to fiction.

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 07:42PM | 0 recs
Re: I don't have time to listen to fiction.

It's good to know that you feel qualified to comment on this issue without all of the information.

Congtratulations.  We need some more low-information voters in this country.

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 07:47PM | 0 recs
Actually too-high information voter...

so I recognize a con man when I see one and Obama is a great con.

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 07:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Actually too-high information voter...

Weren't we discussing Wright here?

Did I mention Obama?

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 07:53PM | 0 recs
Obama = Wright. Wright = Obama

Wright said so tonight - they both say "what they have to".  Frauds, both of them.

by CoyoteCreek 2008-04-25 08:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama = Wright. Wright = Obama

All public figures have certain roles they must play sometimes.

What would the world be like if people completely abandoned their social filters?

It would probably be a lot like these message boards.

I prefer the real world where people realize that their responsibilities, whether they are a pastor, politician, doctor, or a teacher, sometimes dictate wearing a different hat.

This is not the same as being dishonest.  It's called respecting your student, patient, constituent, or parishioner.

Perhaps you equate the word politician with liar, but I don't.  I'm not that cynical.

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 08:46PM | 0 recs
Not to be overly simplistic, but I think

there is more hand-wringing over the race issue than there needs to be.

There have always been rich and poor.  In Europe before there were many black people living there, there were horribly and pathetically poor white people and there were the rich lords and the earls.    In ireland for centuries, the people were pitifully poor while England stomped all over them.   And this was true for centuries, if not eons.

In Africa, historically as well as today, the various groups beat on each other.   Huutus in power kill the Tootsi's. Then the Tootsi's get power and kill the Hutus.   This is indemic, it never stops.   Take the middle east, semitics people killing each other right and left.

In none of the above cases does race have anything to do with the injustices that are perpetrated.   This history of mankind is one of rich and poor, powerful and powerless.   Sometimes race figures into it if one culture goes out and captures some prisoners of a different race and enslaves them.   And this is what happened for several hundred years in the U.S.

But for the most part, injustice has nothing to do with race.  And, I'd argue, it has very little to do with race in the U.S. today.  There are rich whites and a whole bunch of pathetic poor whites living in this country.  There are also rich blacks and a whole bunch of pitiful poor blacks living in this country.   Discrimination on the basis of race has been illegal for decades.

I believe it is no longer appropriate to blame white people for every problem in the black community, when there are plenty of black people these days who are wealthly, who are high up in government, and who wield influence over rich souls (like Wright wields influence over the wealthy Obamas).  Let these folks address the problems in their own communities, and stop blaming 'the man'.  The man is gone.

by miker2008 2008-04-25 05:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Not to be overly simplistic, but I think

"The man" is not gone, it's just that "the man" might also be black as well.  Today a Supreme Court Judge in NYC let off 3 police officers who shot 50 times at an unarmed group of black men in a stationary vehicle.  Although criminal negligence, and criminal recklessness were charges in addition to manslaughter they were acquitted of all charges.  To date, undercover cops in NYC have shot several unarmed black men over the last 10 years and not one of them has ever been convicted of any crime.

Now I'm not going to say that these three police officers were racists.  But when you look at the statistics and compare black vs white, there still exists today an institutional racism in this country.  For the exact same crimes a black man is multiple times more likely to be awarded the death penalty than his white counterpart.  The numbers are similar for various other crimes.  There was a psychological experiment done at a major university where they gave several people the same description of a crime but to some people they criminals were described as white and in some they were described as black.  In most cases people considered the black crimes far more violent than the exact crime committed by the white criminal.  Even black people did this when tested.

Now you also say that it is no longer appropriate to blame white people for every problem in the black community.  I agree.  Some idiot taking a gun and shooting another idiot is not the fault of the white man.  The school those idiots went to that failed them miserably, that got less funding than their counterpart public school even though the minority school has more kids and fewer teachers, that can be blamed on "the man."

The fact that these idiot kids have parents that own nothing and got nothing from their own parents due to legal racism only 40 and 50 years ago that kept them from amassing equity to pass on to their progeny, that can be blamed on "the man."

So while you may feel that "the man" is gone, in black america he is still very much around.

by shalca 2008-04-25 07:06PM | 0 recs
Yes, inequities exist, BUT

the situation has moved out the realm of institutional racism and into the realm of the ordinary unfairness that exists on all levels of society, in all societies.  

In the U.S.,  women get harsher sentences for the same crime than men do.   Women are called sluts and ho's for the same behvior (sexual) that men are complemented and admired for.   Blond women and women with big breasts are considered stupid.   Women are killed by men at something like 20 times the rate that men are killed by women.

Short men earn less, on average, than tall men do.   Jews are disliked and discriminated against in certain social strata.   Southerners are made fun of, called rednecks and hicks, and discriminated against because of their dumb-sounding accents.   In many countries, children are treated in horrific ways.  

The list goes on.  People WILL BE cruel and unfair to other people.  At some point, it becomes the responsibility of the individual -- or the group that the individual identifies with -- to stand up and fight for his/her/their rights.  Organize, support each other, work hard, and basically "don't get mad, get even."

by miker2008 2008-04-25 08:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Yes, inequities exist, BUT

"People will be cruel" is your excuse for the institutional racism in this country.  Yes, I said institutional.  I believe the progress we've made in this country is away from individual racism.  It's pretty low for most people to call a black man a nigger, or call a Jewish man a kike.  But the statistics bare out that these "inequities" fall more along racial lines than anything else.

by shalca 2008-04-25 09:42PM | 0 recs
WHAT institutional racism in this

country?   Name one example.

by miker2008 2008-04-26 03:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Not to be overly simplistic, but I think

Huh, interesting.

You write about the Hutus and Tutsis without mentioning Belgian colonialism and the way these ethnic distinctions were manipulated.

I wonder if European colonialism in Africa had anything to do with race?

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 07:29PM | 0 recs
Colonialism is and was bad, but it

doesn't explain everything bad that has ever happened in Africa.   The history of mankind is pretty consistent on this point:  persecution and hatred are based on a variety of 'distinctions' between people, and race is one of those distinctions, but probably not the most significant one considering all human history.

by miker2008 2008-04-25 08:59PM | 0 recs
Re: The Things We Can't Talk About, When We Do Tal
NYCWeboy1 - Talk about coincidences. I just read this at and thought it was as good as just about everything you post. Thanks for sharing with myDD - possibly the only place left on the Internet that some people will read what you have to say. Jerome and Co (Todd and Jonathan, etc.( really get the concept of the power of open debate)
by Jeter 2008-04-25 05:46PM | 0 recs
Re: The Things We

Great super fantastic post.


by giusd 2008-04-25 05:50PM | 0 recs
Re: oh really!

Of course many white people who don't vote for Obama do so for other reasons than race.

Of course it is also highly probable that many white people will not vote for Obama because of his race.

by emptythreatsfarm 2008-04-25 07:31PM | 0 recs
And as Obama himself has

pointed out, a lot of people will vote FOR him because of his race.  On his web site is the following Obama quote:

"If I were white I'd be just one of 20 freshman senators."

by miker2008 2008-04-25 09:00PM | 0 recs


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