The election and reelection of Obama is a historical milestone in race relations. It is a definitely an achievement we should be proud of. We truly have came along way since, the days of reconstruction, when it was unusual for an African American to even visit the white house. While Obama’s election and reelection truly is great in and of itself and genuinely does indicate a greater change in race relations, a few cautionary notes are in order.
The self-congratulatory rhetoric and behavior of the white middle and owning class liberals who strongly supported Obama is not necessarily deserved:
The willingness to accept and support a person of color and tremendous achievement and fame does not necessarily indicate a general acceptance of people of color. To make an analogy, some French citizens who are appallingly racist towards Arab and African low-income immigrants to France show tremendous respect to visiting African American Jazz musicians.
In New York City, which went heavily for Obama, politicians of color who are culturally working or middle class such as former governor David Patterson gained less respect. Some upper middle class whites may accept a few elite people of color as equals yet remain racist towards middle class, working class, and low income people of color.
Many of Obama’s supporters may not necessarily be progressive with respect to neighborhood integration, willingness to make authentic friendships across the race and class divide, willingness to allow their children to marry blacks or Latinos, or even promoting genuine equal opportunity within their workplaces. How welcome would a state school graduate of color be in an elite corporate or non-profit environment in New York City or San Francisco (even one where virtually everyone voted for Obama.)
The disdain that many white upper middle class liberals had towards Romney supporters seemed in many cases a backdoor way to engage in “anti white working class bigotry.”
A lack of progressive ideology or voting behavior does not necessarily indicate that one lacks any kind of racial tolerance. Viewing individuals as racist or not racist based on their ideology or voting behavior shows a professional middle class bias that views activism, intellectual opinions, and politics as the be all.. While the election and reelection of Obama definitely was an important milestone in race relations, it is a fallacy to assume that individuals who did not vote for Obama were completely racist individuals.
There are people who are sincerely tax cutters, free marketers, Mormon loyalists, fundamentalist Christians, and war Hawks who definitely are not racists. Even if there may be racial undertones within these movements, not everyone who subscribes to these movements is necessarily racist. For instance, I know a woman who is extremely progressive on American race relations in every way. However, being a war hawk, a candidates views on Israel is the biggest litmus test for her. Therefore she voted for Romney.
Regardless of what ideology a person has on an intellectual level or in words, a person’s behavior can be radically different: The young white working class conservative who may have no love for inner city minorities on an abstract level may have been equally loyal to the point of death to both the working class whites and inner city minorities in his Army combat unit in Iraq. He may even have a minority friend who is like a brother to him that he assisted with after the war by providing a place to stay. The white southern businessman who truly believes in Horatio Alger and is a fan of Herman Cain or Ron Paul may be truly willing to give an African American college graduate a chance who comes from the same southern state school as him. While there are some working class whites who fight to keep people of color out of their union and support conservative politicians, there are some blue collar white conservatives who have more authentic friendships with minority coworkers then many white non-profit executives.
While in New York City despite rising racial inequality and multiple incidents of racial inequality, professional class liberals spew forth rhetoric of racial equality, in some red state towns, an unusual phenomena has occurred: Many working class whites have gradually and quietly practiced racial integration to a degree that Martin Luther King would be proud of. Whites and people of color can be seen on the factory floor, in coffee shops, in small business, in churches, in the high school football field, and in the Army (if members of the town enlist) truly treating one another as equals.
As a bi-racial individual with Hawaii roots, I am tremendously proud of Barack Obama. However, my concern is that rather then being a uniting event, his reelection is leading to divisive behavior. Not only from his opponents, but also his supporters who, out of a hidden class bias against poor whites, use the existence of Obama opponents who are genuinely racist to divide America in a simplistic way: Obama supporters are racially progressive, Obama opponents are racist.
While some whites who supported Obama strive toward racial equality in every way, and some Obama opponents such as David Duke are purely racist, it is important to remember that some outwardly progressive Obama supporters may have hidden racist tendencies and some Obama opponents may be racially progressive in other aspects of their lives. While, those of us who helped Obama get elected and reelected should be proud for helping to achieve this historical milestone, it is important to make efforts to determine how we can works towards racial equality outside the voting booth: In our homes, schools, and workplaces.
Politics and activism are a part of life, not life. As we strive toward racial equality and celebrate important milestones, we must always remember that human beings do not always fall into neat categories of racist and non-racist. Being human, each person has their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses with respect to racial prejudice.