- 2012elections - 9/11 Special Coverage - aca - africanamericanalzheimers - aids - Alabama News Network - american - Awards & Expo - bees - bilingual - border - californiaeducation - Caribbean - cir - citizenship - climatechange - collgeinmiami - community - democrats - ecotourism - Elders - Election 2012 - elections2012 - escuelas - Ethnic Media in the News - Ethnicities - Events - Eye on Egypt - Fellowships - food - Foreclosures - Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area - Health Care Reform - healthyhungerfreekids - howtodie - humiliating - immigrants - Inside the Shadow Economy - kimjongun - Latin America - Law & Justice - Living - Media - memphismediaroundtable - Multimedia - NAM en Espaol - Politics & Governance - Religion - Richmond Pulse - Science & Technology - Sports - The Movement to Expand Health Care Access - Video - Voter Suppression - War & Conflict - 攔截盤查政策 - Top Stories - Immigration - Health - Economy - Education - Environment - Ethnic Media Headlines - International Affairs - NAM en Español - Occupy Protests - Youth Culture - Collaborative Reporting

Obama’s Candidacy or No, the Racial Divide is Still Wide

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Jul 17, 2008

Editor's Note: With less than four months until the election, it's no surprise that there is a racial divide between those who support Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and those who want Republican candidate John McCain in the White House. NAM Associate Editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson examines whether America has at last become a color-blind society.

In his welcoming remarks to the NAACP convention, NAACP president Julian Bond was downright charitable to presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. He told the convention that an Obama win wouldn’t solve America’s racial ills. Charitable, because a New York Times poll released two days after he spoke found that not only would Obama not do much to improve racial relations, but that racial attitudes among many whites and blacks were frozen in time from a decade ago. The poll found that whites and blacks had radically different views on just how widespread discrimination was in such things as employment, education and police practices. Blacks were far more pessimistic than whites on the future of racial relations.

The racial gap, though, was greatest on Obama’s candidacy. Black voters overwhelmingly praised him and said that he would help improve conditions for the poor and minorities. Many whites saw him much differently. They viewed him as an empty suit politician who pandered to whatever audience he was speaking to. This was not exactly racial code speak, but it showed that many whites had deep reservations about Obama’s character and qualifications. By contrast, blacks were especially harsh in their view of Republican presidential rival John McCain. Many flatly said that his administration would do more for whites, and that blacks would get short shrift.

With less than four months until the election, it’s no surprise that there would be a racial divide. Race has repeatedly cropped up as a contentious and potentially polarizing issue whenever a black celebrity, athlete, or politician becomes a lightning rod of controversy. Obama is no different. The surprise though is that the divide has steadily grown bigger since he announced his bid for the White House in February 2007. The early polls after his announcement showed that whites were near unanimous in saying that race had no relevance in determining who they would vote for. The only thing that counted was a candidate’s competence, experience and ability to deliver the political goods.

A year later, that had drastically changed. While a significant number of whites voted for Obama in the primaries, many others did not. In his bruising Democratic primary battles with Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and South Dakota, a sizable percentage of whites were openly hostile to him and said that they would not vote for him. Race was the sole reason they turned thumbs down on him. The undisguised hostility showed that America was nowhere close to the racial harmony that a majority of whites told pollsters the country had attained.

The hostility, tensions and division is not Obama’s doing. It was simply unrealistic to think that one man, even if he won the most powerful elected position in the land, could wave a magic wand and instantly make decades of hardened racial attitudes magically disappear. It was even more unrealistic to think that an Obama presidency was the answer to failing public schools, the colossal racial disparities in health care, police abuse, chronic black unemployment, high black incarceration rates, and gang and murder violence that tear apart many inner city neighborhoods. Obama has walked a tight rope during the campaign and has been careful not to feed illusions that his administration will signal a radical remake of America’s racial order.

The dilemma is that many expect just that. The New York Times poll found that whites, Hispanics and blacks think that the country is ready to elect a black president and that the Obama’s candidacy represents a step forward in race relations. Unfortunately, it’s a short, misleading, even dangerous, step from that to conclude that racial rancor is mostly a thing of the past. Obama unwittingly makes it easy to take that step. His candidacy allows many whites to feel good, to pat themselves on the back for being color-blind and to show how far America has come in dumping the ugly burden of racial bigotry. In fact, notorious anti-affirmative action opponent and California businessman Ward Connerly made that point in interviews after Obama became the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Connerly said that Obama proved that minorities had already broken down the racial barriers and were now being judged solely by their individual talent and ability. This was another dig that race violated the precepts of a color-blind society and that Obama as well as other prosperous blacks had obliterated all the racial barriers for blacks.

Obama cannot get to the White House without white votes. If elected with those votes, it would certainly confirm the belief of many whites that America is ready for a black president. Even Bond in his NAACP speech agreed that his candidacy embodied what the NAACP had battled relentlessly for a near century: racial parity. Fortunately, he and Obama realize his election won’t end that battle.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Related Articles:

Obama Continues Responsibility Theme at NAACP Speech

Obama Says He's Not 'Distancing Himself' from Black Community

What the New Yorker Cover Got Right

Beyond Black and White: Ethnic Media Respond to Obama’s Call for Dialogue on Race

Page 1 of 1




Just Posted

NAM Coverage

U.S. Politics