1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


David Shields 08

Many people will differ with the views I'm about to express here, up to and including my prediction that Barack Obama is going to be elected the next President of the United States. The major exception though will be taken with my notion that "white guilt" will best explain this historic event if it indeed happens.

Now I've enclosed "white guilt" in quotation marks for a reason. First, I'm not real sure this is the proper name for the psychosocial dynamic that's at play in this election, but this is the term most used by commentators, both black and white, who slosh around in this funky subject so I'll employ it also.

Moreover, I'm not plowing new ground here by any means. As it relates to this election, "white guilt" and the role it may or may not be playing in the current presidential race has been fodder for pundits' grist mill since it became clear that Obama would be the Democratic nominee. For that matter, the concept attendant to the term has been bandied about throughout the political and cultural spectrum ever since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. But I've seen very few essays or columns on the subject that weren't tainted by personal bias, which, in all honesty, is probably driving me, too. In any event, here it is.

Ever since Obama emerged from the Iowa caucuses with such a strong showing, I've felt that the American electorate was not only going to make him the Democratic nominee but they were going to elect him President as well. When the mainstream media embraced him and began refusing to hold him to any semblance of a hard standard of accountability I was wholly convinced and began saying so publicly. If I'm right, the looming question, of course, is "Why?"

After all, it is true that Barack Obama presents with very few of the traditional credentials apart from a quick wit and high degree of intelligence. He is a quick study and without a doubt is blessed with an extraordinary psychosocial insight, which is a fancy way of saying he can read the lay of the pasture quickly and move around in it and on it without stepping in the cow pies. These skills have always served a President well and the lack of them the anchor that drowned the also-ran.

Obama’s opponents apparently fail to recognize the empty suit, of course, for they’ve spent far too little time and energy on trying to exploit it. They have instead tried to discredit him by calling him names and trying to tie him to unsavory people and organizations. This strategy has failed, and for good reason if my “white guilt” theory is actually at play, which I believe it is.

In fact, this effort to diminish Obama’s right to be President by calling him names and trying to hang garbage around his neck because of his birth and affiliations has been interpreted as racism. And it may be in terms of present day definitions of racism. In any case, that strategy has failed and will continue to fail and does more than anything else to put wind beneath the wings of that very real dynamic in America that we call, for the lack of a better term, "white guilt."

In other words, the hordes of Americans who have rejected the legitimacy of racism as propriety will, under no circumstances, let such “nonsense” diminish Obama’s right to be President. Let me explain: something is propriety when it is accepted as the norm, the expected, even the decent thing to do. And make no mistake, racism and the practice thereof was a propriety for many, many years not only in the Deep South but throughout America. Drinking from the same water fountain, eating at the same table, attending the same schools, being in the same social setting and so forth with a Negro was, at one time, not accepted behavior. In other words, it was thought to be indecent in polite company and it was the decent white person’s perceived duty to shield the poor Negro from such awkward experiences.

Through the civil rights movement and the attendant cultural changes that have taken place in the last half century the table has become completely reversed. The forces of racial propriety have changed completely. It is no longer a "decent" practice. In fact, most white folks now go to great lengths to avoid the stigmatization of being called racist. They may be deep down, but the pressure is there not to appear racist. In fact, white individuals and American institutions must perpetually prove they are not racist to gain enough authority to function these days. White America, despite a plethora of denials from a diverse array of thinkers, is heavily burdened by this phenomenon generally referred to as “white guilt.” Whether or not it is warranted hardly seems to matter. It is, in my view, what this election will turn on.

Therefore, my guess is, Americans will take the current racial propriety to the voting booth and elect Barack Obama President with no regard to the consequences. It's that important to them, and Virginia Congressman Tom Davis was probably right when he said something to the effect that white Americans could rid themselves of 400 years of guilt by voting for Obama. I’m not sure that bodes well for black Americans, but they no doubt are wholly convinced that it beats the hell out of what they’ve had.

And more along that line, it may not be the right thing to do for the country, but given what's going on with the economy at the moment not many white folks are going to believe it could be any worse either and they’re likely to do what they’ve always done whenever the economy was tanking: "kicked the bums out!" This time, they not only can exact revenge, they get atonement, too. How can you beat that?

In short, a vast majority of black voters are going to vote for Obama for no other reason than he is black (or half-black), but many, many whites are going to vote for Obama also for the same reason. That’s what I believe and I’ve bet on it. Others believe that when white Americans go alone into that voting booth the old propriety will well up from somewhere deep in their psyche and pull the lever for the “old white guy and the hot chick.” May be, but I don’t think so.