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
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.