Memo to Senior Citizens: Racism is Over (If You Want It)

01/21/2008 01:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I suspected it in Iowa. Then even more in New Hampshire. Now after Nevada it has become crystal clear.

Senior citizens, who make up a significant and reliable percentage of the voting bloc, are having a difficult time voting for a black man.

We've come a long way as a nation. Many of us look around among our peers, our colleagues, our immediate family and racism seems, for the most part, to be a remnant of the past. Without a doubt, racism still exists, mostly in more subtle, institutional forms. It occasionally flairs up in incidents like the Jena Six and Don Imus. But many white people under 60 are eager to see our nation's ugly, racist past put behind us and partially redeemed by electing America's first African-American president.

But what about the older generation? I teach a freshman writing class at the university and posed this question to my students: How many of your grandparents, in spite of all of their virtues and good works, are still somewhat racist? More than half of the class raised their hands.

The numbers coming out of the early primary states seem to confirm this unfortunate reality. Barack Obama is not only winning big among twenty-somethings, but those in their thirties, forties, and sometimes even fifties. The problem comes with senior citizens.

According to a recent CBS article, Hillary Clinton received 45% of the 65 and older crowd in Iowa to just 18% for Obama. In New Hampshire, the trend continued with 48% for Hillary and 32% for Obama, and in Nevada she won a staggering 60% to 31% in a voting bloc that made up an incredible 36% of the total vote.

Younger voters and college-educated Americans are voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, but will they be enough?

Perhaps young people across the country need to talk to their grandparents and implore them to remember Martin Luther King's vision (supported by both Christ and the Constitution) of not judging a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. The "Greatest Generation" must prove their greatness again by moving beyond these old, tired fears and prejudices. It would be a sad day indeed if America is in fact ready for a black president, but the over-65 crowd didn't get the memo.