The Washington Post reported Monday on young Obama volunteers encountering (gasp) racism as they stump for their favorite. The article states:
"For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president."
As they must, the Obama camp denies it. They state:
"After campaigning for 15 months in nearly all 50 states, Barack Obama and our entire campaign have been nothing but impressed and encouraged by the core decency, kindness, and generosity of Americans from all walks of life. The last year has only reinforced Senator Obama's view that this country is not as divided as our politics suggest."
The article mentions the vandalism of a storefront bearing Obama posters. The incident wasn't reported because, "Obama campaign officials didn't want to make big deal of the incident."
To win votes, Obama must, for the most part, pretend racism does not exist. But in our world of "wishing makes it so," Obama supporters act as if this blatant political pretense reflects a comfy-chair reality awaiting us if we just deny right along with him. Obama has no choice. But the rest of us have no excuse.
Cases in point:
In Salon Magazine, Dr. Rahul K. Parikh wrote about doctors' racial bias and its effects on minority health. He cited a 2002 Institute of Medicine report that concluded, "evidence suggests that bias, prejudice and stereotyping on the part of health care providers may contribute to differences in care" between blacks and whites. He then cites clinical Harvard Medical School research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in which:
"More doctors subconsciously attributed negative traits to blacks (thinking them 'uncooperative' or 'bad') than whites. Worse was the way these biases translated into clinical decisions. While doctors diagnosed more blacks with a heart attack, they ended up prescribing treatment for blacks and whites in essentially equal numbers, meaning that black patients having heart attacks were going untreated. Further, as the degree of bias toward blacks increased, so did their likelihood of not getting treated."
In a New York Times column called "Our Racist, Sexist Selves," Nicholas Kristof, a paragon of internationalist good intentions, wrote of taking a University of Chicago on-line psychological test "in which you encounter a series of 100 black or white men, holding either guns or cellphones. You're supposed to shoot the gunmen and holster your gun for the others." Kristof admits that he shot blacks a few fractions of second sooner than he shot whites. "Conversely," he wrote, "I holstered my gun more quickly when encountering unarmed whites than unarmed blacks."
Kristof points to similar online psychological tests at the Harvard site that "very cleverly show that a stunningly large proportion of people who honestly believe themselves to be egalitarian unconsciously associate good with white and bad with black."
I have written before of research by Olsson et al., cited in Science magazine, showing how unconscious, animal fear informs the attitudes between ethnic groups--that negative associations stick more easily and relentlessly to faces that don't look like ours.
Which leads us to Queens, where three unarmed black men were shot, and one killed in a barrage of 50 bullets fired by police officers, two of them black. The officers, black and white, feared the black men, and so their actions were deemed not criminal. Instead, the judge called their deaths the result of "non-criminal carelessness and incompetence." It is now merely "careless" to shoot dead an unarmed black man.
All of these trained, educated and intelligent people displaying their (one assumes) subconscious racism... How many proofs does it take to raise it to the conscious level--to acknowledge, confront, and perhaps even work to overcome it?
In America, black life has historically been less valuable than white. We have all been taught so--white and black (the latter an absurdist tragedy of Beckettian proportions). We have been taught that blacks are less industrious, less intelligent, possess less self-control, more violent, and more profligate.
Our political discourse borders on pretending that Obama will escape all of this. But no such luck. In the coming months, he will be cast as dangerous, arrogant, and unlike "normal" people. Call a white politician "arrogant" and it means one thing. Call Obama "arrogant" and you invoke a history of blacks who don't know their places. Call Obama "unpatriotic" and you raise white fears of black resentment against long-standing oppression.
Colorblind? Post-racial? It's all so much bullshit. When will we finally gain the strength to admit it? We are all animals prone to prejudice. It's in our blood. It's in our lizard brains. It's an impulse as primal as shitting. It may be one we find just as unpleasant. However, we don't deny that we shit. We train our young not to do it where they stand. We teach them that it's unhygienic and distasteful; we teach elaborate rituals to control it.
Our racism is as ubiquitous as shit. Right now, though, we're just running around with stinking pantloads that we ludicrously pretend aren't there.
Denied, it could cost this election. Unacknowledged, it will continue killing some of us.