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Fear of a Black President

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UPDATE: It seems like a lot of you are reading this and concluding that I'm either an idiot or a racist. I'll cop to being an idiot -- HuffPo probably isn't the best forum for unflattering self-analysis, especially where race is involved. But let me point out two things: one, I believe Senator Obama will be our next president. I've donated to his campaign and phone banked on his behalf, and I believe he's a brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime leader -- not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character, and the quality of his mind. I agree with djarvis: "we are electing a person, not a symbol." Two, what I was trying to do was identify that fear of the unknown (which I believe is the root of all prejudice) and shame it. I failed to make either point. So idiot? Sure. Note to self: less soul-searching, more McCain bashing. Anyway, here's the piece, warts and all. -- SGS

I like being white.

Generally speaking, it's the easiest color in America to be.

It's so easy being white that when someone discriminates against me because I'm white, it's called "reverse" racism. My racism has its own special name -- that's how cool it is to be white. I can walk into any store without being followed; hail the cab of my choice; and there's not a country club that wouldn't welcome me, so long as I was clad in the requisite slacks and collared shirt.

I'm a liberal, college-educated white guy. I think gays should be allowed to marry, I think women deserve equal pay for equal work, and I firmly believe that the more ethnically diverse America becomes, the more perfect and lasting our Union will be.

But there's something about the idea of a black president that scares the shit out of me.

Until now, the notion of a black chief executive has belonged exclusively to Hollywood. I remember seeing Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact, and thinking what a cool, novel choice it was to cast a black man as the president of the United States. Cool, because it hit my progressive sweet spot. "Yes! That's the way the world should work!" Novel, because the idea seemed impossible. And that was scarcely ten years ago.

But the idea is very real now. A black man may well become the leader of the free world. And even for someone who fancies himself a progressive, that's forced me to take a long, hard look at what that would really mean to my white mind. To identify that tiny, obscure part of me that's suddenly afraid, and find out what its problem is.

Here's what I found.

It's been easy believing in equality, because part of me -- the part that's suddenly afraid -- didn't really think we'd ever achieve it.

For as long as I can remember, I've felt secure as a white person. Secure in the unspoken belief that no matter how much social progress we made in America -- no matter how many blacks and Latinos graduated Magna Cum Laude or how many trophies Tiger won -- that we'd always be the ruling class from sea to shining sea.

That belief was so ingrained in my DNA that nothing could shake it loose. Not the first billionaires of color, not the surging growth of the Latino population, not the Congressional Black Caucus...not even Oprah.

For though my better angels usually won the day, and though I was happy with the strides America was making, I was also -- deep down in that DNA -- gratified by the knowledge that mine was still the easiest color in America to be.

But a black president? That's different.

A black president means anything is possible. It means that that last little parcel of earth -- which for 232 years has been solely inhabited by white men -- is now open to people of all colors. That may seem insignificant. After all, there are black CEOs, black movie stars, black Senators...but the "highest office in the land" is just that.

The problem is, I think there are untold numbers of whites who can't bring themselves to pull the lever for Obama because of that fear -- the fear that a black president somehow takes us white folks down a notch.

I have friends and family members who support Obama as I do, but who are "certain" he won't win in November for this very reason. They just don't think white America is ready to pull that lever. Ready to put their vote where their mouth is.

Some of these hypothetical people are simply racists. People who've let that fear consume them, and who would never vote for a black candidate no matter what. Others are like me -- whites who embrace equality, and who've loved people of all colors with all their hearts, but who (somewhere deep down in that DNA) are afraid of what this brave new world will look like. Of what their place in it will -- or won't -- be.

As for me? I don't think we've arrived in a "post-racial" America just yet, but I have faith that more of us white folks are ready to give it a try than ever before.

I guess we'll see how big those better angels have grown.