Would I have voted for Barack if he'd been white?

At least part of the reason I supported Hillary and Barack was because of their sex and race, respectively.

I was very taken with the idea that either one would be a first, a break from the infinitely long line of old white guys driving the bus of U.S. politics. I was so taken with the idea, in fact, that I didn’t stop to notice that Barack (1) didn’t really support the policies I supported, e.g., Afghanistan and (2) wasn’t qualified for the job. Somehow I convinced myself that it was alright because George W. Bush wasn’t qualified, either. As if that worked out well.

But I digress. My point was that I supported Hillary in part because of her sex and Barack because of the color of his skin.

I also almost always root for the African-American quarterback in football, because I grew up with the old mantra that “coloreds aren’t smart enough to play quarterback” and I am gleeful as I watch those same Alabama Neanderthals cheering for Cam Newton. I believe that there’s a lot to know to be a quarterback, but listening to Terry Bradshaw on Sunday puts paid to the idea that you need an IQ over 80 to learn those things.

I support Affirmative Action. I call people out. I have made excuse after excuse to explain the failure of African-Americans to rise out of poverty and the stunning statistics on incarcerated African-American males. I have tried to explain away why 100% of immigrants who don’t even speak the language seem to be able to find jobs and 48% of young African-American males don’t. I argue hip-hop is the new face of poetry, and is just as artistically valid as Auden.

That makes me a liberal. It also makes me a racist.

Albeit, I would argue, a “positive racist,” as opposed to a negative one.

I would argue that positive racism is better than negative racism, although that may not be true. I recently drove through Alabama. As we passed a fifty foot high flagpole with an enormous Confederate flag, I was struck by the young black woman in the car next to me—smiling, chattering away on a cellphone, not even glancing at the stars and bars. It bewilders me that so many African-Americans choose to live in the South with its overt racism. Maybe racism is racism, and my patronizing positive racism is only marginally better than negative racism. That is, they’d rather live in a place with overt racism and not have to shovel snow than they would in a place with less overt racism and long winters.

Now, obviously, I’ve always known that at some level I am a racist. Everyone is a racist at some level, as that old hilarious SNL skit with the interracial couple illustrates. I used to work with a South African who left the nation because of apartheid. We worked at a big consulting firm. He was famous for hiring more blacks and women than anyone, but only staffing white Ivy Leaguers. He managed to get past his first layer of racism, but not his second. I know I have a tendency to secretly doubt the abilities of African-American executives I meet and wonder how much of their success is due to Affirmative Action. I rarely stop to think how the white execs I meet got to where they are.

However, it is a new idea to me that this flavor of racism is only better in degree than those assholes who drag people to their death behind trucks.

I think I am making progress, though. It started with O.J. He proved, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that black people can be assholes, too. Jesse helped move me along. And now Randy Moss is bringing me further still. I am finally getting it. Being black is not a stigma, but it is also not a virtue. It is what it is.

That means that I can’t just give African-Americans the benefit of the doubt when I hear about questionable behavior. I can’t just say Charlie Rangel is getting railroaded because he’s black. He may be getting railroaded, I don’t know, and it may be because he is a Democrat. But there’s a real good chance he’s just Ted Stevens with a moustache, a two-bit politician who eventually became convinced, as many do, that the rules that apply to us don’t apply to them. He’s not an African-American weasel. He’s just a weasel.

It means I have to face the fact that African-Americans appear to be stuck, economically and socially, and that may not be our fault, but the fault of predominant cultural norms which don’t celebrate education, a “Puritan” work ethic, and self-discipline.

And most painfully for a Southern male, most of whom are programmed to worship football from birth, I have to admit that Vince Young sucks.

OK, maybe it’s not that much of a breakthrough, but it’s a start.

Now, if only Sarah Palin can cure me of sexism.

Categories: Race/Gender, United States

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3 replies »

  1. Gutsy post. Like you, I grew up in the working-class South and know what it is to fight through all kinds of internal conflict on race and gender. That cultural context is a gravity well that makes it very hard to reach full escape velocity, you know.

    We keep fighting, we keep studying, we keep thinking and learning and approaching every new person we meet in good faith, regardless of race, and maybe in time we get to the point where nobody ever has to fight these battles again.