I have spent more than two-thirds of my life living in three small towns in America's South. I have also spent part of 30 summers on Cape Cod and other islands off the coast of Massachusetts. I went to college in New England and lived in two very large cities in that part of the country for ten years. I also lived in Europe for three years, two of them in what is arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
So I've seen some of both sides. And I am afraid that there is a part of the American South in which I grew up and now live that will not vote for Barack Obama simply because he is black. I hate to have to say this. But there it is.
The elephant, or donkey, if you like, in the middle of the room is that racism is still alive and well in small-town American, particularly in the South where I have spent a good part of my life.
When I moved to Virginia from Boston in the mid-'80s and was invited to dinner at the home of some highly educated long-time residents, I was shocked to hear the "n" word used in casual conversation. Years later at the home of professors hosting a large dinner party for foreign visitors, the hostess used the word "wetbacks" as though she were talking about flower arrangements. These are not isolated incidents. The "n" word (no, I'm sorry, but I can't use it myself) is not just heard in rap songs by black musicians, it is used whenever people think they can get away with it. And while people may say one thing in "polite" company, what they will tell a canvasser, or what they will do in a voting booth, are two different things. As much as I personally admire Obama and know his race is not an issue for me, I fear it is may well be an issue for some of those with the small-town values that Palin so lauded in her speech.
Prejudice dies hard. Check out this article on waffles served at a Republican fundraiser. Some people, apparently, even think it's funny.
And prejudice will affect this campaign, even if we don't choose to openly talk about it. And even if John McCain refuses to acknowledge it at all.
There is also the suspicion of the "other," to account for: the wariness of the one who can't be categorized. Barack Obama, with his odd name, his African father, and his Ivy League degrees, is just too much to take in. The fact the Obama has lived the proverbial American Dream doesn't count, really. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia had it in a nutshell when he called Obama "uppity." The fact that Obama has lived the proverbial American Dream doesn't count, really. I mean, we just can't have that sort of thing around here, can we? Apparently not.
While I was thinking about and researching this piece, almost afraid to write it because of the flak I knew I would get, I happened upon this piece in "Salon," which cites an Annenberg poll that says that 13 percent of voters still believe that Obama is a Muslim, and many others aren't sure what religion he is. That's a big deal in this church-going, God-fearing country.
In another Salon article linked to the first one, a man is quoted as saying "Obama, he's not our kind of people. . . . He don't believe in the hereafter, and the Lord, the way I look at it . . . he's Muslim."
Sure enough, the night before I even read that article, the waitress in the pizza parlor I frequent assured me with much fervor that Obama was indeed a Muslim. When I tried to disabuse her of that fact, she shrugged and said, "Well, he's gonna get shot anyway," and moved on to the next table.
I have long suspected that a good number of people would not vote for Obama merely because he is black, and that no amount of information would change their minds. I am both encouraged (because it shows I am not merely paranoid) and saddened (because I wish we were more enlightened as a country) to see my suspicions borne out. But what I have also suspected is true: while the information is out there for people to make up their minds wisely, the people are not accessing it, for whatever reason. It may be because they are simply not interested, they're too busy, or they've made up their minds based on the disinformation they have already absorbed.
For example, the woman who checks me out at CVS gets all her information from the magazines that line her counter: US, People, and the tabloids. And she is positive the media is giving Palin a raw deal. The man who owns my favorite pizza joint is sure that Palin is good for women. When I asked him if he knew where she stands on any important issues, he threw up his hands and said, "I'm working here twelve hours a day, when do I have time to look at the news?"
That's the other donkey in the room: ignorance.
These are not bad people. But they represent a large portion of the population who are simply not going to be informed before the election and will vote based on their guts.
They are the ones who, for all their open-minded facade, when alone at the voting booth, will decide that they just can't pull the lever for a black man who might just be a Muslim, and about whom they really don't know much.
These are the people whom Barack Obama still must reach. I hope he can do it.Ignorance Is Bliss? Written by Lisa Solod Warren
Published September 17, 2008 Integration, when I was in the fourth grade in East Tennessee, happened without much notice. The small number of black children who suddenly appeared at Rose School, the beautiful, now historic brick building that housed grades one through six, were assimilated without incident. Perhaps, it was because they were so small in number. Perhaps it was because there was no bus bringing them there. Perhaps it was because blacks had always lived in our town, albeit on the other side of town, where most of them would still live for many more years.
I didn’t notice at all. Having been one of the “others” in my own right since pre-school, when I had been subjected to my first incident of virulent anti-Semitism, I knew I was different, too; so more different kids seemed like a good thing to me.
I tested my mother’s Northern liberalism by openly dating black boys during high school and having them pick me up at the front door; Mom was charming although she did try to talk to me, calmly, about the difficulties of interracial dating. On the other hand, I picked up my good friend G. every Friday night and drove her to the projects to see her boyfriend and we both lied through our teeth about it to her mother who would have locked her in her room forever had she known she was involved with a black boy.
I have lived in the South most of my life, although I have spent a fair amount of time in the North also — summers on the Cape and Islands, school and work for ten years in New England, two stints living abroad, and a lot of overseas travel. I have made my peace with the South and would actually like to move farther South than Virginia; I dream of a house near the water in Beaufort, South Carolina, even though I hear it’s very hard to be a Democrat in that state.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a Democrat in Virginia, too, especially when the race for president involves a black man and people just don’t want to talk about it. Some Republicans actually make fun of it. And others disguise their racism by calling it something else. Or claiming, still, that Obama is a Muslim.
Actually people in the U.S. don’t want to talk much about race or class, witness the current financial crisis — which is a lot about class warfare and privilege and the greed of those who have money preying on those who have a lot less.
But I have been thinking more about race than any other issue lately because I think it’s going to make a difference in the presidential race. It’s going to make a difference even if we do talk about it. Although no one much is.
I wrote a column about it which appeared on HuffPo, but since then, as they say in the theater: A funny thing happened on the way to the forum.
In other words, in the couple of days that followed, all sorts of things began to happen. Besides the fact that while I was working on the article, I found pieces on Salon on race (finally, people were starting to write about it) and I had two rather extraordinary things happen to me on the same day.
Although I had personally run into both racism and ignorance in the small town in which I live (so much for those small town values Sarah Palin extols — although her comment was taken from a fascist writer Westbrook Pegler) I wasn’t quite prepared for a well- spoken, 80-year-old, undecided woman voter to tell me straight out that she was having trouble voting for Obama because he was, well, “I hate to have to tell you this, because you will think less of me, but, black.”
I spent twenty minutes with her on the phone, during which she admitted he was intelligent, committed, and a far better candidate than John McCain who she simply “could not vote for.” After I hung up, I just hoped I had convinced her to overcome her aversion to his race. She was born and raised in West Virginia, she said, and old attitudes were hard to break.
Another caller admitted to still being on the fence. She and her elderly mother were trying to gather all the information they could, but, still, she just couldn’t make up her mind. It seemed to her, she said, that all politicians were crooks and that none of them could get a darned thing done. I commiserated with her and told her that gridlock was a terrible thing and that Obama was committed to working with both parties but that it would be a challenge. I mentioned that McCain had been in Congress for 26 years and that it seemed to me that it was time for some new blood. We talked for a little longer and then she paused.
“Can I ask you a question?”
I allowed as she could indeed and that I would do my best to answer it.
She said that she had been wondering about something for some time and that she had asked and asked around and that no one she knew could help her out so that she thought she would ask me if I knew. She then said that it seemed to her that a lot more could get done if the president could just work alone and make all the decisions himself without congress and a lot of other people getting in his way, and didn’t I think so, and why wasn’t that a possibility?
I took a deep breath. I measured my voice. In no way was I going to condescend to this very sincere woman who was very seriously asking for my help.
“Well,” I said. “The Constitution of the United States provides for three branches of government...” And then I went on, and as simply as possibly, described the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches and their duties. I even explained how the House of Representatives is supposed to be the ones that makes the laws and sends them to the Senate and how in the best of all possible worlds, good laws are made and the president signs them, but if he does not agree, he won’t. I explained to her about checks and balances. And so on. I also told her that one man alone would be a dictator. And I named some more current dictators but sensing I was losing her, I mentioned Hitler. I heard her let out her breath in an Ohhhh.
“I see,” she said. “It’s more complicated than I thought. Thank you.”
We chatted some more and then I hung up and turned to the young man who runs the Obama headquarters.
“I just gave my first civics lesson,” I said, still in shock.
He shrugged. “A woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do.”
In the days that followed, I asked several people I ran into if they could name me the three branches of government and tell me why we had them.
"Wait, wait, I know this," most people said. "I do, I do!"
I am seriously starting to think we need a mandatory civics exam given to every graduating high school senior. And it needs to be passed before he or she gets his or her voter registration card.
But the fact that people don’t know the Constitution is only the half of it. The other half is that, despite what the right would have the American public believe, the truth is that there is so much incredible garbage being spouted by right-wing idiots out there on radio and television that the American public is wallowing in ignorance right up to their pupiks (Yiddish for bellybutton).
And they don’t even know it.The Measure of a Man Written by Lisa Solod Warren
Published September 20, 2008 A new poll out today is not, I suppose really news to anyone who lives in, and pays attention to life in these United States.
And contrary to some of those who would like to see this as a Democratic issue, it is not. Clearly, were the Republicans running a black man for the Presidency, the results would be similiar.
The history of inequality among the different races, classes, sexes, sexual preferences, and religions in the United States of America is as old as the country itself, despite our best efforts in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We mean well, and often, individually, we do well. But, collectively, as a country, we have had to pass amendment after amendment to our original Constitution just to try and get things right. And still, we fall short, even with laws to protect us.
Some people. yes, choose to hide behind the mantle of victimization, and while I do not approve of that course of action--I would rather see people fight oppression than merely use their lesser "status" as a bully club--I do, sometimes understand the level of frustration that comes from continually being a second class citizen, or being judged by a stereotype that is outdated and shopworn, were it ever really based in anything but myth.
What makes me scared is the fear that people feel for others who are not like them and how that fear robs them of the ability to see a man for who he is, rather than who they think he must be. Has the media and our own mythologizing of black men and women so inured us to the reality of them as individuals?
It is a terrible thing that in a nation as rooted in democracy as ours is; a nation as peopled by the potential for kindness and goodness as ours is; a land as rich in resources plentiful enough for everyone as ours is, a man running for the Presidency cannot be judged by his measure as a man, but is being judged by some, by too many, only by his race.stumble digg reddit
Causes Lisa Solod Supports
Temple House of Israel, Staunton, Virginia, CASA