The Elephant in the Room
(And I’m Not Talking About a Caged Republican)
People make their election choices based on various factors and for various reasons. Sometimes people consider the real good of the country, sometimes not so much. Sometimes it’s the issues and the platforms, sometimes it’s the party. Sometimes it’s the person who seems like me or the person whose look or personality I like. Sometimes it’s the one with the most ability. And sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils, the one who doesn’t make us gag as much.
Most of my undecided friends have explained their indecision using one of two scenarios:
1. “I like your guy, except this one thing.” Often when I address the one thing, they say, “Well there’s this one other thing. And then there’s this one other thing…”
2. “I don’t really like either of them. They’re all crooks. But my gut leans toward McCain. Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t LIKE McCain, it’s just my gut.”
So if you’re among those people, if --after all the debates, after all the ink, after all the video, after all the bandwidth, after all my incredibly persuasive arguments-- you are still undecided, you still can’t choose either candidate (and if you are still reading), I have to ask you the elephant question.
I want you to ask yourself: What part does race play in my decision?
I’m not saying that anyone who supports John McCain is a racist. I’m not saying that anyone who votes AGAINST Barack Obama is a racist.
I AM saying that race is in this campaign. And I Am saying that as the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson says, it’s Obama’s fault. Barack Obama injected race into the campaign—by being (half) Black!
I AM saying that race matters. And I think it matters at a deep place, especially for those who pride themselves on their colorblindness.
We are in uncharted territory. Forty-three of 43 US Presidents have been white men over 35. As my brother Keith put it in a Denver Post article:
"An image is conjured in your mind of the President of the United States, and Barack does not fit that image."
This image is in the minds of black people, too, which is why it took a win in lily-white Iowa’s primary caucuses to convince black Americans to support Senator Obama. It also explains a “gut feeling” that chooses McCain over Obama.
So the threshold of persuasion that Senator Obama has to meet is not just “Is he the best available person for the job?” but “Do I want this guy so much that I will do violence to my past images of what a President is? Am I willing to force the matter? Or will I ‘trust my gut’ --which is informed by the past—to choose the ‘regular,’ ‘normal,’ ‘safe’ white guy, even if he’s not the best for our country at this time.”
If Obama doesn’t make that threshold for you, that doesn’t make you a racist. But neither does it make you colorblind. And that doesn’t make your gut racist. But it questions whether your gut knows or cares about what is best for you and your country. Maybe your gut is not worth trusting. Maybe your gut is uninformed.
Quoting my brother again:
"I believe a real gut-check needs to happen with a lot of people, and I don't think we can underestimate that. It comes not with his policies or how eloquently he expresses his ideas. It's about what people will do when faced with having to vote for a black man."
I was way into this post when I was interrupted by the story of someone I know. This man grew up as a white Tennessee redneck. To protect him from embarrassment, I won’t use his real name; we’ll call him “Joe, the Redneck.”
Joe never got beyond a 6th grade education. He’s a workingman, serving the people of his community by picking up their garbage. He is also a quiet and loyal husband and father.
Although Joe has treated black people kindly, he has also talked ugly about them behind closed doors and he has forbidden his children to play with them. In the five years I’ve known him he’s been kind to me, but I could tell he didn’t like the possibility of being in my family.
And Joe had never cared to vote. His wife (“Joelene”) was paying attention way back in the primaries; but not Joe. Joelene’s “gut” told her to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary. But she kept listening and paying attention. She listened to her daughter who was hearing from me. Joelene finally cast her primary vote for Barack Obama. She informed her gut.
Joe still wasn’t paying attention. But then he started. And then he made sure he was registered to vote. And he watched and listened and thought and decided. And he voted early in the general election. For his first time voting in 52 years, Joe, the Tennessee Redneck Garbageman, informed his gut and voted for the black guy.
If you’re still undecided, it’s probably time to find out what that “one thing” is in your gut. And maybe it’s time to inform your gut.
Next: My Final (and Beginning) Argument