Here’s a tip from someone in his 5th decade of life: If you do something on the basis of skin color that doesn’t involve sunscreen or biopsies, you’re being racist. There is nothing that justifies racism, period.
Racism is insidious in all its forms, and can easily sneak up on you without you even being aware of it. Case in point: black people who vote for Obama based on his skin color. Jesse Washington of the AP has written a provocative article that examines why black people are voting for Obama based on his skin color, and how they are justifying it. One black man justifies voting for Obama because of the color of his skin, “You’re black, you need to stand behind black people.” It’s not racism to him because he’s voting for someone who understands his situation better. Several Hollywood stars have come out in support of Obama because he’s black, and an actress of mixed race was called a “jigaboo” and “house n****r” for tweeting in support of Romney. A law professor at the University of Maryland, when asked whether it would be okay for a white person to vote for a white candidate based on his race, called this a “false symmetry” because of the history of black oppression.
Are these people racists? I’m not sure. They are doing racist things but I don’t enough to call them racist. As for me I do not consider myself racist even though I sometimes find myself sliding into racist thinking at times. But I catch myself and strive to overcome it. Racism is toxic, and I believe a steady diet of it will kill the human spirit within. So I’m a bit troubled by those who vote for Obama because his skin color is darker than the competing candidate’s.
If you think skin color matters, travel to Africa. The continent is full of black people, yet they have little in common with black Americans. The experience of black people in America is unique, and the culture they have created over hundreds of years of oppression is as different from any found in Africa as it is from the culture of white Anglo-Saxon protestant culture. This culture defines black Americans in ways that are easily apparent to Africans but not so apparent to other Americans.
Based on this, is Obama a black American? Sure he has the skin color, but his father was Kenyan, he grew up raised by his white grandmother in Hawaii and with his white mother and Asian stepfather in Indonesia. He did not grow up in black America. He did not experience the sting of racism that starts to define black people at a very young age here in America. He did not experience the smooth rhythms of Grandmaster Flash played on a boom box on the street, the dominance on the court of Dr. J, the vicious, side-splitting humor of Richard Pryor or the raw power of Hank Aaron on the baseball diamond in the 1970s. He missed out on house music and rap that defined a generation of black – and white – Americans. Washington’s article references the suspicion by the black community prior to 2008 that Obama wasn’t “black enough,” so I’m not the only one wondering if Obama is really “black.” Is it racist to ask if any black man besides Tiger Woods has played more rounds of golf than this president?
As for “false symmetry,” would it be okay if the Republicans nominated an Hispanic and Latinos said they would vote for him because he had three Latina women in the house? Hispanics, after all, are experiencing oppression today. Would it be okay if I voted for an Irish-American candidate simply because of the history of Irish oppression? The Irish have been some of the most oppressed people on the planet, suffering slavery, discrimination and genocide second only to the Jews. Speaking of the Jews, would it be okay for a Jew to vote for a Jew simply because of 4,500 years of oppression, slavery and antisemitism that culminated in the Holocaust? When does the guilt end? There is no one alive in the USA today that owned slaves. Most of my ancestors arrived after the Civil War was over, so why should I suffer for the immorality of men long dead who merely shared with me the same shade of skin color?
The problem with such judgements based on skin color is that they don’t work. I’ve been robbed at gun point by a white guy, not a black one, so any security I feel with a stranger who is white is misplaced. Similarly I’ve been the sole white face in a crowd of villagers in Africa and had nothing at all to fear.
One of the politicians I admire the most, the one that I’ve actually donated the most to, is Congressman Allen West. West shares my vision of a strong America, a man who says what he thinks, who takes pride in our values and doesn’t apologize or bow down to people who hide women in bags, kill homosexuals, or call for the death of others of different faiths. Lt. Col. Allen West happens to be black.
I don’t expect black people to change their minds based on the writings of a middle aged white libertarian living in rural America who believes that Obama is the worst US president since Carter not because of his skin color but because of his inexperience and naive policies. But I would hope that people began to recognize that racism isn’t dead, that it can surprise you when you least expect it, that the price of freedom – true freedom of action that is not tainted by irrational racist thought – is eternal vigilance. Once you accept that racism in any form is okay, then you have to contort yourself into a veritable pretzel using terms like “false symmetry” to avoid appearing racist. But it won’t work when all you are doing is repeating the same excuses that justified racism generations ago. The simple truth is you can’t end racism by being racist, and until that is realized racism will thrive like a cancer among us, all of us.