At the beginning of the presidential primaries, America had a variety of Democratic candidates to choose from. John Edwards was back, after being on John Kerry’s ticket in 2004. There was Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, hippie Dennis Kucinich and a whole motley crew of donkeys vying for the top spot at the White House. The two most controversial candidates, however, were a woman and a black man. ‘That’s nice putting them on the ticket like that,’ I remember thinking. ‘But they’re never going to make the cut. It’s just un-American.’
After a short spell, the field whittled down to the two front-runners: the woman and the black man. Yet the public soon found out that the female was in fact an outer space robot dubbed Hillar-E, and she was forced to bow out gracefully.
And now we have Barack.
Obama, with his pearly whites and snazzy suits, has become a steady staple of our media diet. So much so that we almost overlook the fact that he is a black man.
But how big a role will the race card play in this election?
When one takes a holistic view of American history, it is hard to ignore the prominent role segregation played in building this country. The colonists swallowed vast amounts of Native American land under the credo of ‘Manifest Destiny,’ and the Founding Fathers grew immense estates on the backs of slave labor from Africa. It was only in 1862 that Honest Abe freed slaves by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. One hundred years later, deep-seated unrest among the people sparked the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Now, 40 years after the bloody protests of the ’60s, how much has really changed? Has America truly repaired its racist past, or has it just swept the remnants under the rug and told everyone to be quiet?
There is no doubt that the determined activists of the Civil Rights Movement made drastic shifts in American ideology, yet a great deal of social stratification still exists. The impoverished black people of America are stuck in what anthropologist Oscar Lewis described as a ‘culture of poverty’ ‘-‘- they are unable to escape the confines of the lower class, and they hold a defeatist attitude toward their inability to change the status quo.
Improving education could change this predicament, but with the new $700 billion tab on our hands and a Department of Education budget for 2006 lingering around $56 billion, fewer dollars will be making their way into inner-city schools.
‘Equality’ is a word that was etched into the building blocks of this country, but that hardly means there are no class divisions. It means, rather, that everyone has equal opportunity, and if you do not succeed, only you can be blamed. This allows us to conveniently sidestep the hot topic of social stratification and instead place the blame squarely on the individual.
Essentially, we have adopted an ethos in which if you don’t talk about it, then it doesn’t exist.
Blindfolds and gags have become regular props in this election. People are rarely willing to speak their mind for fear they might get shanked in the hallways in the Capitol, or worse, displayed as an insensitive bigot on national television. A poke at any candidate can be seen as ageism, racism or sexism.
Obama’s skin color gets little attention these days. After all, he’s running for president of the United States, not the NAACP. He is walking a dangerous tightrope at the moment, balancing an image as a strong black American with that of a colorless and powerful politician. But there is no doubt that race will play some role in this election. It is not a question of North versus South, or red versus blue, but rather a question of what lurks in the crevices of the American psyche. Racism is present, and although it has been pushed to the peripheries, there is every possibility that it will find its way back to center stage.
In 1982, the long-time black mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, ran for governor of California against white Republican candidate George Deukmejian. Polls showed Bradley held a substantial lead, but when the final votes were tallied, Bradley lost. Post-election research showed that more white voters and previously undecided voters had voted for Deukmejian on the basis of race, having previously concealed their true opinions for fear of being chastised.
It is possible that America will fall victim to the Bradley Effect. If we do, it will reflect poorly on our national colors. But if we don’t, and Barack Hussein Obama becomes the next president, America will stand as an optimistic beacon of change in a fast-paced world.
In any case, the secrecy of the voting booths will conceal who people voted for and why they voted that way. But come the night of Nov. 4, the gavel will come down and the verdict will be given. No matter what our interpretations, the results will speak for themselves.
Diptesh Soni, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. He can be reached at [email protected]