As we've seen this election cycle, there's a desperation seen in the MSM talking heads and newpaper columnists, even some blogs, to declare Barack Obama's success a post-racial triumph in this country -- that racism is rapidly becoming a distant memory.
Marietta tavern owner Mike Norman says the T-shirts he's peddling, featuring cartoon chimp Curious George peeling a banana, with "Obama in '08" scrolled underneath, are "cute." But to a coalition of critics, the shirts are an insulting exploitation of racial stereotypes from generations past.
"It's time to put an end to this," said Rich Pellegrino, a Mableton resident and director of the Cobb-Cherokee Immigrant Alliance. It was among the organizations planning to gather outside Mulligan's Bar and Grill Tuesday afternoon to protest the "racist and highly offensive" shirts.
Just down the street from Marietta's famous Big Chicken, Mulligan's has carved a provocative niche in an increasingly multicultural area, thanks to its owner's ultra-conservative political views. If you live in Marietta, it's impossible not to know what's on Norman's mind, as he posts his views on signs in front of Mulligan's. Among his recent musings: "I wish Hillary had married OJ," "No habla espanol — and never will" and the standard "I.N.S. Agents eat free."
"I'm saying out loud what everyone in this town whispers," Norman said.
...Norman said those offended are "hunting for a reason to be mad" and insisted he is "not a racist." Why picture Obama as Curious George? "Look at him . . . the hairline, the ears, he looks just like Curious George," Norman said.
Not a racist. I guess he doesn't do Klan night riding on the weekends, so in his mind he's free and clear of that label. Even sadder, he's donating the proceeds to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I wonder what the MDA thinks of this?
Today we will see an example, in West Virginia's primary, of how there are limitations to that fantasy. As I was driving in to work this AM I was listening to NPR and the report was on that state's primary. The reporter referred to the -- "older, less-educated, less affluent, white voters Clinton refers to as her base." At this point, there's little use in cloaking the fact that we're talking about people who will simply not vote for a black man for any reason. They are out there, and even in this PC-culture, they don't mind sharing. I think it's healthy for people to say exactly where these scared voters are coming from, so that all the kumbaya fantasists realize we have a lot of work to do, even as we see the unprecedented performance of Barack Obama.
There is an eye-opening piece in the WaPo, "Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause", about young canvassers, many of them white, getting their first taste of bold, in-your-face racism, as they went door to door in Indiana and Pennsylvania in advance of those primaries.
In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, [volunteer Danielle] Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into "a horrible response," as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.
"The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive."
For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.
...Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across "a lot of racism" when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."
And it's not just bold declarations of fear of white privilege we're talking about. These young people are getting a terrible taste of the dark side of America, one that has been allowed to fester because we have trouble discussing color-arousal issues without escalating the conflict.
The bigotry has gone beyond words. In Vincennes, the Obama campaign office was vandalized at 2 a.m. on the eve of the primary, according to police. A large plate-glass window was smashed, an American flag stolen. Other windows were spray-painted with references to Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other political messages: "Hamas votes BHO" and "We don't cling to guns or religion. Goddamn Wright."
This is going on even as Obama has won 30 of the 50 Democratic primaries and caucuses held so far. That achievement is remarkable and historic, and the feeling of optimism should not be quashed by such bigotry. On the other hand, this WaPo article is a rarity in that it dares to raise the issue of negative, race-based voting patterns and a resistance and fear that are very real.
Putting our heads in the sand is dangerous; I am glad that these people are gutsy enough to admit their prejudices aloud so that we are reminded that racism isn't relegated only to a region south of the Mason-Dixon line. It's more about class and a population that has a base fear of further displacement and denial of their American dream by the "other," a seemingly ascendant population -- blacks -- who are going to somehow exact retribution on them via Barack Obama as president. I hate to break it to them, but white privilege will not be erased with the election of Barack Obama, and the ones who hoodwinked them out of the American dream were BushCo and the GOP.