copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert
“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.
Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government.
Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”
~ Thomas Jefferson (Autobiography, 1821)
It was a Saturday morning, late in June. The year was 2008. In the background, radio broadcaster, Scott Simon could be heard. The host of Weekend Edition offered his Reflections on Race and the Presidential Election. Alexander listened halfheartedly. It was not that he was not interested in the topic; he is and he was. Alex was distracted. The gentleman glanced over at Donna, a young Jamaican woman he knows so well. Donna’s skin is as Black as pitch coal and as rich as sweet crude. She gracefully moves across the room. He thinks of how he loves the way her hips sway to and fro. Her voluptuous bosom fills the full cup of her brassiere. As she bends down to feed his ailing cousin Anna, Alex reflects on how lovely the dark skinned woman is. His sentiment is not sexual in nature. Alexander is analytical.
As Alex watches the woman stir, he contemplates human nature. Recent research fascinates the senior fellow. For years, Alexander wondered what was the attraction to female breasts and beauty. He recalled the article he reviewed days earlier, What Women Want (Maybe.) Alexander marveled as he appraised the study. Rapt by the results as reported, “Looking at a naked man walking on the beach is about as exciting as looking at landscapes,” Alexander wonders of women, men, and how they relate. How much of what occurs between the sexes is biological? Are two-legged mammals acculturated? Do we acquire opinions that then become habits? Perhaps, had Alex’s attention been elsewhere he would have heard the words Scott Simon uttered as they drifted through the air. Alexander might have stopped and sputtered as Journalist Simon mused, “How many people can there be who truly don’t know that Senator Obama is black – or care.”
Alexander definitely knows Presidential hopeful Obama is African-American; and yes, he does care. Alex would never express his anxiety as blatantly as thousands have. Nor would he actually join a fellowship of known fanatics. This white man, genteel in nature, cannot imagine why extremists react as they do. For Alex, racial discrimination is not a source of pride. He wonders if that is why much intolerance is hidden, neatly tucked away in the Internet.
Hate Groups’ Newest Target
White Supremacists Report an Increase in Visits to Their Web Sites
By Eli Saslow
Sunday, June 22, 2008; A06
Sen. Barack Obama‘s historic victory in the Democratic primaries, celebrated in America and across much of the world as a symbol of racial progress and cultural unity, has also sparked an increase in racist and white supremacist activity, mainly on the Internet, according to leaders of hate groups and the organizations that track them.
Neo-Nazi, skinhead, and segregationist groups have reported gains in numbers of visitors to their Web sites and in membership since the senator from Illinois secured the Democratic nomination June 3. His success has aroused a community of racists, experts said, concerned by the possibility of the country’s first black president.
“I haven’t seen this much anger in a long, long time,” said Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution in Russellville, Ark. “Nothing has awakened normally complacent white Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly nonwhite president.” . . .
“The truth is, we’re finding an explosion in these kinds of hateful sentiments on the Net, and it’s a growing problem,” said Deborah Lauter, civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate group activity. “There are probably thousands of Web sites that do this now. I couldn’t even tell you how many are out there because it’s growing so fast.”
Granted, extremists do not represent the Grand Old Party, John McCain, or Alexander. Nonetheless, Alex knows the rise in racist rhetoric demonstrates many care about the undeniable. Our potential President is a Black man. Alexander admits, he is not surprised by the speed with which the trend towards intolerance increased once Barack Obama become the presumptive nominee. The lovely mild-mannered man recalls, Senator Obama was placed under the protection of the Secret Service Agency earlier than any Presidential aspirant had been. This action, this election is unprecedented.
Alexander recalls the day he read the accounts in the newspaper; the United States Senator from Illinois began his bid for the Oval Office and almost immediately received threats on his life. It was obvious, Barack Obama and his family were not safe. Excessive concern for the candidate’s race was expressed. Bullies observed Barack Obama is Black, and they did not like that.
Journalist Scott Simon might ruminate; these persons play on the fringe. Fanatics are peripheral to the population. However, the more moderate man, Alexander has watched as generations of white people exerted extreme power over Black people. He was also well aware of how Caucasians hid the emotions that had an effect on their every exchange. Alexander quietly avows on rare occasions, he too does not reveal what he truly feels when in the company of a person of color.
His relationship with Donna may illustrate, the illusive nature of race relations in America. The two are friendly; they spend much time together. However, neither feels particularly close to the other. Each understands they are employer and employee. Encounters occur for there is a need, physical, financial, practical, and personal only in the sense that when two people come together they cannot help but talk. Still, a genuine emotional connection is forever elusive. Neither wishes to create what is not comfortable.
Perhaps, the relationship that exists between Alexander and Donna explains why, the seventeen (17) million persons voted for Barack Obama in the primaries, may not if the realities of racism are emphasized before the general election. Blacks and whites can come together when the commitment is tentative, but would pinkish persons want their daughters to marry someone that looks like Senator Obama. Would Anglo Americans wish to place a Black man and his African-American family in the White House. Could it be that countless who cast a ballot for Barack Obama during the primaries, struggle with the reality that he might become their President and ever so powerful.
Alexander asserts people can be polite when what they perceive to be a potential threat is less than pervasive. However, Alex, who with great reluctance, voted for Barack Obama early in the election season, understands for possibly millions of American citizens, the idea of a Black man as President of the United States is perilous.
He need only consider his own inner turmoil. Alex understands what apparently escapes Mister Simon; people care what a color a person is. The possibility that our President may be a Black is reason for concern. Bethany grasps what her cousin continually contemplates. She sees and hears that Alexander relates to the fear others express outwardly. He is just a bit more refined when he articulates his distress. A Black man, Barack Obama must not become President of the country he loves. Alexander is not ready for such a radical transformation. He often muses, “Why change?” The man who has made much of his life says with a sigh, “What we have here in America is good.” He does not trust that an African-American will have his interests at heart.
Alexander battles with what may become a brutal truth, a Black man might lead the nation, indeed, the world! Animated and with much apprehension and angst, Alex’s wife Mary recounts what she says many assert. “Barack Obama has an army.” “I hear it is 2500 strong; maybe it was 25000,” Mary storms. “You know they are angry people.” She continues, “You heard what Michele Obama said did you not?” Energized by her own expertise Mary marvels and asks her audience to entertain; “The Obama’s live in a big house. They have white servants. Can you imagine that?” .Implied in her statements, is what Mary says is conventional wisdom. “Those people are vengeful.” She reluctantly admits, perhaps, Americans have not treated Senator Obama’s ancestors well. Nor have our contemporary Caucasian countrymen been kind to people of color. She then adds, “You know he is Muslim and has ties to terrorist.”
Bethany wonders and asks aloud, “Where did you read this?” Mary happily responds, confident her sources are credible, “I read it on the Internet.” The younger cousin inquires might Mary share her references. Bethany acquaints Mary with what she “knows” to be true. However, Mary does not hear her. The want for other information wanes, if it was ever really there.
Mary, as her husband Alexander, is a registered Democrat. Neither ever misses a vote. For decades, Mary proudly worked at her local election polls. From dawn until long after dusk she monitors what occurs within her precinct.
Alex does not acknowledge that he agrees with Mary. Nor does he offer disagreement. He merely remains absorbed in all that disturbs him personally.
For months Alex wrestled with the fact that as admirable as the candidate’s education might be, as calm as the demeanor of the aspirant is, even when under fire, Barack Obama is Black. While Alex may wish to think of himself as colorblind and open-minded, he cannot help but question Barack Obama’s qualifications. Frequently, in conversation, Alex couches his concern. “The man does not have the necessary experience.” However, on occasion, and only when in the company of Bethany, a relative who he fondly thinks of as a very good friend, Alex admits he is biased.
He has confessed; it is difficult for him to plead guilty to this truth even to himself. Alex recognizes he is intolerant of those whose skin is dark. He fears Black persons he encounters on the street. He suspects, those whose cocoa brown complexion glistens in the light, engage in criminal activity. Perchance, had Alexander harkened to the words Scott Simon offered days earlier he would have engaged in a conversation in that moment. He had many thoughts on the topic. However, when the Journalist spoke Alexander was absorbed elsewhere. He pondered, who and what is Donna to him.
Alexander says he does not think of Donna as a servant. Yet, he recognizes she is an economic slave. In an abstract way, he is her master.
Donna is an authentic person, equal to Alex in every way, except for the fact that she is not. The wondrous white man may never wish to divulge as three (3) in ten (10) Americans did. He is biased. In a very recent Washington Post – ABC News poll, people acknowledged a prejudice. Alexander may be inclined to think the Black women with who he engages, or any person of color, is perhaps less profound than a Caucasian certainly is. For this carefree chap, who openly chats with many a Black person, the race of an individual creates an impression, although he appreciates this is often unconscious.
Alexander assumes, since he frequently converses with people whose epidermis is the color of bittersweet chocolate he knows what it means to be an African-American, Jamaican, Haitian, or just dark in skin tone. While he may honor an individual Black person who he associates with, none of the labels Alex would apply to this group of people as a whole is good. Much as he tries to be tempered when he associates with people purplish-brown in hue, some would say Alexander is a bigot, a well-camouflaged racist.
Most may not see the subtleties of Alexander’s prejudice. Likely, he does not realize how deep his predispositions are. Alexander does not think of himself as intolerant. Perchance, he would be among the fifty-three percent in the Washington Post – ABC News survey who presume race relations in America are superior.
In truth, Alex is a bit more realistic. He realizes there are problems. He has said himself, prejudice is prevalent. However, he might quickly add, skin color does not cloud his vision. Alex believes he is merely selective in his associations. Perchance, he adopted his parents’ opinions, or habits. Alex is not naïve enough to think nature keeps the races separate and unequal. He only knows what is and always was, at least as long as he recalls.
The self-proclaimed aware and astute fellow believes there are a few special persons, no matter the skin color. He just happens to associate more with those fair of face. That does not mean he excludes African-Americans from his life.
The ones that once worked for him when he owned his own business were wonderful men . . . as far as he could tell. They were polite. The delivery drivers did their work. These burly men, brown as the bark on a weathered oak tree, never complained. There was Natalie, and Josephine; they nursed his mother to health. Certainly, Donna is a delight.
Donna knows her place. She fills a necessary space in Alexander and Anna’s life. The purplish hue cast by the beautiful brown complexion of this woman ensures that she will never be seen or treated as a peer, at least not by the cousins who employ her. When the white man and woman gaze upon Donna, they forever see her as a Black person. Thankfully, they say, she is not an African-American. Those people cannot be trusted.
“Just ask her,” Alex says to his very close “friend” Bethany. “Donna will tell you.” “American Blacks are lazy,” he continues. “They do drugs.” Donna says, “It is true. Those Black people born in this country just collect welfare.” She speaks of her son, Christopher. “Look at him; he was awarded a full scholarship.” Beaming with pride, the Health Care Aide reminds everyone in the room, when Christopher was a Senior in High School, he was one of three, nationwide selected to attend a prestigious college. Her son, she boasts, is motivated. He is a scholar, not like those “Black boys” native to America.
Alexander listens and nods. Donna affirms his opinions are not racist. He has reason to believe as he does. “Did you hear what Donna said,” he asks his companion. “See. She knows.” Exasperated and in a desire to prove his point, Alex points to Donna and reminds his confidant, “She is a woman of color!”
The conversation began innocently enough. Alexander wanted to explain why he could not in good conscious cast a ballot for Barack Obama. The older white man had done his duty in the primaries. Perhaps, his vote for Senator Obama affirmed he is not a bigot. Alexander actually did vote for the Senator from Illinois in the Spring of the year. He hesitantly speaks of how he had to.
The World War II veteran had no other choice. No, he did not approve of Barack Obama then. Nor does he condone crass humor as was exhibited at the Texas Republican Convention just days before Scott Simon made his comment.
Mr. Alcox said he made 12 of the pins after seeing a comic strip where Barack Obama was standing in front of a sign saying “The White House,” with the building behind him. Mr. Obama is depicted thinking, “That’s the first thing we’ll change.” . . .
The offending pin stated: “If Obama is president . . . Will we still call it the White House?” . . .
“Obviously, it’s been offensive to people. It was not meant to be that way. We’re into humor – not racism,” Mr. Alcox said.
Regardless of the intent, many were offended. Bigotry only begets belly laughs from other bigots. The object of intolerance, if given the opportunity can speak to what eludes the prejudice. However, in a nation where an esteemed broadcaster expresses a wishful belief as truth, no one “cares” what color Barack Obama, a Black man is, few take the time to probe beyond what they think correct. Americans are not colorblind as they claim to be. They are colormute and hence, frequently insensitive. On the rare occasion when Blacks and Caucasians speak of racism much is resolved, empathy expands.
(Mr. Alcox) said after having a conversation with a black man who called him about the blog post, he came to understand more about the nerve he had hit.
Sadly, prior to this incident it seems the vendor did as Alexander does. While cordial and conversant with people of every color, bias against those of color is not typically, if ever the topic. He did discuss the elections with Donna. He even asked her what she thought of Barack Obama. “You remember Bethany. Donna thinks Black Americans are worthless.”
That is why Alexander was able to do as he did in good conscience. Earlier in the year, Alex went to the polls as a good citizen does and was handed a Democratic ballot. He is a registered Democrat; however, only in the primaries does he usually vote for someone in his Party.
Before, the presumptive Presidential aspirants were assured, Alex was certain he would have, voted for Mitt Romney. He is white . . . (Did he say that aloud) highly educated; he comes from good stock. His father and he were successful Governors. More importantly, each accrued ample wealth. Alexander is a very affluent man, self-made. He admires such qualities, that is unless the erudite, esteemed man, or woman is Black, although, Alex is careful never to say that directly, not even when with Bethany. He is embarrassed by his bigotry.
At times, he does softly state what he hopes will remain a secret. He does not wish for others to know what he is unwilling to acknowledge to himself. Still, almost inaudibly he has told Bethany. He has little tolerance for people whose complexions are dark. Alexander hopes he can trust his truest thoughts and feelings with his cousin and best friend Bethany. History tells him, with her, he is safe. The relationship is one of reciprocal reverence. Bethany shares her heart, soul, and all her stories with Alex. The two learn of what they never imagined when together.
They also share a common bond, many in fact. Most significant in this election season, Alex and Bethany each harbored much disdain for Hillary Clinton. Neither struggle with the idea of a woman President. It was only that woman! Bethany understands why Alex did not vote for the New York Senator. “Bobby,’ as she likes to be called, could not consider the former First Lady either.
However, Bobby remains unconvinced that Alexander would chose to cast a ballot for Barack Obama when it counts. She recalls the day Alexander quietly revealed, “Maybe I am prejudice.” Bethany had helped Alex to realize what he never considered before. As a child, she, who is also pinkish in color, was raised with a Black family as much as her own. She has never felt as though she was Caucasian. This feminine Anglo American notices what many white persons do not, she is intensely cognizant of color. Bobby, unlike countless whose skin is light is very aware of what is whispered to her. What may not mean much to those who think themselves colorblind
When with a white acquaintance Bobby will feel a tug on her arm. “Let us cross the street,” the friend says suddenly. Bobby wonders; why might her colleague seem so distraught. She looks ahead and the answer is revealed. A group of Black men appeared up the avenue.
Bethany hears the hushed tones. In a casual conversation, when a person of a particular color is identified, clarification is also offered. “He or she is Black you know.” This classification is meant to explain why that individual might think, say, do, feel, or be as he or she is.
A brilliant African-American is not merely a gifted and talented artist, academic, athlete, or author. He or she is “Negro” first. Then, the deftness is discussed. “Actually,” the inference is, “the fact that this individual is a person of color makes them more exceptional.”
Most of us recall a cavalier comment offered by a prominent, practiced politician little more than a year ago. Delaware Senator, and former Presidential spirant, said of his friend, Barack Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Of, course the remark was followed by an apology. “I really regret that some have taken totally out of context my use of the world “clean.” The sorrowful Senator explained. “My mother has an expression: clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack.” Neither the regret, nor revelation, would lessen the blow of bigotry. If a person is Black, he or she may bow and accept what has become too familiar. An Anglo may never notice such remarks. Extremely offensive evaluations make sense when they are all you have ever heard.
Barbara Trepagnier, Sociology Professor at Texas State University-San Marcos has written much on the subject of Silent Racism. She speaks of the culture of consciousness that evades many white Americans. Ms Trepagnier, on the topic of careless commentary reflected on another incident. She was reminded of Trent Lott and the callous statement he offered at former segregationist Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration. Then two, the orator offered a defense. The Sociologist declared . . .
“I argue when we say things off the cuff, that’s what we really mean,” Trepagnier said. “His comments weren’t taken out of context.”
Her book contends that “silent racism” fosters routine actions not recognized by an individual as racist, but upholds the status quo.
Trepagnier says that this form of superiority remains prevalent in American society, and is a major reason African-Americans continue to struggle. Blacks are outperformed by their white counterparts in most social demographics, including factors such as education, employment, and income. She says that whites that deny the existence of racism or dismiss it as unimportant are often protecting white privilege.
Trepagnier says that some whites become detached from the race issue while others are so concerned with it that they become apprehensive about it, avoiding even the mention of the topic. In both cases, this passive stance silently provides the racist actions of others an endorsement, or worse, encouragement.
Alexander’s confidant Bethany does not negate what is too obvious to her. Nor does she mindlessly wish to advance such postures. Bobby shares her stories and feelings with Alex, if only to further his awareness.
When Bethany is accompanied on a dinner date, she feels the stares when her cohort is a man of color. The conversation with a server differs dependent on her company. People at the next table are more likely to engage the couple when Bobby is with a white man. When in a restaurant of quality, Bethany observes if there are many or any Black persons about, they are often the hired help. Rarely is the clientele shades of purplish brown or Black in hue. Mostly, people are light; skin tones are parchment in color.
When in the mall together, strolling down the street, in the bank, or other place of business, Bobby and Alex see numerous African-Americans. Contrary to Scott Simon’s contention, each of them cares to recognize these persons are Black.
Alex intentionally associates with people of color. He hopes to work through the habitual bigotry that bothers him. Bethany also engages. She is aware her personal history shades her sense. Black people are for her beautiful, inside and out.
The sensitive gentleman, Alexander, truly feels for those who are not treated as well as he is. Bobby yearns to build bridges. For so long she felt alone in her desire to end discrimination. Frustration with a colormute community consumed her. The two think of what it might mean to those whose skin is ebony in color, black as coal, coffee brown, or cinnamon spice, if Barack Obama becomes President. What will it mean to Anglos such as Bobby or Alex if Barack Obama becomes the world’s leader.
Millions may think the possibility is beautiful. “I am Black and I am proud.” A few might be as Bethany, whose skin may be a sweet pink, but whose soul was joyous soaked in a world of brilliantly rich color. Millions could be ready to create the change that was once unimaginable. For billions this possibility is still but a dream, or a nightmare. Alexander, who has witnessed much history doubts that anyone is indifferent.
Much is unspoken. More is said in a subtle manner. Reflections on race relations in America are approached and avoided. People worldwide care and ponder the color of Presidential hopeful Barack Obama. They just may not chatter freely or have the forum Commentator Scott Simon does. If we are ever to move beyond bigotry perhaps, we must acknowledge, what is “politically more injurious” is not the insinuation of racism; it is the reality. Mister Simon, might I suggest, people care about the color of a Presidential candidates skin.
Post Script . . .
Dearest Scott Simon . . .
While many may believe it is disingenuous for Barack Obama to claim the funds raised for his campaign will fight racism in America, it is no more sincere to deny the truth that racial discrimination flourishes. Might people also consider Senator Obama and others who fear what will be in this campaign season feel they have reason to-reaction to a historical habit they know too well. I believe, if we are to cure the ills associated with skin color, we must empathically speak to what is pervasive and persistent on this planet.
People embrace habits and opinions as though they are facts of nature. We all do this, whether we are Black, white, brown, red, yellow, olive, or pink. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are not exempt. Greens, I shutter to say, are also two-legged creatures trapped in a prison they think rational and reasonable. Perchance, it is time for humans to transform. I wish to support a campaign slogan I believe is strongly needed, “Let change begin with me.”
References, Reflections, Race Relations . . .
- Reflections on Race and the Presidential Election. By Scott Simon. Weekend Edition. June 21, 2008
- Hate Groups’ Newest Target, White Supremacists Report an Increase in Visits to Their Web Sites. By Eli Saslow. Washington Post. Sunday, June 22, 2008; A06
- pdf Hate Groups’ Newest Target, White Supremacists Report an Increase in Visits to Their Web Sites. By Eli Saslow. Washington Post. Sunday, June 22, 2008; A06
- What Women Want (Maybe) By Andy Newman. The New York Times. June 12, 2008
- Obama placed under Secret Service protection. MSNBC News. May 7, 2007
- Washington Post – ABC News Poll. Washington Post. June 12-June 15, 2008
- Vendor who sold racist Obama pin apologizes, By Christy Hoppe. The Dallas Morning News. June 19, 2008
- Protection After Racist Threats, Editor Mike Flannery and the Associated Press contributed to this report. CBS News. May 3, 2007
- Biden’s description of Obama draws scrutiny, From Xuan Thai and Ted Barrett. Cable News Network. February 9, 2007
- ‘Silent Racism’ book sheds light on current racial climate, By Marc Speir. University News Service. June 27, 2007