A vote for Obama as an offset against racism?

Many white Americans are suffering from what I'd call race fatigue. It's not like ordinary fatigue, because this fatigue takes the form of being sick of the fatigue itself. Not only are they are sick of the fact that race is an issue, but they are sick and tired of feeling guilty about racism, and sick and tired of the fact that they are sick and tired of the feeling.

The ugly fact is that the guilt and the feelings will never go away, no matter how much they might want them to go away. Part of this is because of actual guilt; slavery left a lingering legacy and Jim Crow laws were within recent memory; I remember them! And a major part of it is the perception of guilt -- created not so much by the perception of racism but by the perception of the appearance of racism. No matter what people do, there's no way to make the guilt virus go away.


Unless someone came along and offered a way to at least make the appearance of racism go away.

Might that someone be Barack Obama?

Admittedly , I was a bit shocked to see the following line staring me in my face at InstaPundit this morning:

It is reasonable to surmise that Barack Obama will be the next President.
But I read on:
Mr Obama has a once-in-a-lifetime charisma that Hillary Clinton could never approximate, and she also suffers from the handicap of not being black. For all of his other plusses, part of Mr Obama's appeal lies in the fact that many whites feel that voting for a black presidential candidate would be Doing the Right Thing. Leon Wieseltier has been explicit about this; he is not unique.
And the more I read from John McWhorter, the more painfully obvious it became that Barack Obama's already strong psychological appeal (to both guilt-ridden and guilt-fatigued white Americans) offers something no other candidate can offer:
It will be intriguing to see what a certain contingent makes of it if we finally have a black president. All rhetoric about America as an apartheid nation, racist to its core, will run up against the fact--which will ironically feel inconvenient to this contingent--that the man who wakes up every morning in the White House and flies on Air Force One is black.

Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell have not really counted in this regard. Serving a Republican administration renders them to an extent "not really black" in the eyes of many, and neither devotes much effort to "identifying" with the black community. But Mr Obama would be a Democratic president, and with no war blood on his hands.

If you ask me, Obama's strength is that he provides what amounts to a "offset" against racism -- whether real, perceived, or imagined.

While the argument is made that Obama is "not black enough," it strikes me that that argument has been fading, although McWhorter thinks the debate is long overdue:

We will likely hear that a child of a white mother and African father who spent much of his childhood abroad is not a true black American, as has already been observed by Stanley Crouch and Debra Dickerson.

But interestingly, I doubt this issue would come up about Mr Obama if, like even many blacks with histories like his, he had the speech patterns and demeanor associated with "real" American blackness: think Spike Lee, Bernie Mac, Morgan Freeman.

The issue, then, would really be about the extent to which Mr Obama is culturally black American, regardless of his biography. Some would lob this out of a constitutional antipathy to admitting that racism in America is receding (neither Mr Crouch nor Ms Dickerson are among this group). However, when couched more sensibly, the discussion would be one I would welcome.

So would I, and so would a lot of Americans -- black and white. Guilt-ridden and guilt-fatigued.

McWhorter touches on another uncomfortable issue, and that is past prejudice against "miscegenation" (which I sometimes suspect is being perversely kept alive by "identity politics"):

One person can, after all, be more culturally black than another one. We are trained to roll our eyes and say "What's that all about?" when this is brought up. But if blackness is about nothing but having a certain amount of pigment, then we seem to have gone back to some assumptions that bring to mind sepia-toned photographs and words like miscegenation.

In an America with increasing numbers of biracials, it's time to start this conversation, and a President Obama would be a useful kick off.

I couldn't agree more that it's time.

FWIW, I think Hillary is blowing it badly. Her comical and lame attempts to show how "black" she is are precisely that -- comically lame. The irony is that the more she pretends to be black, the blacker she makes Obama look. So, by trying to insinuate that he's not "really black" (with a condescending wink-wink to black voters), she's actually reminding everyone that he is black, and creating an anti-Hillary backlash among blacks and whites!

This might work if Obama weren't really black, but the problem is that because of his appearance he can win the argument without saying a word.

Voters can look at him and see that he is black. And if Obama isn't black, then who is?

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of voters considered the accusation that Obama is "not black enough" a form of racism too.

If a vote for Obama can be translated into a vote against racism -- a vote to end racism -- he'll be president.

(And while I don't agree with a lot of what he says, I'm fatigued enough to think that maybe he should be.)

UPDATE: Loren Heal links this post, but doesn't think white guilt will be enough to put Obama in the White House:

One would hope people would still want someone who had a proven record of executive leadership, experience in government and industry, and a nice dog.
I'm not planning to vote for Obama, but I think there's more to this than white guilt. White guilt is one thing, but I don't think that's enough to elect anybody. A much larger factor is white resentment of being made to feel guilty.

If Obama's election is seen as official certification that White Americans Are No Longer Racist -- if he can package himself as the man to make the guilt go away along with the resentment -- I think this is a powerful combination.

UPDATE: Speaking of blowing it badly, Hillary Clinton is now defending her accents as multilingualism:

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she sees her sometimes Southern accent as a virtue.

"I think America is ready for a multilingual president," Clinton said during a campaign stop at a charter school in Greenville, S.C.

America may have already had a multilingual president (Garfield was described that way), but multilingualism means the ability to speak multiple languages.

Sorry, but speaking in accents doesn't count.

UPDATE (04/29/07): Thank you, Glenn Reynolds for the link, and welcome all!

I hadn't thought about whether racism offsets are as phony as carbon offsets, but shouldn't it be easier to offset racism than carbon? Skin color can be seen as superficial, but there's no getting away from the fact that underneath our skin, we're mostly carbon.

That last remark overstated the actual percentage of carbon in the human body, which, though present in substantial amounts, runs second to oxygen:

96.2% of body weight comes from "organic elements" present in many different forms. DNA, RNA proteins, lipids and sugars are all composed of primarily O, C, H and N. Also, Water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2)as well as other small molecules involve these elements.

Oxygen (65.0%)
Carbon (18.5%)
Hydogen (9.5%)
Nitrogen (3.2%)

UPDATE (04/30/07): Might an Obama candidacy be the thing that finally forces the Republicans to draft Condi Rice? Clayton Cramer has seen a "Condi '08" Bumper Sticker:

Yup, I saw one of these today on my way to church in Boise today. I like the idea, but Condi is clearly too intelligent to be elected. Still, a
Thompson/Condi ticket would be very attractive!
I'd vote for such a ticket, and while I don't think assuaging guilt would have anything to do with my vote, as I noted in a comment below,
It is undeniable that a Condi Rice candidacy would have a similar appeal; the difference is that she's more qualified to be president.

posted by Eric on 04.27.07 at 11:48 AM


The Affirmative Action President?

I don't think so. Or rather, I hope Americans haven't taken some notion that it's time we had a president who was Black enough, a woman not named for an explorer, probably not gay but certainly metrosexual, openly monogamist, or rumored to be omnipotent.

Socrates   ·  April 27, 2007 1:26 PM

In other words, is America poised to elect a President solely for the purpose of shutting up the proles?

What an odd election 2008 will be.

S Wisnieski   ·  April 27, 2007 2:07 PM

Did you see Liz Edwards with Chris Matthews? She's eaten up with White Guilt, and tries to come off as the ultimate defender of minorities nation wide, but she hates her white neighbor because he owns guns. She's following in the Clintons' psychosis of saying things that blatantly oppose reality, but being earnest in the telling of the lie.

skh.pcola   ·  April 27, 2007 2:18 PM

A question:
Wouldn't electing Obama be equivalent to affirmative action in assuaging white guilt? An example of what some people call the soft racism of affirmative action, in that, he may not be qualified or experienced enough for the position, but since he's black and if we elect him, then look at us we're helping black people. Yay.

jster   ·  April 27, 2007 2:38 PM

This strikes me as the sort of thing that lots of people think other people might do, but have no intention of doing themselves. (Comes up often, really.)

Is there any some significant number of people out there who are going to say, "Well, gee, I mostly agree with the Republican candidate, but Obama's black, so I guess he gets my vote since I owe his 'people' that"? Or, "Well, I wasn't going to vote this year but I owe Obama's blackness a trip to the polls and a vote."?


I doubt it.

Jeremy Bowers   ·  April 27, 2007 3:03 PM

I so far agree with the other commenters. I tried posting this earlier, but it didn't take for some reason:

Is white guilt going to propel Barack Obama to the White House?

I don't think so. Or rather, I hope Americans haven't taken some notion that it's time we had a president who was Black enough, a woman not named for an explorer, probably not gay but certainly metrosexual, a flaming monogamist, or rumored to be omnipotent.

Socrates   ·  April 27, 2007 3:07 PM

Was Allen Drury actually Edgar Cayce?

OregonGuy   ·  April 27, 2007 3:21 PM

Socrates, the html messes with the spam catcher. Sorry your comments were delayed!

Your post, though, reminded me what I still don't think I've explained clearly. I do think there's a huge resentment (a resentment that can't speak its name) of inflicted guilt involved here. While there is plenty of white guilt to be found (especially by liberals) a lot of other people just want the harangues to stop. And I think Obama's candidacy offers them Official Certification in a way no one else can. Like it or not, there are people who would vote for him in the hope of ending for good the fear of being called racist!

This does not mean he's qualified to be president, of course. (I certainly agree with you on that one.)

Eric Scheie   ·  April 27, 2007 3:38 PM

Are we feeling guilty, or just tired of feeling guilty, or guilty that we're tired of feeling guilty, when the demagogues are still complaining? And does calling them demagogues mean I don't take racism seriously, and if so am I a racist?

That kind of escherthink is one reason I like your blog.

Socrates   ·  April 27, 2007 3:53 PM

If I had to characterize our "burn out", I'd say it's the fact that no matter how much progress is made, it's always of zero effect. White people are racist, and while that obligates you to do certain things, doing those things won't actually absolve you of being racist.

Moreover, anybody with eyes can see that the same "civil leaders" that are applying this unmeetable standard and declaring other people effectively irredeemably racist, are themselves applying grossly racist standards.

I'll happily admit there's still white racists in the United States. But at this point, if I could somehow add up the "white" racism and the evident "black" racism and compare them, I wouldn't know which is more prevalent. But I know which is sanctioned by the same people telling me I'm racist.

In a nutshell, I think it's a combination of the sheer hypocrisy that burns people out, and the fact that ultimately, our actions count for nothing anyways, so why bother?

Jeremy Bowers   ·  April 27, 2007 4:32 PM

I'm indifferent to race fatigue.

However, I'm not indifferent to bigotry.

In that regard one ought to look at the connections between Obama and The Nation of Islam. Not a pretty picture. Especially where Tony Rezko is involved.

M. Simon   ·  April 27, 2007 4:39 PM

I think the Rezko matter pales in comparison to Hillary's dealings, and I tend to agree with this:


Obama?s potential problems are also Clinton?s. Obama has corruption/shady land deal questions of his own to answer, namely his ties to Antoin ?Tony? Rezko. Rezko was indicted last November for influence peddling. Rezko is also a long time fan of Obama, and it was Rezko who sold Obama the plot of land which Obama used to extend the size of his yard, according to reports that appeared in the Chicago Sun Times. Sadly for Clinton, each time Obama gets asked about Rezko, Clinton will be asked about one of her own ethics kerfuffles.
As to Obama's courting of the NOI, I don't think that makes him a supporter of their crackpot racist ideas, but it reflects poorly on him.

As I said, I don't plan to vote for him for president, but if I had to vote in the Democratic primaries, I'd prefer him to HRC, but I prefer Richardson to both.

If we have to have a Democratic president, I'd like to get the best we can get.

Eric Scheie   ·  April 27, 2007 5:31 PM

I don't care if he's black, white, or amerind. He's a socialist, and a leftist, and I'm going to base my opposition to him on that.

I noticed the writer of that article neatly sidestepped Obamas political views and wether they actually qualify him for the job of running a constitutional repblic, like, say... does he have any constitutionalism?

I've been called a racist/bigot before for opposing socialists. It won't bother me if it happens again.

Ironbear   ·  April 28, 2007 7:05 AM

I wonder if Hillary has heard of Thomas Jefferson. He spoke French and translated Gaelic works. Does this count as being multilingual?

rockdalianf   ·  April 28, 2007 10:08 PM

"I think that all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired. I'm certainly not! But I'm sick and tired of being told that I am."

Monty Python

Richard R.   ·  April 28, 2007 10:39 PM

If you ask me, Obama's strength is that he provides what amounts to a "offset" against racism -- whether real, perceived, or imagined.

Now there’s a backhanded compliment for you. I can see why Professor Reynolds would link to this risqué little post. What you are suggesting is that Obama’s “race” is all he has going for him and those who support him are overcompensating for a PC sense of "white guilt". What happened to all the enthusiasm for Condi Rice running? I guess that was a joke too. You people are a real laugh riot.

antiphone   ·  April 28, 2007 10:44 PM

This same phenomena may be Obamas undoing. If the press, and his supporters, attempt to use his appointed race to deflect legitimate criticism, this may establish the perception that he will be unaccountable as president.

To his credit, Obama hasn't played this card. But in all likelyhood someone will on his behalf.

Jack   ·  April 28, 2007 10:52 PM

FWIW, I think Hillary is blowing it badly. Her comical and lame attempts to show how "black" she is are precisely that -- comically lame. The irony is that the more she pretends to be black, the blacker she makes Obama look. So, by trying to insinuate that he's not "really black" (with a condescending wink-wink to black voters), she's actually reminding everyone that he is black, and creating an anti-Hillary backlash among blacks and whites!

Well perhaps the people in Mitt Romney’s campaign should think twice about suggesting that since Rudy Giuliani is Italian-American he might be tied to organized crime, because that would remind everyone that Romney is a Mormon creating a backlash against both of them. I’m just looking out for the Republican Party. I’d hate to see anything bad happen to such a lovely bunch of people, sigh.

antiphone   ·  April 28, 2007 11:18 PM

As a proud Viking-American I wouldn't vote for Obamba. He's a leftist, anti-American, piece of human debris.

anonymous   ·  April 29, 2007 12:23 AM

After Duke Lacrosse who's guilty?

Laika's Last Woof   ·  April 29, 2007 7:31 AM


Obama and Rezko were close. Rezko was NOI.

M. Simon   ·  April 29, 2007 9:40 AM

BTW has Obama ever repudiated NOI racism?

M. Simon   ·  April 29, 2007 9:45 AM

Obama's big advantage is that there is no way to criticize a black candidate without being charged with racism. However, a lot of us won't let that matter, whether or not we are racists. I suspect a certain portion of nitwits will buy into the "racial offset" idea just as they do with the carbon offset silliness. I don't think it will be a number apt to sway things much, and Obama on his own--judging by his lack of any real position on anything--won't appeal to anybody with any sense.

Fernie   ·  April 29, 2007 10:19 AM

Obama's race could work against him, too, though not in the way one might expect. That Obama's race helps him is evidence of racism in itself, and it's a form that many whites can cast aside their own guilt to oppose. Generally, blacks whose employment or admission is based to any extent on race are resented, and whatever credentials they do have are diminished in the eyes of those who are not allowed the opportunity to compete on an equal footing.

I believe there's also a geographical component to white guilt. White guilt is in short supply outside of those states that supported Kerry in '04, and are already pretty safe bets for the Democrats in '08. And, as John Kerry can tell you, that isn't enough states to become president. This problem is compounded if someone like Giuliani gets the nomination and puts the Northeast in play.

Chairman Me   ·  April 29, 2007 10:37 AM

Nice to see racism is a "classical value".

Thank you, Ugly Americans.

Theo   ·  April 29, 2007 11:09 AM

Electing Obama would only exacerbate the problem. It would further enhance the race-baiting industry because his entire schtick is left-wing, identity and victim-based politics. How would one oppose the policies or report on the foibles of an Obama administration without being accused of racism?

oldtimer   ·  April 29, 2007 11:30 AM

I feel guilty about feeling guilty guilt. I am voting for Dr Phil. Or maybe Crazy Horse.

jojothejetplane   ·  April 29, 2007 1:37 PM

Two thoughts come to mind at the spectacle of Obama being tested for sufficient "blackness":

[1] Wouldn't it be nice if Obama's candidacy finally ended the silliness of calling black Americans "African"? It is nice to see a candidate who really *is* African-American, even if black America doesn't appreciate that in him.

[2] No way, in the end, that Obama can fail the "blackness" test - because as goes Obama, so goes Tiger, and Tiger is too potent a symbol of sticking it to affluent whites by besting them at their game. Blacks will embrace Obama, if only as part of the price to pay for claiming Tiger.

Kristo Miettinen

Kristo Miettinen   ·  April 29, 2007 2:39 PM

Tiger is too potent a symbol of sticking it to affluent whites by besting them at their game

Oh really? I thought he was just a really good golfer. Thanks alerting us to his place in the vast Black wing conspiracy.

antiphone   ·  April 29, 2007 4:31 PM

Good and even entertaining discussion, although I think some words are being put in my mouth.

While it may be "risqué" I don't think it's racist to argue that a major part of Obama's strength derives from white guilt, but far from suggesting that's "all" he has going for him, I'm also suggesting that his candidacy has enormous appeal to people who are tired of being called racists. Somehow, that is not being heard. I can't think of a better way of proving my point than calling people "racist" for discussing this rather obvious point.

People are tired of this nonsensical namecalling. ("You people"? Please.) Whether Obama will help solve it, who knows? It is undeniable that a Condi Rice candidacy would have a similar appeal; the difference is that she's more qualified to be president.

(If it's racist to maintain that Rice is more qualified than Obama, go ahead and fill me in.)

Eric Scheie   ·  April 30, 2007 1:55 PM

If it's racist to maintain that Rice is more qualified than Obama, go ahead and fill me in.

There you have it. Your post is all about trivializing the subject and trying to goad someone into using questionable reasoning to accuse you of racism. Far from being “tired of this nonsensical namecalling” you are trying to provoke more of it. By the way, how exactly does the phrase “you people” qualify as name-calling?

antiphone   ·  April 30, 2007 3:32 PM

"You people" is an us-against them, ad-hominem expression which simply generalizes, and attempts to link people to each other instead of letting them speak for themselves. ("You people are a real laugh" certainly qualifies as ad-hominem and insulting, as well as unclear and unpersuasive.)

If you don't think it's racism to maintain that Rice is more qualified than Obama, I'm relieved to hear it. Considering the accusatory nature of some of the remarks here, I don't think I was trivializing the subject or being provocative.

Eric Scheie   ·  April 30, 2007 4:11 PM

Vote for Ron Paul.

Danny K   ·  April 30, 2007 4:17 PM

I don't think I was trivializing the subject or being provocative.

Let me see if I understand this, your discomfort with the idea that you could be perceived to be racist is far a more important problem than actual racism. As you wrote earlier:

The appearance of racism is what matters. Far more than race. Or racism.

Uh, isn’t this a bit self centered? Would you extend this logic to other social problems? Do you think that the real problem with rape, pedophilia etc. is not the behavior itself but the possibility that someone could mistakenly believe you are guilty of it?

antiphone   ·  April 30, 2007 5:00 PM

Yes, in this country the appearance of racism matters far more than race or racism.

That's because far too many people care more about appearances than reality.

Whether I share this mindset is largely irrelevant to the subject of the post, which is whether it will be a factor in the election. I think it will.

Eric Scheie   ·  April 30, 2007 6:18 PM

Yes I suppose it really would be asking too much for you to take responsibility for the opinions you post on your own blog.

…far too many people care more about appearances than reality

Count yourself among them. It’s very educational to read your blog and see how often you portray yourself as a victim. You’re a completely self-absorbed narcissist.

antiphone   ·  April 30, 2007 6:46 PM

Oh dear.

Well, I'm glad you're getting an education while you're helping me recover from my illness.


Eric Scheie   ·  April 30, 2007 7:01 PM

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