RACE UPENDED, CANDIDATES HEAD EAST
I knew we weren't in Kansas anymore when I heard the raspy sound of pundits scratching their heads:
Was it that Barack Obama was biracial, i.e. sui generis?
Or was he still "a black man in America" who triumphed nevertheless?
Question of the moment after his "historic" win in the Iowa Caucuses: has everything we thought we knew about race and politics been transformed or merely suspended, and how long will it last??
Check this Salon media watch piece "Bill Bennett Knows Black People" on the utter befuddlement of the media on the race angle.
Here's what I still maintain, now with more conviction (and the courage of one electoral confirmation):
- Obama is sweeping Generation-Y because his story galvanizes their sense of a transracial identity; this is their John F. Kennedy in 1960 moment.
- As far as he goes, we will have to live in an extended Rashomon moment in which large, seemingly overlapping segments of America variously see the following Barack Hussein Obama approaching the White House:
- the first black
- the first non-white
- the first transcendent (i.e. beyond race)
- African-Americans are still even more challenged than white Americans to wrap their minds around the Obama movement (yes, that's what it is!)
- how could a black man be in the middle of a movement without asking us?
- how can Obama represent the essence of a united American people when I'm still stuck representing the essence of being an American racial minority?
Finally, there's the matter of the Bradley Effect. It holds that a significant number of whites will tell pollsters they support a black candidate because they're unable to admit that they just can't. In the privacy of the polling booth, they vote for the white guy/gal, making polling unreliable in such a race.
Now, in Iowa, Democratic caucusers had no such privacy. They actually had to walk across a room and join other whites standing up for Obama. My question is: which is more sincere, telling a pollster what they might want to hear one-on-one, or bonding with a whole group of your own kind?
And what, if any, impact will that have on (overwhelmingly white) New Hampshire voters, who will vote in private?
I don't think I have to implore you: stay tuned!