The impact of Barack Obama‘s election to the aptly named White House? Perhaps the Malaysian news outlet Sin Chew says it best:
“Some thought it a joke that a Black man can be in the White House. But Barack Obama proved everyone wrong. So can an Iban, Kadazan, Kenyah, Dusun, Chinese, Indian, Orang Ulu, Orang Asli dan lain-lain lagi be prime minister of Malaysia? Don’t be silly, of course anyone can.”
But more importantly in this country, the Obama victory was a victory for white people.
Outlets ranging from ESPN to the BBC automatically scurried to black people for their reaction to Obama’s win. It would be more telling if they focused on the reaction from white people, because that was the real story.
It looks as if Obama did better with white voters than Bill Clinton did. Remember Toni Morrison‘s “trope of blackness” foolishness in 1998 when she called Clinton “our first black president”?
Claptrap. Not backed up by the facts — like Clinton’s embrace of such separate-but-unequal policies as the Glass-Steagall repeal, which heaped more misery on poor blacks and poor whites by worsening the subprime scam.
Ten years later, we really do have a black president, and reporters are besieging black people in Kenya and the NBA for quotes about Obama’s victory. What do you think they’ll say? Of course they like it.
The fact, though, is that an astounding number of white people not only voted for Obama but actively supported him and cried tears of joy when he won — a landmark in America’s racial history and a severe blow against tokenism.
The images from Grant Park of Obama and Joe Biden and their families — white people and black people, young and old — holding hands and hugging were unforgettable. Unforgettable because for the first time on the highest national stage the black man and his kin weren’t relegated to supporting roles.
Recall Martin Luther King Jr.‘s 1963 speech, when he and other black people were on the outside of the White House looking in, and he talked about transforming “the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood”:
“[M]any of our white brothers . . . have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
He tried to convince us that civil rights is as much of — or more of — a white issue as a black one.
The current phase of black people mostly relegated in white eyes (and their own) to dreams of success as sports gladiators, actors, and rappers may be ending. Tokens? No longer.
The only tokens you see in New York City subways these days are the faces on the ads plastered in each car. Look at the ads that feature the casts of the season’s new TV shows: Each cast is either all black or it consists of four or five whites and a token black and maybe a token person of Asian descent.
Marketers still blitz us with those apartheid-like images. Our pop culture’s portrayals of mixed-race couples are mostly white men with black women — The Wire‘s naked coupling of Lance Reddick‘s black-cop character atop his white lawyer girlfriend the exception that proves the unwritten rule among marketers to not offend whites.
And now we have a mixed-race president. In his grave, Theodore Bilbo must be growling about “mongrelization.”
Segregation and segregationists are cancer cells, and Obama’s victory will help flush that infection out of the American mainstream.
Think about another landmark event in America’s racial history. The color barrier that Jackie Robinson ran through in 1947 was not a black barrier; it was a white one. And popular Dodger shortstop and team captain Pee Wee Reese‘s white arm publicly draped over his black teammate’s shoulders was arguably more significant than the expected joy felt by other black people at Robinson’s feat.
Racism was once commonly called “the Negro problem.” In this white-ruled country, it’s always been a white problem.
NO PARTICULAR ORDER:
Wall Street Journal: ‘Obama Turns to Building Leadership Team’
Village Voice: ‘Wall Streetwalkers: the Sleazy Lehman Brothers Subsidiary’
Bloomberg: ‘ISM Services Index in U.S. Slumped to Record Low’
Election Law (Ohio State University): ‘Post-election contests: Four states to watch’
Election Reform Project (Brookings): ‘New Jersey’s DRE Problem’
N.Y. Daily News: ‘Time’s short for GOP to lick wounds’
Guardian (U.K.): ‘Barack Obama election victory drives US newspaper sales surge’
N.Y. Daily News: ‘Ed Dept. plans 50% slash in new seats for students’
Sin Chew (Malaysia): ‘Inheriting The Bush Legacy Of Mess’
N.Y. Daily News: ‘Palin goes out with a whimper’
“Vanquished VP nominee Sarah Palin wanted to address the nation on Election Night, but a top Mac aide nixed her request.”
Washington Post: ‘First-Ever Mapping of Cancer Patient’s Genome’
N.Y. Post: ‘SEX FIEND STARING AT 165 YRS. IN STIR’
Washington Post: ‘In a Heated Race, Obama’s Cool Won the Day’
N.Y. Post: ‘Bamelot: Plenty Kennedys on Cabinet List’
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 6, 2008