Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Now is this a post-racial society?

Well, yes and no. Did the election of Obama reflect an already-existing post-racial situation, or did the election itself create a new reality? I believe the reality is somewhere in the middle. The election of Obama, which we owe to some extent to non-racial factors like his intelligence and articulateness, the incompetence and arrogance of the Bush administration, and the timing of the economic meltdown, is one of those things that potentiates a situation that is latent and ready to crystallize given the right constellation of events. The election of Obama shows that in this country white people, at least a good number of them, are ready to be led by an upper middle class black person. It also shows that lower social class blacks will identify with, and have their hopes and aspirations stimulated by, an upper middle class black person. Finally, I think it shows that for younger white people, race may not be as salient in the choice of a leader as it is and has been for their elders.
I was in North Philadelphia over the weekend and on election day. This is almost entirely an impoverished African-American community. The volunteers were young white people from all over, and mostly local black people, including children and adolescents and whole families. I walked through the neighborhood canvassing, and here are some of the things I saw:
A group of three black men sitting on a stoop, all of them with the bloodshot eyes, I guessed, of alcoholism. one of them said "Its our turn now" with a big smile that revealed both pleasure and the fact that there were almost no teeth in his mouth.
Many people who said hello to me, wished me God's blessing, and so on. Numbers of people sitting on stoops or folding chairs on the sidewalk who volunteered that so and so was not home, had already voted, was too sick to answer the door, etc. Much more welcoming, and a much stronger feeling of community, than in the white or mixed suburban neighborhoods where I had done canvassing in the past.
Leaving North Philly last Friday, passing through Center City, where there were 2 million people, I'd say 99% white, who were celebrating the Philly's baseball championship. Drunk people were scattered around the sidewalks.
My first partner in canvassing said, when I noticed a beautiful mural on the wall of a school, that he had contributed to making the grid for the mural when he was in prison. Now he's an HIV counselor with Americorps.
Children answering the door. A parent responding from some back room to my shouted questions: "I'm from the Obama campaign. Have you voted?" One child, asked by his mother, "who is it?" said "Barack Obama"!

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