Obama in France and a Discussion of Race at Home

I’ve never said that I’m not a lucky man.  I woke up in Paris this morning, where the bright blue sky provides an appropriate background for a growing phenomenon:  Francobmamania.  Today’s WSJ

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121295864168055409.html?mod=hps_europe_inside_today

reports that French citizens prefer Obama 65-8 over McCain. 

Roger Cohen, in the International Herald Tribune, opines as to why all the fuss:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/08/opinion/edcohen.php?page=2

I have a simpler theory, which matches something I read I-can’t-remember-where a few days ago.  First, the French are the unhappiest with GWB of any country on the continent and so are tres excite at a hint that our electorate may put maximum distance between the past seven years and the future of U.S. policy on….well, pretty much everything other than foie gras.

But the second reason is race.  One in ten French are of African origin today. Most freely admit that their support for Obama stems largely from their hope for what his ascension would mean for the regard of people of color everywhere.   Their logic is of course no better than that of the millions in the U.S. who continue to shriek, “support Hillary because she’s a woman.”   But identity politics has its upside:  once the the woman or the black finally ascends to power, he or she has the potential to change forever the way we think about–or perhaps more accurately, don’t think about–racial or gender distinctions as they relate to the ability to lead.

Sure, I’m a guy.  But the discussion of race in the U.S. continues to strike me as more urgent than the discussion of gender.  Clinton crushed Obama in the places you’d expect America to be the most mysoginistic, and working class males in all geographies stood staunchly with her.  The most vivid memory of my doorbell-ringing trip to Iowa during the primary was Chuck the truck driver, his name stencilled neatly on his rather prominent pec.  Chuck looked at me a little too fiercely with beer in hand and pronounced that Hillary was “his girl and there wasn’t a f-ing thing I was gonna do to change his mind.” 

“G’t he fuck off my porch” was probably next, but I didn’t stick around to confirm.  They don’t serve a lot of vegetables in Sioux City, so I figured I’d need all my teeth to eat dinner.

 I suppose the wariest of feminists would point to sexism even in this encounter, but I think Susan B. Anthony would have been pleased had she been on that doorstep.

Not sure MLk would feel the same on a listening tour of Appalachia.  Let’s face it, something like 20% of whites in the region–and Appalachia is a *lot* of America–have pronounced that they won’t vote for a black man.  God only knows what the real number is once the curtain has drawn.  Especially–but not only–if Obama is the winner in November, he needs to make good on his promise during his Reverend Wright speech to lead a national, ongoing discussion of race in America. 

There were many skeptical voices after that speech.  “What’s the point of dialogue?  What good does it really do?”  Here’s where we have our head in the sand.  The demonstrated history of human nature on matters race–or “otherness” in general– is simply reprehensible.  One only need read today’s horrible article about the persecution of albinos in Tanzania

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/08/africa/tanzania.php

to be reminded that fear of the “other” and murderous superstition are embedded in our DNA far more deeply than any identification with a code of law or even a code of ethics.   A national  “conversation” at the very least shames us into keeping our base instincts at bay.  At best, those instincts can be rewired over time.   We as a society have proven in the 40 years since Dr. King’s assassination that this is true.  But let’s not kid ourselves about how far we have to go, and that complacency and backsliding remain formidable enemies.

 

 

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2 Responses to Obama in France and a Discussion of Race at Home

  1. goodtimepolitics says:

    Who cares about what France thinks of Obama? This American cares about what we here in American think about our canidates! And Obama is at the low end with me! http://goodtimepolitics.com/2008/06/08/lets-protect-our-children-from-islamic-teachings-and-barack-obama-rulings/

  2. johndthornton says:

    Thanks, goodtime. As I’ve been mired here on earth through the whole primary campaign, could you remind me the link between Obama and Islamist teachings?

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