Blue Collars, Pink Collars, Red Necks – Class & Race

ZOMG but I think this article is great:

Long before the end of the Democratic National Convention, commentators and African-American civil rights activists were situating Obama’s nomination in the long trajectory of Black political struggles. Surely Obama’s addresss would address claim this history–after all, he was to give his speech on the very anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Obama had barely spoken when some commentators like Cornel West on Tavist Smiley’s talk show expressed astonishment at the veiling of blackness. Indeed, the convention was virtually shorn of any possible contamination by blackness.

Watching the official video about Obama, one might think black was simply a variety of white, an odd variant, perhaps, resulting from the mixing of Hawaiians and Kansans. No doubt deadbeat dads don’t deserve accolades or prominence, but the sheer absence of any reference to Kenya, the land of his father’s birth or even a photograph of his father was strategic. And every fleeting scene showed the Illinois Senator shaking hands with white constituencies that, according to conventional wisdom, might not be trusted to vote for a black man: the blue-collar workers, old white men, old white women, white farmers. Were it not for the occasional black person, one would think Obama was running for President of Idaho.

Obama’s book about his father, as many have noted, sets out to discover a father only to arrive at a mother. Put another way, go searching for blackness, and what you actually find is whiteness.

After all, the absurd question of a year ago “is he black enough” has proven the wrong question. Obama made this point himself when he noted that the election was ” not about me, it’s about you.”

That’s right. Obama’s race is not about Obama. In his video, he was either putting white people at ease, or alone, gazing pensively, sitting studiously, almost unable or unwilling to look at the political world around him. The real focus, instead, was on you, the non-black viewers and voters, who were granted the freedom to revel in their own transcendence of race without painful and annoying reminders of unresolved racial problems. MLK became “the preacher” of long ago, his color and cause unmentioned. Obama”s race became an “unlikely characteristic,” a statistical improbability. Chicago’s South Side became a marker of public service, not a disastrous failure of US racism.

It’s not surprising then that the cameras repeatedly gave us earnest white faces gazing at Obama. ” This isn’t about me, it’s about you” It’s not about where Obama came from, but about the satisfaction that whites might take in voting for a black man. If the final speech, a tour de force of rhetorical blending, to be sure, has been praised to the rafters, it is because it was liberal race-porn. It was the spectacle of tens of thousands watching themselves overcome their own discomforts about race. White voters’ love for Obama is really a love for themselves. A love for their own liberalism which has transcended race and evident in their voting for an African-American. A reassurance to them that America isn’t racist any more, while voting for Obama means that they don’t have to think about racial injustice. They don’t have to think abou the one million African-Americans incarcerated because of laws that favor the privileged or the crime of driving while black. To a generation of young white voters who can rebel against their overtly racist parents, it is an embodiment of living in a post-racist society.

Geraldine Ferraro and others tried to make this argument, but the resentment with which they fumbled toward this insight left them rightly condemned as creepy speakers of America’s racial code.

The McCain campaign understands this dynamic, too, and has been struggling for a way to answer. The day after Obama’s speech, they rolled out their own strategy in the form of Sarah Palin’s elevation.

Liberal commentators have been quick to condemn McCain’s pick as a cynical ploy to draw disaffected Clinton supporters to the Republican camp. Such criticism naively misunderstands the new racial code of this election. McCain is not assuming, in devious Rovian fashion, that he can trick unthinking voters into voting for a woman. Rather, he is offering an escape for cynical non-blacks resentful of their historical situation. They were about to face an election in which they had to finally admit they would not vote for a black man. But now McCain has offered them a palatable way out: now voters do not have to say they prefer McCain to Obama, they can say that they are actively supporting a woman.

Read the rest here

I’ve been perplexed by the notion that many white, blue collar Americans, including “older” white women, won’t vote for Barack Obama because of his race.  Since these voters were supporters of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and President Clinton’s “base” included very loyal Democratic African Americans who moved to become supporter of Obama quite slowly, it makes little sense that working class white America would be unable to overcome racism to vote for him.  It takes a more nuanced understanding of “redneck” America to understand what might be happening and, perhaps, terribly belatedly, for the Democrats to respond in time to win the election.

See this post at Anglachel and the post at Once Upon a Time … for more analysis and comment on this issue

Joe Bageant has good analysis on the “redneck” issue as well, as I’ve said before

UPDATE:  Also, have a look at this article, recommended by Anglachel

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