How much will white racism hurt Obama?

Big losses in West Virginia and Kentucky have Democrats scrambling for answers.

Topics: 2008 Elections,

Barack Obama’s big loss in the Kentucky primary reignited questions about how much white racism is hurting the Democratic front-runner. As in West Virginia, more than 20 percent of voters called race a factor, and the white vote went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. But the same night, Obama won 57 percent of white voters in Oregon. I talk about this contradiction in my Current video this week (text continues below).

As I’ve said before, I think Obama’s trouble isn’t with white voters, but with white working-class voters in Appalachia. And while I know racism is a problem, I think Obama suffers more from being so new on the political scene. People know the Clintons; the ’90s were better years for many working-class people. I still wish Obama had campaigned in Kentucky (with John Edwards?) rather than basking in the adoration of 75,000 people in Portland, Ore., or taking a not-quite-victory lap in Des Moines, Iowa. Of course I don’t think he’d have won Kentucky, but he might have cut Clinton’s margin, and he might have broadcast his concern beyond Kentucky voters to other key, kindred blocs in Ohio (where polls show Obama trails McCain) and Pennsylvania. I think Obama’s troubles with Appalachia are comparable to his troubles with Latinos, much more the result of both groups’ lack of familiarity with Obama than racism.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to pretend Obama didn’t face racism and hostility in Kentucky. Since earlier this week I reprinted a letter from a white, pro-Obama resident of Appalachia taking issue with those who dismiss the region as racist, I wanted to point to this letter from a black Kentucky native talking about how racism is likely still a factor in Obama’s woes. I think both letters are telling important truths, and I’m not sure where that leaves the Democrats.

Let’s Start With Some Facts

Instead of beginning with analysis, let’s begin with some sad facts; When Kentucky Representative Ben Chandler endorsed Barack Obama, over 500 phone calls flooded his office, the vast majority of them using the word “nigger.”

Chandler’s aides (who were white) went home shaken, crying, in utter disbelief. They didn’t think racism still existed.

Now. Sugarcoat it all you want. Call it “Appalachian culture” call it whatever you want, but make no mistake about it, it is racism.

I’m from Kentucky, and I’m black, and can tell you that perhaps it was “culture” when I went to a semi-nerdy mock-government camp in Frankfort, KY, assigned to a hotel room with 4 white girls, and it was assumed we’d all split beds. There were 2 queen size beds. ALL four of them chose to sleep in one bed, rather than to sleep in the bed in which I slept. Perhaps that was just their “culture?”

And that instance was just something off the top of my head …

Why are we skirting around this issue? Why are we coming up with excuses? It seems as though people are more afraid of being called racist than they are afraid of actually being racist.

Obviously not every Appalachian white person who votes for Clinton is racist, but enough (21 percent) admitted that race mattered to them in their selection of a candidate to bode poorly for the non-white candidate — no matter the bona fides.

When that is the case, how can you tell Obama that it’s his problem — as an earlier poster noted, no matter what he does, the goalposts change — he’s smart and successful translates into “uppity;” he’s the underdog translates into “he’s incompetent.” They will not be happy until he does the cakewalk for them and grins like Jolson.

Thus Hillary’s use of code phrases — designed to be direct and easily understood by those with animosity towards blacks, resentful of blacks, distrustful of blacks — those who are … let’s face it — racists.

Dee Davis says Obama should have visited rural voters more. Why? So that he can change the mind of the Marietta, GA man who portrayed Obama as Curious George? So he can expose his two daughters to possible death threats, so they can witness the panoply of black lawn jockeys? I wish I were merely some Hollywood elite,”deriding” these people; no, I’m just someone who grew up around them, and I knew years ago what those Chandler aides just found out this month: racism is alive and well in “the hills.”

— groovelady

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>