Blow blows up race race

A New York Times columnist discusses how white America sees race issues today, and what it might mean for the presidential election.

Published August 11, 2008 3:04PM (EDT)

Closing out coverage of some of the interesting news and commentary from the weekend, I have to mention this New York Times Op-Ed from columnist Charles Blow.

First, in case you missed it Saturday in print and are reading only the online version, make sure to see the attending graphic that was published in the print edition. (Click on the green square beneath Blow's name to pull up the graphic.)

Here are the key graphs from Blow's piece:

According to a July New York Times/CBS News poll, when whites were asked whether they would be willing to vote for a black candidate, 5 percent confessed that they would not. That's not so bad, right? But wait. The pollsters then rephrased the question to get a more accurate portrait of the sentiment. They asked the same whites if most of the people they knew would vote for a black candidate. Nineteen percent said that those they knew would not. Depending on how many people they know and how well they know them, this universe of voters could be substantial. That's bad.

Welcome to the murky world of modern racism, where most of the open animus has been replaced by a shadowy bias that is difficult to measure. As Obama gently put it in his race speech, today's racial "resentments aren't always expressed in polite company." However, they can be -- and possibly will be -- expressed in the privacy of the voting booth.

The attendant graphic included the following nuggets: Twenty-four percent of white Americans say America is not ready for a black president; 33 percent say they do not work with a single black person; 19 percent say Barack Obama's election will worsen race relations in the country. And then the biggie: Forty-eight percent oppose "programs which make special effort to help minorities get ahead."

Obviously, there is overlap, perhaps a high degree of overlap, between some of these groups. And among the 24 percent who say America is not ready for a black president may be many liberals, Democrats or other Obama supporters merely lamenting what they think their fellow citizens are (un)capable of. And, of course, some of the voters harboring these feelings may live in red states, mooting any impact their prejudices may have on the presidential election this November. But no matter how they're sliced, these numbers, while hardly insurmountable for Obama, are daunting.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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