Last night I went to a gathering of friends, all of them white, in their thirties, and ranging in political persuasion from mainstream liberal to more progressive. We discussed politics and the upcoming presidential elections. What I found unsettling when the conversation centered on who my friends will most likely vote for in the fall, was the following statement one of my friends made: "Unfortunately, America is not ready for a black or a woman president." And then he went on to justify why his white male Democratic candidate seemed to him like the best choice.
I grew quiet, thinking about his words. I have a hard time believing that sentiment. Of course, I am not blind to the fact that, as recently reported by a variety of press outlets, including the Guardian, Barrack Obama requested secret service protection "far earlier in the campaign than any previous candidate following worries about racist threats." I am not blind to the racism expressed all around the internet and on shows like Rush Limbaugh, or to the masogynistic bashing of Hillary on personality traits and looks, but I stil don't buy the idea that a candidate couldn't win just because of his or her race or gender. It's not the public that's not ready, I think; it's the establishment - the powerful white males in control of most institutions and others who benefit from and are unwilling to challenge white supremacy that feel threatened by someone "outside the status quo."
Imgagine if Oprah ran, for example. Don't you think she would get the vote? I am convinced of it. Just this week, Oprah endorsed Obama. With an estimated audience of 14 million a day, this might have impact beyond what we can imagine. I know I'm just using Oprah as not a very representative example of the personalities out there who could very well defy my friend's theory, but a part of what disturbs me about his statement is that he seemed to be using this unsupported theory to justify his own choice for not voting for a woman or a black candidate. He would have probably said to that that he is only being realistic. I heard that argument many times during the last two elections for why people voted for Kerry as opposed to one of the other more progressive candidates. But maybe behind that "I'm just being realistic" mask hides the fact that my friend is himself not ready for a black or female president. But saying that straight out would, of course, have made him sound like a sexist and racist...
All I said at the gathering was that I don't believe America isn't ready, but it took me some time after the party to sort out why I felt strange about the statement and the context in which it was said. What do you think?