The rise of Barack Obama was supposed to mark the beginning of a new dialog about race in this country. With the exception of his remarkable speech during the primaries, that discussion has largely been absent. On the one hand, there is polite discussion about the historic aspect of Obama’s candidacy, on the other, the embarrassing diatribes of Geraldine Ferraro essentially calling him an affirmative action hire. Not much new ground being tilled. (Then of course, there was Jesse Jackson pulling a Ron Burgundy by offering to “cut his nuts out” in the presence of a live Fox News mic). In the main, I suspect most reporters and commentators are too dumbfounded and scared to open their mouths for fear of what ignorant thing they might say. Probably good policy.
Which brings me to Powell’s endorsement of Obama. Though this had been telegraphed for some time, it was still something of a shock to have Bush’s former Secretary of State come out in favor of the Democrat. Unsurprisingly, Rush Limbaugh immediately screamed “RACE”. Never mind that Powell made an honest and well-reasoned case for Obama that was frankly devastating for McCain. Never mind that he didn’t say anything about McCain’s awful campaign that hasn’t been painfully apparent to any honest observer. Never mind that prominent conservatives are bailing on McCain in droves. No, Colin Powell suddenly has no credibility because he is Black.
My instinct is always to ignore Limbaugh. His ignorance does not deserve any more audience than it already has. No doubt he is gleeful at the prospect of an Obama presidency as a means to fire up the bigot base. That being said, I want to pass along a well-written rebuttal to the Powell-as-racist argument, written by Baltimore’s own Ta-Nehisi Coates:
It does not follow that, even if you eliminate ideology as a factor, that race is the only reason to support Barack Obama. Indeed, there are an infinite number of other reasons, flimsy and otherwise, why Powell could have made his choice. He may respect the fact that they’re both the children of immigrants. He may have been particularly touched by Obama’s memoir. He may like Obama’s Ivy-League background. He may simply like his haircut. We don’t know, because we aren’t in his head.
There is something else–Barack Obama isn’t the first black person to run for president. Did Powell endorse Al Sharpton? Did he endorse Jesse Jackson? Did he even endorse fellow conservative Allan Keys? Did he endorse Doug Wilder? Did he endorse Carol Moseley Braun? If you are arguing that race is the primary reason, you have to explain why Powell didn’t support any other black candidates for president–some from within his own party. And this doesn’t just apply simply to Powell, but to all black people. Anyone who claims that blacks are simply voting for Obama because he’s black must grapple with the fact that, in 2004, both John Kerry and John Edwards destroyed Al Sharpton among black voters in South Carolina, while Barack Obama did the opposite. If black people–and Powell–are blindly supporting the black guy, what explains the paltry support for all the other black guys?
Again, conservatives frequently argue for a high-bar for branding someone a racist. But this evidently only applies to white people. Think on it–If you say the “primary” reason Powell is supporting Obama is race, then the corollary must be that the “primary” reason Powell isn’t supporting McCain is race–an unquestionably racist act. That is, to accuse Powell of supporting Obama primarily because he’s black, is to accuse Powell of racism. So what we have here is a double standard. Deploy the high bar for people spreading Muslim smears and peddling Obama-bucks, but then abandon all skepticism when it comes to a four-star general.
I recommend checking out Coates’ site if you haven’t already. Since we’re here, this is from another great post titled In Defense of White Racism that my wife would appreciate:
So awhile back I was wondering why women seem to have such a visceral hatred of Sarah Palin. Then I got to thinking that if Sarah Palin was a brother, I’d might never leave my apartment. I would never blog because all my posts would overflow with venom. Then yesterday I saw Palin has the highest negative rating for a VP candidate in recorded history. And yet, fools are still talking that “Palin for president in 2012.” You know me. Totally obsessed with race, so let’s say it. A brother in that position not only would not be considered for 2012, he would be impeached when he returned to governorship for embarrassing the state, and then have his ghetto card revoked for embarrassing the local Negrocracy. This country would never allow a black person to be in Sarah Palin’s position, and for that I have only two words for white folks everywhere–Thank you.