I Forgot He Was Black: Thoughts on Race & Obama

UPDATE (11/13/08): Here are 2 GREAT articles from the NYT that discuss some of the points I make in this post, with much better detail and info. The first is about transforming “I don’t trust blacks” voters in PA, and the second is about “I don’t want blacks over me” voters in the South.
NOTE: I wrote most of this yesterday on the flight back from Ohio, but decided to spend some time thinking about it and editing. I also wrote these three posts (1,2,3) about my time volunteering in Ohio.


I’ve always been fascinated with race & civil rights. I’ve read a lot, studied a lot, been affected by it a lot, and just plain thought about it a lot. So, it came as a bit of a shock to me that I only remembered Obama was black yesterday as the vote totals were coming in. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d kinda forgotten it until then ๐Ÿ™‚

I had been worried that we might win close even though we had 10 times the ground-game McCain had. I would be happy of course, but deeply unsettled about what that would say about us as a nation. This has been a vast national push the likes of which I have never heard of. What would it mean if all that effort only squeezed out a victory as close as our last two losses? That would be a deeply shattering statement about our country. But as I drove back down to Columbus last night, listening to the early vote totals coming in & hearing all the states that were going McCain, I realized that it would only be troubling only if our candidate was white. And I had forgotten that he was black.

We are in many ways a country not ready for a black President, but we have exceeded our worst truths to attempt our best truths.

If you had told me it would take a Herculean effort, but we could narrowly elect a black man to be President, I’d have been happy with that. The fact that it is a stretch for us as a people, makes it all the sweeter, and all the more hopeful. Greatness isn’t about doing things that are easy. Last night we showed greatness.

That being said, it is important to not fool ourselves into thinking that race was somehow not a factor in the election. While the state by state electoral map shows that Obama did far better than Kerry or Gore, a look at the county by county maps show that in the many southern states, he did worse than Gore or Kerry. Here are the two maps from the excellent NYTimes site, that show how the voting patterns SHIFTED in this election as compared to the last two:

This is a comparison of last night vs. 2004 (Kerry):


This is last night vs. 2000. (Gore):


The redder areas, shifted to the Republican while the bluer areas shifted to the Dems. Last night, large tracts of the South went much more Republican even though the country as a whole shifted much much more Democrat in each case. I wonder why?

Race. Our national bรƒยชte noire.

Nonetheless, while we are still a nation struggling with race, it is fantastic to know that at times we can transcend it. I’ve never been more proud to be an American.

.psHere are some other excellently instructive maps!

.pps Here is a GREAT image. One of these things is NOT, like the others… (Thanks Jeff M.)

One thought on “I Forgot He Was Black: Thoughts on Race & Obama

  1. I listened on the NYT site to an interesting conversation between two NYTimes editors (both people of color) about race and one thing they were commenting on was how Obama’s bi-racial identity was initially talked about but then basically faded away and he became “black” in the discourse. One of the eds was pointing out that throughout American political history there has been basically zero room in the discourse for bi-racialness, that it always seems to get simplified to “black or white”.

    And I think what’s interesting is that I believe that a lot of white people did vote for him for better or for worse either consciously or subconsciously because he is half white but that this didn’t get talked about or acknowledged.

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