Alas Poor York

September 15, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Last week, I speculated that McCain’s boost in the polls following the Republican Convention might have been something different from the usual post-convention bounce. If people were reluctant to vote for Obama because of race, the convention, especially the speech by Sarah Palin, might have provided a legitimate cover for preferences that were based on racism. Instead of being against Obama, they could be for McCain and Palin.

It was speculation, and I hoped it was wrong. But the All Things Considered discussion with a panel of voters in York, PA provided some evidence that was depressingly consistent with this idea.

Some people repeated the criticisms of Obama that the Republicans offered at the convention. Like experience. Here’s Don Getty, a retired cop, white
“I don't think there is a problem with a black man,” says Don Getty, a retired police officer, who is white. “I personally don't think Obama is the right one. He doesn't have the experience. . . . He was a community organizer. Nobody's ever told me what a community organizer is.”
This conveniently ignores Obama’s years as a legislator in the Illinois Senate and the US Senate, but at least it’s a rationale.

More disturbing is Leah Moreland, an older, white woman:
“I look at Obama, and I have a question in my mind,” she says. “Years ago, was he taken into the Muslim faith? And my concern is the only way you are no longer a Muslim is if you are dead, killed. So in my mind, he's still alive. . . . There is something about him I don't trust,” she says. “I don't care how good a speaker he is, I just can't trust him.”
It’s possible that the “something” about Obama she can’t trust has nothing to do with race, but her clinging to misinformation about his religion makes me think otherwise.

Both these people are testimony to the invisibility of racism. Leah Morland says, “I really was totally unaware of prejudice . . . there was no prejudice in my home.”

Officer Getty says,
“I can't recall any privilege that I got because I was white,” Getty says. “I mean, I went to city schools. But I don't know of anything that I got because I was white that the black kids couldn't have gotten the same thing.”
NPR followed this statement immediately with that of Maggie Orr, a black woman whose family was the first black family in a suburb in 1963.
We weren't wanted there, of course, and the whites did everything they could to intimidate us to get us to move. But my parents were staunch-hearted people. We weren't going to budge. So, of course, we stayed there. We endured it all: the break-ins, the house being messed up, the whole nine yards, being called niggers.
The white police officer doesn’t see that his ability to move into a neighborhood – probably one with better schools and city services – constitutes white privilege. It’s just something he takes for granted. I also wondered how easy it would have been for a black man to have gotten on the York police force when Officer Getty was starting his career.

This invisibility plays into the Republican strategy, for if there is no racism in the US, then efforts to ensure African Americans access to housing or jobs are catering to a “special interest” (Blacks). Obama has tried very hard to avoid the perception of the Democrats as representing the interests of blacks. Meanwhile, the Republicans decry the politics of special interests and insist that we come together, rise above party, and put “country first” by voting Republican.

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