Driving home from Ann Arbor to cast an early ballot in my home state of Ohio on Thursday, I tuned in to NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” for what I hoped would be an intriguing discussion of race in the fast-approaching presidential election. Instead, I grew increasingly disturbed by lack of tact of both the callers and the supposed expert, Dawn Turner Trice, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also manages its Exploring Race blog.
Given that race is a very emotional issue, I understand that it is a difficult one to speak on in an articulate and succinct manner. Still, hearing three separate callers proudly declare that they urge those reluctant to vote for Barack Obama because of his race to “consider the glass half full” since he is, after all, half white, only made me grow more pessimistic about the future of this country. It is nothing short of monumental that a black man may very likely hold the highest office in this country in a few days, but to feel that his multi-racial background should alleviate the worries of white voters makes it seem that it is “the white half of him” that has gained him the repute he has worked so arduously to earn.
Further, I would like to remind Americans with this kind of factional thinking was never looked at with this kind of optimism in the darker parts of U.S. history. Being half black didn’t make you white enough to cast a ballot before 1964, and being so much as one-sixteenth black still left you a slave before the 1868. Being partially white has never been some kind of redemption in the past, and instead of trying to seek justification in it now, Americans should come to understand the simple fact that there is nothing wrong with being black.
One caller called in to inquire about black Americans as a voting block, wondering if it could be seen as racist that they would support Obama solely because of his race. Of course, like any other group, black Americans are not monolithic. They have some vested interests and vote for the candidate that is most likely to share their interests. While most people do tend to feel they have more in common with others from a similar racial background, black Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since the party stopped being one of wealthy plantation owners.
Other callers to the show claimed they were originally very supportive of Obama’s platform and sincerity, but have apprehensions about him now that race has become so inseparable from his campaign. I simply cannot make sense of such a statement. Being black cannot be separated from Obama’s candidacy because it is utterly inseparable from his identity.
This colorblind kind of outlook is another way to pretend that everything, including political office, is decided out on some level playing field. Like any other black man, Obama is not able to divorce himself from his race when it becomes inconvenient. He hasn’t tried to hide his skin color when racially offensive comments were hurled at him this election, and so to want to take his race away from him is not something voters can do — it’s not something he himself can do. He shouldn’t have to legitimize his ethnic make-up anyway, but judging from the course of the conversations I heard on NPR just days from the election, it seems clear that while most people in this country might be tolerant of black Americans they are not ready to whole-heartedly accept them as viable citizens, voters or potential presidents.
I hope to remind those who will be casting a ballot on Tuesday that a vote for Obama is a vote for a whole person, race and all, and those who claim to be supportive of him should not try to avert their gaze from this fact.
Beenish Ahmed is an LSA and RC Senior.