Roger Simon wrote a column Tuesday in the Politico that caused quite a stir. Quoting an unnamed Republican, Simon suggested that Sen. John McCain’s greatest electoral advantage over Barack Obama came not from any policy difference, but from race.
Simon’s anonymous Republican cited unnamed polls that purportedly showed that eight percent of Americans would not vote for any black person, ever. Simon added his own twist to the screw, by commenting that he was surprised anybody would say such a thing to a pollster — and that the real anti-black voting antipathy might be as much as 15 percent.
Rush Limbaugh rightly harrumphed and snorted over the rhetorical shallowness of Simon’s theorizing. Unnamed Republican? Unspecified poll? Right.
Rush suggested that Simon was trying to push the racial animus toward the Republican side of the fall general election, in terms of media attention. In reality, Rush asserted, the racial consciousness was found almost exclusively in the Democratic party, and in the increasingly prickly confrontation between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
THE WHOLE QUESTION gets at what is called “The Bradley effect.”
In the 1982 gubernatorial campaign in California, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, had led Republican George Deukmejian in pre-election polls. Deukmejian eventually won because — it was said — a segment of white voters had lied to pollsters about their candidate preference in pre-election polling.
This segment — at the time about 5 percent — has been supposed to indicate the degree of intransigent anti-black prejudice in the electorate as a whole. The 1989 election of African-American Douglas Wilder to the governorship of Virginia, by a much narrower margin than indicated in pre-election polling, has been taken to mean the same thing.
Wikipedia’s article on the Bradley effect is exhaustive and objective, and notes, too, the widely expressed doubt that such a phenomenon exists at all.
SO WHAT DO white people and black people think about one another?
If you are, as I have been, a blues and jazz musician, you have studied black musical expression in detail, and in admiring envy. There is a widely studied black vocal formant (see this study) which lends the African-American speaking — and especially singing — voice its unique edge and resonance.
If you sing, as I do, you have spent a lifetime wishing you had that quality in your own voice, it is so beautiful. The qualities evoked by black instrumentalists also inspire admiration, that elusive “soul.”
But if you aren’t a musician and you’re white, what do you think about black people? Mostly, nothing. Most of us spend virtually no time or effort thinking about African-Americans as anything other than other Americans.
Except — one big “except” — when, for some reason or another, an African-American adopts an exaggeratedly aggressive attitude with a racial edge. At that point, most white people start to feel negative, either via guilt or resentment or a combination of both.
BUT THAT NEGATIVITY still has a limit. Most whites will not take an aggressive black person’s actions or speech as evidence of aggression on the part of an entire race.
But also consider: Nowadays, it is practically unheard-of (and instantly denounced) for a white person to say negative things about African Americans (Don Imus, Trent Lott). Widely lionized black orators say hateful things about white people, most recently and publicly Barack Obama’s own minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And those speakers’ remarks will be excused and rationalized.
Contrary to what Sen. Obama said after Rev. Wright’s comments came to light, those recorded sermons were not just “snippets” captured here and there, a few seconds’ worth broadcast over and over.
Those excerpts were recorded and published by the Trinity United Church of Christ itself, sold in its own lobby on a DVD, exhibited with pride. And in the Rev. Wright’s sermons, you hear the giant congregation howling in agreement.
So where do we come down in the upcoming general election? If Barack Obama had managed to sustain his campaign as a post-racial candidate, he might well have won. People like hopeful, upbeat candidates, even if their hope and cheer has very little substance.
Obama has, unfortunately for him, been revealed to have a number of radical associations, with confrontational views he would rather have hid.
And most people do not like that.
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