Bil Browning

White people look out for white people and black people look out for black people

Filed By Bil Browning | May 13, 2008 2:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Democrat primaries, election 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton, HRC, Indiana, racism, sexism

One of the backdrops of this primary season has been the ingrained racism and sexism both Democratic frontrunners have had to endure. One of the first questions asked about each candidate was "Is America ready for a black/woman president?" Why? America is a racist and sexist nation.

With Clinton's mammoth lead in West Virginia and her recent bout of extreme honesty ("...Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There's a pattern emerging here."), even she is admitting that racism is playing a large part in, not only this primary, but across the country.

But while the media has been quick to jump on Bill Clinton's Jesse Jackson comment in South Carolina or Hillary's USA Today quote, Obama advisor says this or Clinton advisor says that, what's happening with the campaign foot soldiers? It's one thing to sit in the campaign office war room and direct the grand scheme of events, but an altogether different experience handing out fliers in parking lots and working the phone banks.

Examples of the overt racism experienced by Indiana staffers and more after the jump.

...It was the day before Indiana's primary, and she had just been chased by dogs while canvassing in a Kokomo suburb. But that was not the worst thing to occur since she postponed her sophomore year at Middle Tennessee State University, in part to hopscotch America stumping for Barack Obama.

Here's the worst: In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into "a horrible response," as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.

"The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive."

For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark.

The article lists example after example of the overt racist responses the volunteers encountered:

  • A phone banker deals with racist voters call after call and was told by one person to "Hang that Darky from a tree!"

  • In Kokomo, Indiana a group of black high school students holding an Obama sign next to a busy street are taunted and racial slurs are screamed at them.

  • The Vincennes, Indiana campaign office's plate-glass window is smashed the night before the primary. A bomb threat is called in the next day.

  • Two other Indiana Obama campaign offices also get bomb threats on Primary Day.

Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, was told, "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people." I hear similar comments all the time from family members, community members and online friends. Of course, those comments are always couched nicely with, "You know I'm not racist, but..."

My family is from West Virginia. My grandfather moved the family to Ohio at the end of the Great Depression after feeding a family of five for two months on home-grown green tomatoes. As the family tree spreads and turns to leaves and twigs, I find racism (and, yes, sexism too!) more often than I do in segments of the family who live in other states. They are bitter. They cling to God and guns.

Let's at least step up to the plate and flatly say that Clinton is winning West Virginia because of racism.

So why is the mainstream media ignoring this side of the issue going into the West Virginia primary? Why don't we talk about the bomb threats and smashed windows in Indiana? Maybe police are trying to stop copycats or perhaps the campaign has asked that it not be stressed.

Obama campaign officials say such incidents are isolated, that the experience of most volunteers and staffers has been overwhelmingly positive.

The campaign released this statement in response to questions about encounters with racism: "After campaigning for 15 months in nearly all 50 states, Barack Obama and our entire campaign have been nothing but impressed and encouraged by the core decency, kindness, and generosity of Americans from all walks of life. The last year has only reinforced Senator Obama's view that this country is not as divided as our politics suggest."

What else can the campaign do? What else can the media do? What can we do?

I dunno, but I'm hoping we can start having a discussion about some of these horrific actions and threats instead of just glossing them over with a "Well, I'm not racist but you know other people are so we should just expect it" and a pat on the head. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

It makes about as much sense as "White people look out for white people and black people look out for black people," doesn't it?

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Someone smarter than me said:

I do want to write a little bit more about the notion that West Virginians are racist. The longer version will have to wait until later today or tomorrow. But the short version is: yes, there are racist voters in West Virginia, but there are racist voters in every state. The primary determinant of the extent to which racism tends to be more manifest is education levels, and so the effects may be more noticeable in West Virgnia, a state with poor academic achievement. But there is no reason to believe that West Virgnians are particularly racist, relative to their education levels.

So it seems like the solution is, as always, in education.

Good point, Alex. But when do we have that conversation? When does the mass media stop pointing fingers at Bill or Hillary Clinton for relatively minor faux-pas and start examining how education levels affects prejudice or reporting on bomb threats, smashed windows or supporters being screamed at by drive-by racists? When can we make that leap?

But when do we have that conversation?

We use whatever other conversations are happening to bring up these issues. In this case, you used the Obama/Clinton election, which people are already interested in, to talk about racism that started long before Barack or Hillary were born.

But I think that the education poblano was referring to was more the book-learning kind, like high school and college, than it was media conversation.

For me its sad not shocking why im as bout as deep south as you can get.Yes even here where most of my neighbours in the section of town I live in are black. You still find folks who think just like that. But the truely sad part is the farther north one travels and the more white the poeple are they more racist than the ones down here? Then here many just bury there racism in public and only speak it when they think they are among friends to.

I have been a target of idiots being trans yep you learn fast here where a Tgurl can go dressed female unless your willing to lower yourself as the bars pet that only they can pick on. So thats why we need to talk to folks about whats its like to be us and why when we say we want our rights we don't mean special rights which many who call there selfs conservative think is what we want.To them we already have the same rights that they do hense the disconnect on the wanting equal rights.


One of the reasons I didn't commit to Sen. Obama until January 2008 was because the 2006 US Senate race in Tennessee between Harold Ford, Jr. and John Corker and the "Call Me" commercial was still fresh in my mind.

I'm also awre that so-called White working class voters don't cross over and vote for Black candidates with the same percentages that that Black voters do for White candidates.

There is also 10-15% of the electorate that WILL NOT vote for an African-American candidate no matter how qualified they are, and don't presumwe they're all Republicans, either.

Those facts were running through Black America's minds before Brack broke through and wonthe Iowa caucus. And you Hillary supporters can thank the fact that the New Hampshire primary was held BEFORE the sprring semester started at the various colleges in the state for her win there.

I still believe had the colleges been in session, Hillary would have lost New Hampshire as well and she would have been toast.

This conversation on race in America is one that we needed to have. Granted it coming in the middle of a presidential race will make it more contentious that it normally would be, but it needs to happen.

We definitely need o be having that conversation in the GLBT community as well. We have a chance to show America how it should be done.

Alex said:

But I think that the education poblano was referring to was more the book-learning kind, like high school and college, than it was media conversation.

Yes, we are talking about formal education, but more specifically an educational experience that includes role models from all races and cultures.

I went to high school in Lanesville, Indiana, population circa 500, and my high school graduating class contained 33 students. The entire high school had not one student that wasn't European-Caucasian.

Then I went to Indiana University in Bloomington, where one of my first semester experiences included having a Jewish psychology professor. I'm not sure I had knowingly met a Jewish person before then! Later, I had Black professors, Asian professors, Indian professors (meaning from India, not Native American) and the vast multi-culturalism and multi-racialism of IU-Bloomington thru the years became old hat.

Had I attended, say, a small Bible seminary with all conservative, Christian, white, and mostly male students, it would have been merely an extension of my high school years. I could very easily have emerged just as culturally narrow-minded and inexperienced as I went in.

So it isn't just education, but multi-cultural educational experiences specifically, I believe.

Bil says in passing:

They've [the local Obama campaign workers] been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers).

I expect the favorite racist phrase for the white campaign workers was: Nigger Lover!

I remember being pre-teen (before MLK was shot, and I was 13 then) and trying to make sense of the Black marches of the Civil Rights Movement. I was so daring as to remark, "I don't see what's wrong with the black people wanting decent-paying jobs," and immediately a family member (who is now no longer with us) called me, "Nigger lover!" I was furious inside, but I stood there silently. In my memory of that moment I imagine my eyes doing their best to burn a hole in my accuser.

Of course, that term got used for centuries on any white person who broke ranks with slavery, or Jim Crow, or any effort to regard African-Americans with humanity. It was the term that the white racist conspiracy --- and that is exactly what it was --- used to maintain itself.

Now, why do I type that term out in full? Because it will continue to be a loaded weapon until it is confronted. Atticus didn't shirk from confronting it in To Kill A Mockingbird, nor did Carl Sandburg, and neither should we. We confront such things until there is no longer a need to confront them.

But when do we have that conversation?

Good question, Bil. Damn good question.

P.S. To anyone who objects to seeing the n-word spelled out under any circumstances, I begin the counter-argument by referring her/him to what African-American scholar Charles Taylor has to say on the subject.

[blockquote]"Is America ready for a black/woman president?"[/blockquote]

Hell, yes. I think the question should have been, "In 2000, was America ready for a moron President?"

I won't say that Canada is any better. We haven't had a person of colour as Prime Minister, and our only female PM was unelected and left to bear the wrath intended for the previous outgoing government. I can see all these same racial issues playing out here in about 20 years, when one of the party leaders turns out to be Native (which is where the biggest racial divide in Canada resides).

[blockquote]"This conversation on race in America is one that we needed to have. Granted it coming in the middle of a presidential race will make it more contentious that it normally would be, but it needs to happen."[/blockquote]

Absolutely. As long as it can be shut in a closet and not talked about, that's what people will do.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 14, 2008 11:52 AM

"A benefit to another race is a cost to mine" was a message from my childhood. So was: "If you don't change your attitude you are going to have to kiss a lot of Black Ass."

When Martin L King was killed a kind woman in Michigan City took in a Black couple with a babe in arms who had lost their home to a fire caused by a small riot in Michigan City. She was a neighbor of ours in our crappy, working class white neighborhood. When this was discovered in the heat of the passing of Dr. King my neighbors surrounded this home threatening to burn the house down if the niggars were not gone by morning.

My ignorant mother, with her fifth grade education, was among these people to my great shame. When I asked my mother how we were to love one another, and she could do this, according to the tenants of the religion she told me was paramount in our lives, it was the beginning of the end of my innocent faith.

The answer is that we HAVE been having this conversation, poorly, and we need to find opportunities to create a civilized discussion. Most importantly the divisions between the richest and poorest Americans was in 1960 one dollar to thirty five, In 2008 it is one dollar to seventy five "A benefit to another race is a cost to mine" has credence, still, with many people.

That wealth gap in the United States was built on the backs of my ancestors thanks to 246 years of chattel slavery, terrorism (the KKK, riots and lynchings) and by denying them opportunites to engage fairly in the American economy for another 100 years after emancipation thanks to Jim Crow segregation.

40 plus years of post Civil rights policies have not erased this or the bitterness that many African-Americans feel about this. One one of the reasons Republicans can't get more than 8-10% support in the Afdrican-American community in addition to being the post-1964 election home of the Dixiecrats, is because they are hellbent on rolling back the last 40 years of policies that elped create the African-American middle class.