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Obama’s Ascendancy and the Myth of "Racist" America By: John Perazzo
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, January 10, 2008

In the worldview of the American left, there is no article of faith more central than the notion that the United States is today -- and always has been -- infested with racism in every avenue of private and public life. This racism, we are told, makes its influence felt with particular force in the realm of politics, where the left’s conventional wisdom says that African Americans have no hope of ever garnering enough white support to ascend the political ladder to its highest rungs. This of course raises the issue of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who trounced Hillary Clinton in the January 3rd Caucus in Iowa (where the population is 95 percent white), and was defeated only narrowly by Mrs. Clinton five days later in New Hampshire (where the population is 96 percent white). How can Obama’s strong showings in these races, whose purpose is to determine who ultimately will run for the highest elected office in the nation, be reconciled with the leftist paradigm?

After Iowa, The New York Times printed “Daring to Believe, Blacks Savor Obama Victory” -- an article that quoted blacks from across the United States expressing their “pride and amazement” that an African American actually might stand a chance of winning the presidency in 2008. Typical were the sentiments of a Brooklyn woman who lamented that Obama’s candidacy, which thrilled her, was probably destined to fail because “racism is as alive as it was 30 years ago.” In a similar spirit, an Alabama man explained that in America there is a “ceiling” -- into which Obama inevitably would crash -- designed to prevent blacks from achieving too much.

Such pessimism does not exist in a vacuum. It echoes the pronouncements of countless high-profile politicos, academics, and activists who, for many years, relentlessly have drummed home the theme of America’s allegedly ineradicable racism. New York congressman Charles Rangel, for instance, has stated, “Whites don’t support black candidates to the same degree that blacks support white candidates. It’s unfortunate but there is a dramatic fallout of white votes just because of race.” According to Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters, “Black people elect [both] black and white people to Congress. Whites, for the most part, elect only white people to Congress.”[1]  In Al Sharpton’s estimation, “Blacks have voted for many candidates out of their race, but whites don’t.”[2]  Claiming that “whites, by and large, remain resistant to the election of blacks to public office,” Swarthmore College political science professor Keith Reeves bluntly concludes: “Whites are not equal-opportunity voters.”[3]

But the foregoing assertions, while consistent with the left’s doctrine of omnipresent white bigotry, are entirely untrue. And they have been untrue for many years. Examples of white voters electing black candidates in recent decades are legion. Here are just a few:

Harvey Gantt broke into politics when he was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, a city whose population was three-quarters white, in 1983. Edward Brooke was a senator in Massachusetts from 1967 to 1979 -- when only 3 percent of the state’s population was black. A majority-white Georgia district elected Andrew Young to Congress as early as 1972. A decade later, Congressman Alan Wheat received 65 percent of the white vote in mostly-white Kansas City, Missouri. In 1989 Douglas Wilder was elected the first black governor of Virginia, a state whose electorate was only 15 percent black. In the 1994 congressional races, black candidates J.C. Watts of Oklahoma and Gary Franks of Connecticut were victorious in districts that were 93 percent and 95 percent white, respectively. Two years later, nine black candidates nationwide were elected to Congress from majority-white districts, including several who received very strong white support.[4]  In 1997 Paul Harris won a legislative seat in Virginia, whose electorate was 72 percent white. Even in the poorest rural district of the Deep South’s poorest state, Mississippi, the majority-white population proved it was capable of electing a black candidate when it sent Mike Espy to Congress in 1987. Much more recently, in 2006 Deval Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts, which was then 84.5 percent white and 5.4 percent black.

In Los Angeles, where just 14 percent of the population was black, Tom Bradley was elected mayor five times between 1973 and 1989. In fact, when he was first elected in 1973, he would have won even with no black support, but with white votes alone.[5]  In 1989 Norm Rice became the mayor of Seattle, winning 58 percent of the vote in a city whose population was just 10 percent black. Kansas City, Missouri elected a black mayor in 1991, though blacks comprised only 30 percent of the city’s population. That same year Denver elected a black mayor with a population that was 12 percent black. Also in 1991, Willie Herenton was elected mayor of Memphis, which was 57 percent white. In 1993 Michael White won the mayoralty of Cleveland, which was less than half black, and four years later he was re-elected. In 1995 Ron Kirk garnered nearly two-thirds of the white vote to win the mayoral race in Dallas, which was 30 percent black. A year later LaMetta Wynn easily defeated four white male rivals, including the incumbent, to win the mayoral race in Clinton, Iowa, a town that was more than 95 percent white. In 1997 another black woman, Sharon Saylas Belton, was re-elected mayor of Minneapolis, where only 13 percent of all residents were black. Preston Daniels, meanwhile, became the first black mayor of 93-percent-white Des Moines, Iowa, and Lee Brown was elected mayor of Houston, where fewer than three in ten residents were black. Also in 1997, black Indianapolis Democrat Julia Carson took 53 percent of the white vote in her 69-percent-white district. Even Stone Mountain, Georgia, the town where the twentieth-century Ku Klux Klan was born in 1915, elected a black mayor, Chuck Burris, in 1997.

In 1968 the entire southern half of the United States had only three black mayors, but by 1996 there were nearly 300. Between 1967 and 1993, black mayors were elected in eighty-seven American cities with populations exceeding 50,000 -- and in two-thirds of those cities blacks comprised a minority of eligible voters.[6] As of June 1995, thirty-four cities with populations greater than 50,000 had black mayors -- and in thirteen of those cities whites were a majority.[7]  As of 1996, sixty-seven cities with populations exceeding 25,000 had black mayors, 58 percent of whom were elected in places where whites outnumbered blacks.[8]

Even for the office of President, white Americans have shown an unmistakable willingness to support a black candidate whose values are consistent with their own. When Colin Powell was contemplating a presidential run in 1996, he outdistanced incumbent Bill Clinton in virtually every reputable poll of American voters, the great majority of whom were white. In an October 1995 Time/CNN poll, for instance, Powell beat Clinton 51 percent to 34 percent.[9]  On election day 1996, exit polls indicated that Powell (who eventually would be named Secretary of State by George W. Bush) would have won by at least 11 percentage points.[10]  Consistent with these findings, a 1996 Gallup poll found that fully 93 percent of whites would be willing to vote for a black presidential candidate.[11]

Thus Barack Obama’s current high standing in the polls is by no means a departure from America’s political climate of recent decades. His success is shocking only to leftists who refuse to accept that our nation is not the racist cesspool they believe it to be.

Rather than assimilate the reality that white racism in the U.S. has diminished dramatically since the mid-20th century, the left persists in assuming the very worst about whites. Recall, for instance, the infamous “Group of 88Duke University professors who signed and published a full-page “listening statement” in the April 6, 2006 edition of the Duke Chronicle, quoting several black Duke students who complained about the supposedly rampant racism on their campus, and condemning three of Duke’s white lacrosse players who recently had been accused of rape by a local black stripper. (The charges later were proven to be entirely false.) Presuming the athletes to be guilty from the outset, the professors solemnly pondered “the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment’s extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday.”[12]

Academia is replete with eminent professors who, like Duke’s “Group of 88,” view the United States as a nation that is bigoted to its core. Consider University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Eric Dyson, who laments the “miserable plight of black men in America,” and who recently expressed his hope that the “psychic, internal emotional turmoil that black people struggle against will somehow be lessened by seeing the image of a black man [Barack Obama] in charge” of the executive branch of the U.S. government.[13]

In his book Faces at the Bottom of the Well, NYU law professor Derrick Bell claimed that “few whites are ready to actively promote civil rights for blacks”; that “white society … condemns all blacks to quasi citizenship as surely as it segregated our parents”; and that “African Americans must confront and conquer the otherwise deadening reality of our permanent subordinate status.”

According to CCNY professor Leonard Jeffries: “Western civilization is nothing more than an institutionalized, sophisticated form of barbarism” characterized by “domination, destruction, and death.” Convinced that America is founded on a “system of white supremacy,” he has accused Republicans and the Democrats alike of seeking to bring about the “destruction of the black community.”[14]

Writes Columbia University professor Manning Marable: “The main pillars of structural racism throughout American history as well as today have been white prejudice, power, and privilege. By ‘prejudice,’ I mean a deep and unquestioned belief in the natural superiority of white people over nonwhites…. In our [blacks’] daily lives, racism presents itself as a virtually endless series of ‘racialized moments,’ in which part of our humanity is stolen or denied.”[15]

Ivy League professor Cornel West brands the United States a “racist patriarchal” nation where “white supremacy” still defines everyday life. “White America,” he writes, “has been historically weak-willed in ensuring racial justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks.” Professor West attributes most of the black community’s problems to “existential angst derive[d] from the lived experience of ontological wounds and emotional scars inflicted by white supremacist beliefs and images permeating U.S. society and culture.” “It goes without saying,” he adds, “that a profound hatred of African people … sits at the center of American civilization.”[16]

Appearing at a December 2004 United Nations-sponsored seminar called “Confronting Islamophobia,” SUNY College president Calvin Butts asserted that “whether Muslims like it or not, Muslims are labeled people of color in the racist U.S. … they [whites] won’t label you by calling you a nigger but they’ll call you a terrorist.”[17] 

Emory University lecturer Kathleen Cleaver has written that “racist and white supremacist and exploitative practices are engrained” in American society and government, and that the “inability to treat Black people in a humane fashion” has “become part of the identity of the United States.”[18]

Joining the professors in this chorus of white-bashing, columnist E.R. Shipp has called white racism “the most serious obstacle to the social progress of blacks in this country and the greatest threat to [their] personal freedom.”  “In the United States,” she adds, “racism flows as naturally as mother’s milk from one generation to the next, perpetuating the notion that entitlement or exclusion is dictated by one’s skin color.” According to Shipp, “you can never be sure when you will be punished for [the crime of] Living While Black.”[19] 

“This is still a profoundly racist country,” says author and lecturer Paul Robeson, Jr., “meaning [that] the majority of white people are still racist, to one degree or another.”[20]

“Everybody of Caucasian descent,” says political scientist Andrew Hacker, “believes that we [whites] belong to a superior strain. Most white people believe that persons with African ancestries are more likely to carry primitive traits in their genes.”[21]

According to polling data, black Americans at large seem to agree with the foregoing assessments. A December 2006 poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN found that 49 percent of black respondents said that racism was a “very serious” problem in America, and another 35 percent called it “somewhat serious.” In other words, 84 percent of blacks viewed racism as a concern meriting the qualifier “serious.”[22]

But how can such beliefs be reconciled with Barack Obama’s meteoric rise on the American political landscape? And how can we ignore the fact that his candidacy has been buoyed, at least to some degree, by the outspoken support of America’s wealthiest woman, Oprah Winfrey, a figure beloved by a vast -- mostly white -- audience? And how can we overlook the fact that Obama enjoys significant support in Nevada, a state that is 82 percent white and just 7.9 percent black?

Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Shelby Steele, who is black, views as anachronistic the charge that the United States is a racist nation. “Possibly white guilt’s worst effect,” he writes, is that it does not permit whites -- and nonwhites -- to appreciate something extraordinary: the fact that whites in America, and even elsewhere in the West, have achieved a truly remarkable moral transformation. One is forbidden to speak thus, but it is simply true. There are no serious advocates of white supremacy in America today, because whites see this idea as morally repugnant. If there is still the odd white bigot out there surviving past his time, there are millions of whites who only feel goodwill toward minorities.”[23]

A similar sentiment was expressed by the black Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, who writes: “America, while still flawed in its race relations . . . is now the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protection of minorities than any other society, white or black; [and] offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society, including all of Africa.”[24]

The assessments of Steele and Patterson offer all Americans a mature, reality-based alternative to the hackneyed slogans and rallying cries of the left. Moreover, those assessments square perfectly with the results we are seeing at the moment in the Barack Obama campaign.


[1] “Maxine Waters: Straight Talk from South Central,” Ladies’ Home Journal (August 1992), p. 113.
[2] Chrisena Coleman and Denene Millner, “Revs Rail Against Bias,” New York Daily News (September 29, 1993), p. 26.
[3] Keith Reeves, “Voting Hopes or Fears? White Voters and Black Candidates in the 2006 Election,” CollegeNews.org (November 2006).  Michael Meyers, “An Ivy League Exercise in the Rhetoric of Race,” New York Post (April 29, 1996), p. 21.
[4] Kevin Sack, “In the Rural South, Seeds of a Biracial Politics,” The New York Times (December 30, 1998).
[5] Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom, America in Black and White (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), p. 287.
[6] Ibid., pp. 286-287.
[7] Robert Zelnick, Backfire, p. 242.
[8] Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, America in Black and White, p. 295.
[9] Richard Stengel, “Riding the Backlash,” Time (October 16, 1995), p. 70.
[10] Ben Wattenberg, “In the Realm of Race, the Trend Is to Blend,” Baltimore Sun (November 29, 1996), p. 27A.  Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, America in Black and White, p. 297.
[11] Steven A. Holmes, “A Rose-Colored View of Race,” The New York Times (June 15, 1997).
[12] “Duke Case: The ‘Listening’ Statement,” The Johnsville News (November 10, 2006).
[13] Diane Cardwell, “Daring to Believe, Blacks Savor Obama Victory,” The New York Times (January 5, 2008).
[14] “Dr. Leonard Jeffries: The State of the Black World – The Struggle Continues,” Portland Independent Media Center (January 8, 2007).
[15] Manning Marable, “The Death of White Racism,” ManningMarable.net (October 2002).
[16] Cornel West, Race Matters (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), p. 130.  Angela C. Allen and Andy Geller, “Harsh Words Justified by Harsh Times: Youths,” New York Post (September 6, 1998), p. 2.
[17] Alexander Joffe, “Islamophobia’s Big Day at the UN,” FrontPage Magazine (December 15, 2004).
[18] Aaron Shumer, “A Sit-Down with Kathleen Cleaver,”  Bad.Eserver.org (April 2002).
[19] E.R. Shipp, “A ‘New Era,’ Yes, but Gov Also Faces a Racist Tide,” New York Daily News (January 4, 1995), p. 27.   E.R. Shipp, “Camille Cosby’s Right – and Wrong,” New York Daily News (July 21, 1998), p. 29.   E.R. Shipp, “Racial Profiling Is Old News to Us,” New York Daily News (March 11, 1999).
[20] Informed Sources, Public Broadcasting: New York (February 17, 1996).
[21] Andrew Hacker: Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992), p. 24.
[22] CNN, Poll: Most Americans see Lingering Racism -- in Others” (December 12, 2006).
[23] Shelby Steele, “White Guilt and the Western Past,” The Wall Street Journal (May 2, 2006).
[24] Larry Elder, “Advising the Advisors,” Jewish World Review (July 24, 1998).

John Perazzo is the Managing Editor of DiscoverTheNetworks and is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at WorldStudiesBooks@gmail.com

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