Though I voted in the last Democratic primary, I’ve never considered myself a Democrat. So I didn’t care to watch the recent Democratic Convention.
But as I walked past the television on my way to the bathroom and saw a black woman on the screen in tears after Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, my eyes became glued to the screen for a few moments. The woman’s emotional response seemed to capture the historical significance of what had just happened.
The same thing occurred months ago during an Obama rally at Burke High School. Former Charleston County Councilman Lonnie Hamilton, one of the first two blacks to serve on the council, talked about the tears he’d shed when he realized Obama could become the next president.
Both the woman on the television and Hamilton, who is nearly 80, grew up in an America that prevented blacks from riding on the front of public buses. And now to see a black man lead the Democratic Party in its race to the presidency, I can only imagine how they must feel.
James Jenkins, son of the late civil rights advocate Esau Jenkins, says Obama’s candidacy is more than emotional — it’s spiritual. Obama’s rise to national import could only have come through divine intervention, Jenkins believes. None save God can account for the millions of supporters — young and old, black and white — who are flocking to Obama’s campaign. God’s spirit illuminates Obama so brightly, few can ignore the light of his truth, Jenkins told me.
Still during our last conversation, Jenkins admitted that perhaps not all of Obama’s supporters see the light. Some see a new national image that offers a chance to regain some of our nation’s former wealth and power. Call me cynical, but I believe more of Obama’s supporters see the latter than the former.
Of course, I’m impressed that so many white folks are supporting Obama, but I’m apprehensive about whether that support will translate into the number of votes it will take to win the election. I’ve seen a lot of black candidates get support from the white community only to be neglected at the polls.
Anyone who thinks race won’t be a major factor in this election is beyond naïve — they’re stupid. Racism is so pervasive in this country, I’m not sure American voters can move past their prejudices to make objective choices in the election.
I know that some blacks folks are supporting Obama based on his race. Many of the blacks I’ve spoken with over the past months know almost nothing about Obama’s political record. He’s black, and he’s got a good shot at winning the presidency, and that’s as much as they’ve cared to find out about him.
On the other side of the color line, some of the white supporters I’ve spoken with seem to think supporting Obama’s campaign is fashionable. They seem to think it’s cool to portray an image that embraces black people and black culture. They don’t want to be associated with the racist generations of white Americans whose privileged legacy they enjoy.
Unfortunately such motivations usually aren’t sufficient enough to get folks to go to the polls and cast their ballots for a candidate. Since November, I’ve been involved in two political campaigns in which black candidates offered sweeping political change. In both elections white supporters who had pledged their votes failed to cast ballots in sufficient numbers to win the elections.
In January, I predicted white Democrats wouldn’t support Obama over the other white contenders. I was wrong. I’m predicting white American voters won’t support Obama in November either. I hope I’m wrong this time too.