Black President, White Fears

I remember this delightful elderly white woman who, after Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, looked into the television camera and told America that she would never vote for him because "he'd only take care of the blacks." Now that Obama has been elected, I'm picking up on self-pity, worry, paranoia, resentment, and victimhood among some white Americans, especially thin-skinned white males.

These folks need to chill out. They haven't lost anything, except perhaps a little perspective. After all, African-Americans have somehow muddled through 43 white male presidents over more than 200 years, and they've survived. White Americans are two weeks into the tenure of the first black president, and already some are coming unglued. Lately, white males are upset over:

  • The comments by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich who, in testifying before Congress on President Obama's plan to create jobs, expressed his hope that "these jobs not simply go to high-skilled professionals or to white male construction workers."

  • The admission by former Republican National Committee Chairman Rich Bond that the GOP has to reach out to minorities because "not everybody comes from the same constituency as a majority-white homogeneous district in the South where all people care about is keeping their guns and taxes."

  • The announcement by CNN's Larry King that his eight-year-old son Cannon -- after watching Obama's inauguration -- "now says that he would like to be black." To which King noted, "There's a lot of advantages to being black. Black is in."

  • The goading by Tom Brokaw, who, during an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Inauguration Day, said, "Having been in the South in the 60s and Los Angeles and Watts and northern urban areas, umm, uh, when we were evolving as a country, I'm thinking of all the bigots and the rednecks and all the people that I met along the way, and I'm saying to them, 'Take this.'"

Brokaw's comment might have set off the reader who wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that blacks as well as Mexican-Americans are laughing it up that a black (half-black) president has been elected. Revenge is sweet. It is payback time."

Revenge? Payback? African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities have been assured that racism is dead and they aren't being treated as badly as people believe. And now, it seems this isn't true. As to the "half-black" comment, yes, Obama is biracial, with a white mother and a black father. He identifies with the black half. And many Americans identify with the black half of him, too. When Hillary Clinton supporters tried to destroy Obama during the primaries and played the race card, they didn't use language intended to attack the white half. They tried to scare off white voters by focusing on the black half.

Still, there are white Americans who seem to be feeling a little out of sorts, and they haven't forgotten Obama's biracial background. One reader wrote: "You liberals continue your assault on white males, but our culture will continue to dominate America because it is superior. Obama is proof of that. His black father abandoned him and he was raised by whites."

How sad. People are letting their insecurities get the best of them. This isn't a contest. And it isn't a zero-sum game. This is still a magnificent country where opportunities abound for people of all colors. The fact that Americans just elected Barack Obama president says more about our capacity to knock down walls than our tendency to erect new ones.

Let's keep that in mind, keep our wits about us, and maintain our civility.