Update: In all fairness, I suppose that if I criticize someone for not being precise enough with their word choice, I should at least be precise enough with mine. I respect Mr. Ford and appreciate his opinion on this issue, and I decided to excerpt it because I found it to be provocative, though not necessarily offensive. I should have been more clear and direct.

My disagreement with him is primarily an academic one: I don’t believe it’s productive to be exclusionary, but I understand the need to challenge all of us in recognizing the ways in which racial divisions still inform our political reality. I don’t think it has to be this way, and I share Mr. Ford’s belief that, when you look at the numbers, you can clearly see that Obama struggled with local whites, many of whom likely considered race as a factor.

That said, I think it’s equally important to also recognize that many people voted against Obama for purely ideological reasons; their support for McCain had nothing to do with the color of his skin or with the color of Mr. Obama’s skin.

For example, during the campaign, a family friend of mine made herself known as a huge McCain supporter– sign in her front lawn, daily e-mail updates, and probably a campaign contribution or two. She’d e-mail her friends and family about her fears of Obama’s economic plans, the notion of “redistribution,” etc., though, importantly, she never sent out those divisive, racist e-mails that others seemed to believe worthy of republication.

And I know that when Mr. Obama took the stage on November 4th, she wept tears of joy for her country. She spoke about how beautiful his family looked and how she would support her new President, critically but proudly. Before we speak in universal generalities about the white community or McCain supporters or local white racists, it’s important to remember that there are countless Americans (and Alexandrians) who, despite voting for McCain, are just like my friend, people who, more than anything else, want to see their country succeed.

Original post (with edits):

Leonard Ford, a serial letter writer to the local newspaper and now a columnist at the Cenla Light, offers a provocative assessment of Barack Obama’s victory in the most recent issue of Cenla Light. In a column entitled “Not a Mumbling Word Spoken on November 5th,” Mr. Ford, an African-American, offers the following observation:

With Barack Obama winning the U.S. presidency on Tuesday, Nov. 4, I bet that many of you went to work the next day to a solemn, quiet office. I bet none of your white co-workers were rejoicing over Obama’s historic win.

There probably wasn’t any hint of “did your candidate win” from them, as they knew right then and there, when they looked into your eyes, that your candidate, Obama, had won. They also knew it from that warm, sparkling glow illuminating on your face.

What we are hearing around this country, and even here in Alexandria, is that many whites, and, if I can be real here, don’t want a “n*****” in the White House. I read on the Internet about a white man in Butler County, Ohio, who said he was going to join the Ku Klux Klan. I’ve heard people say that Obama is the antichrist, and that the world is going to end in 2012.

Did we expect otherwise? Did we expect that white people in the South would graciously accept with open saying that it was black people, or those “n******” who elected him as president. They want so much to believe this that they are seriously overlooking the “big picture” and that is the fact that an overwhelming majority of whites elected Obama as president. They don’t want to believe that young whites, white women, and middle and upperclass whites had as much to do with him getting elected as blacks did.

To his credit, Mr. Ford, who I have always found to be an intelligent and kind person, does recognize that Mr. Obama’s victory had much more to do with his capacity of building a diverse coalition of support than it had to do with his ability to attract record African-American turn-out (which is, of course, important, inspirational, and historic, though Mr. Ford does need to consult electoral data, particularly when he implies that over half of Obama’s votes were from African-Americans).

But it’s difficult for me not to be perplexed by Mr. Ford’s opening thesis– the notion that white Americans and, particularly, white Alexandrians were not respectful or enthusiastic or even exuberant over Mr. Obama’s victory. Mr. Obama actually won Alexandria, and his victory in Alexandria, at least, was due to the combination of African-American and white support.

For me, it seems that Mr. Ford is overly generalizing the complex dynamics of Mr. Obama’s victory, which, in some ways, discredits the real political diversity of the white community, implying that, somehow, all Southern whites immediately resented Mr. Obama’s victory. To be fair, there is definitely some white, Southern resentment, a minority of voices who, quite frankly, only know how to consistently demonstrate their stupidity and ignorance.

We should begin this next chapter of American history as united as we can be, and we should reject anyone, who, for whatever reason, would attempt to make us appear more divisive and divided than we actually are.

4 thoughts

  1. Based on the numbers, Mr. Ford would have been entirely accurate had he substituted “very few” for “none” when referring to rejoicing white coworkers.

    Lamar, let’s talk about our local “world” as it is for a moment, not the way you and I might wish it to be. The white voters who crossed racial lines in Louisiana were statistically as scarce as hen’s teeth. In a state with about 52% registered Democrats and about 33% African Americans registered, Obama could not even break 40%.

    Look, however, at the number of votes cast in the Congressional primaries. The percentage of votes cast for Democrats far exceeded the Obama percentage, with fairly few of those votes being cast for the African American candidate.

    A few of my fellow landmen working in Mansfield, virtually all of whom are white, quietly rejoiced. Several are from Shreveport, though others were from Baton Rouge and other areas “down South.”

    However, I have gotten several racist emails from landmen, a member of my church (ouch!), and others regarding the Obama election.

    Like any other stereotype, Mr. Ford’s does not allow for the inevitable exceptions. Nevertheless, the numbers show that racism is not only alive and well, but it approaches the norm for white voters in Louisiana. To ignore this tragic reality distracts attention from the cause of racial justice.

    The positive I bring from the Obama election in Louisiana is the level of passion and enthusiasm among the white voters who did support Obama. That is something we can build upon.

  2. T. Wong,

    I completely agree, and I am not attempting to downplay or diminish the reality that only 14% of white Louisianans cast their votes for Barack Obama.

    I also share a belief that the undervotes you describe clearly demonstrates that for many of these white Louisianans, who would otherwise vote for a Democrat, racial biases were the determining factor on the top of the ticket. It’s shameful.

    I also think about how Republicans like Sadow were decrying Jindal’s 2003 gubernatorial loss as a result of North Louisiana racists, yet now, they believe that somehow, Obama’s margin among white Louisianans was purely a reflection of an ideological divide. Perhaps this is true… if the ideology includes racial undertones.

    Incidentally, I received a steady stream of anti-Obama, racist, and divisive e-mails from people I had assumed would have known better– otherwise smart people who refused to conduct even a second of fact-checking before forwarding off some ridiculous accusation to their entire address book.

    That said, racism, in any of is pernicious forms, is often constructed in the language of hasty generalizations and stereotypes. Mr. Ford fails his readers and the community to which he attempts to speak by refusing to acknowledge that many white Americans and even white Louisianans were overjoyed by Obama’s win. Indeed, many white Americans who supported McCain were happy for their country, even though they had supported another candidate.

    But either way, I completely agree with your assessment and would hope that people would be willing to recognize that, when others attempt to reduce Obama’s victory purely along racial lines, they are diminishing the real accomplishment of this election season– Obama’s unique and historic coalition.

  3. Lamar, my good friend. How are you. I was just informed today that you commented on my article in The Light about the day after Obama’s win. Lamar, I didn’t mean to imply that some whites were not happy with Obama’s win, as I knew several whites who voted for him, and was happy that he got elected. That is implied with my statement that a overwhelming majority of whites elected him as president (young whites, white women, and middle/upper class whites) I did not mention anything about white Alexandrians not voting for Obama. In fact, the point I was making was that many of my friends went to work, and stated that hardly any of their white co-workers said anything about Obama’s win. If I implied that no whites voted for him in Alexandria, I was not trying to do so. I was just putting in writing what I was informed of. Also, in my article, I said nothing about over half of Obama’s votes were from blacks. The figures I used were just to show that his total amount of votes could not have just come from blacks alone. Also, my statement that every white person in America does not harbor prejudice against blacks goes to show that many whites voted for a black man.

    Lamar, you know me, (thank you for the statement that you have always found me to be intelligent and kind), and you know that I don’t play the race game. I don’t know if you seen my last letter to The Town Talk about the black man who was complaining about people flying the rebel flag.I totally was against what he said in his letter. If you are wrong, black or white, I will tell you, and since you’ve known me, you know that is true about me. Again, I didn’t mean to imply that no whites were happy for Obama’s win.

    Take care, and keep on doing what you’re doing. And as I also say, we don’t always have to agree with others. We can take what they say and do with it what we want to do with it, be it in agreement or not. That’s the way I roll, and I know you do the same.

    Always a friend.

    Leonard

  4. Leonard, I really appreciate your response. I have edited and updated this post as a result of your clarifications.

    I think T. Wong hit the nail on the head when he said that all would have been clear had you substituted the word “none” with the word “few” or “very few.”

    That said, I was also imprecise with my word choice, and I have tried to correct myself.

    I admire your work and your contributions to the local political discourse. I also admire your belief in the importance of challenging our preconceived conventions and in tackling the most controversial issues.

    I do not believe you were playing the race card. My disagreement, as I stated in the update, was primarily academic; it was about language, not the substance of your argument. I’ve tried to make that clear in my updates.

    I worry that when we use exclusionary language on topics like these, we risk engaging in the same type of divisiveness that we seek to deplore.

    I know you, and I know you didn’t not intend to be read as anything but an honest man offering his honest assessment.

    We should be inspired by and learn from Obama’s capacity to build a working coalition of people from all walks of life in order to affect change. I agree that we need a frank discussion of race relations in this country and in this community, and that has to begin with challenging our preconceived notions.

    As we gear up for 2012, we’re going to want some of those McCain supporters. And like my friend, many of them are willing to give Obama a chance; they just don’t want to be patronized or unjustly labeled (and believe me, I am not accusing you of doing this).

    Again, thank you for the contribution. I look forward to continuing this conversation.

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