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.