Democratic Presidential frontrunner Barack Obama’s attempt today to bridge the growing racial divide in both his own party and the nation may be his greatest test as an orator or it may just be too little too late.
Many political observers felt racism would rise up and bite Obama as his campaign gained momentum but few expected it to be racism within the African-American community. Hate-filled rhetoric from the longtime pastor that Obama calls a strong influence on his life and beliefs bring to the surface feelings that racism is a two-way street.
Recent primaries already show the increasingly bitter contest between Obama and Hilary Clinton hardening along racial and gender lines. The hate and anger did not stop when Jeremiah Wright retired. It continues to spill from the pulpit of Obama’s church each and every Sunday from the current minister and that sad fact does not help bridge that racial divide. It only deepens it.
Those who defend the invective-filled rhetoric of black pastors who decry a “racist white media” and talk about “crucifixion” of a minister (as Obama’s current minister did last Sunday) say such anger is justified by America’s shameful history towards African-Americans but hate does not jive with Obama’s speeches of unification and bringing America together.
America is still a racist nation. Latinos distrust blacks. Blacks distrust Latinos and whites. Whites distrust anything non-white and that list includes Latinos, blacks, arabs and just about anyone else who is not white Anglo-Saxon protestant. Racism is rooted in ignorance and fear and America has an overabundance of both.
While Obama’s early days on the campaign trail seemed shrewd and error-free, his campaign has turned into a series of missteps marked by blindness towards the always simmering racism that has doomed many political efforts.
Racism in today’s America is not just black and white. The debate over immigration is fueled in large part by racial hatred of Latinos that whites fear will take their jobs. Latinos now outnumber African-Americans as the dominant minority in the United States and you even find racism within that community towards each other.
In 1982, I arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to start work on the re-election campaign of Rep. Manuel Lujan, the only Hispanic Republican in Congress at that time. Enrico Martinez, a young volunteer on the campaign, gave me a tour of both the city and the attitudes of its overwhelmingly Hispanic population.
“Don’t confuse the Spanish with the Mexicans,” Martinez said. “There’s a big difference. The Spanish settled here directly from Spain. The Mexicans came across the border, many of them illegally. The Spanish don’t like the Mexicans and the Mexicans don’t like the Spanish and they only thing they agree on is that neither care much for blacks.”
Martinez had a name for it: Taco racism.
Racism has deep roots and a long history in America and such racism is not always based on color. Racism discriminated against the Irish and the Scots, against Catholics and Jews. Skin tones that range from olive to yellow to black bring looks of distrust.
So when Barack Obama steps before the cameras today he will be fighting a lot more than just white hatred of blacks or black hatred of whites. He faces a nation long divided along racial, ethnic, religious and philosophical lines.
The odds that he can bridge that divide with a speech are long and while he is saying “God Bless America,” his preacher is getting up in the pulpit and screaming “God Damn America.”