Last month, I went to a Christian conference for college students. The speaker was a young, white male, highly educated, liberal with a goatie – basically the stereotypical emergent. He played a speech that Martin Luther King gave in 1968 before he was assassinated. Then he went onto say that 40 years later, his dream was being realized by the candidacy of Barack Obama. He talked about how Obama was transcendent and bringing all these young people into the process. He said they should watch his “Yes We Can” video on youtube. Now, I was a wee bit perturbed. First, I just have a problem with someone in a religious context, whether at a conference or at a pulpit, publicly advocating a political candidate. He didn’t full out say it, but it was extremely obvious. But what it just showed me was how for many white liberals, they look at Barack Obama as some kind of transcendent figure.
From the beginning, many people, especially white liberals wanted to make Obama into some kind of heroic figure that transcends all of our social ills. So it goes like this:
Obama transcends ________ (fill in the blank) (race? politics? religion? everything?)
I don’t look toward politics for transcendental transformations. I don’t look toward the president of the United States as a messiah. I look for those things in my religious faith. I don’t need a political messiah, because I find that in Jesus. All I expect from my president is the two C’s, competence and compassion, the two things that have been lacking in our current president. I’m not expecting the president to come save me. I’m expecting that he or she will do the best they can, leading with competence and compassion. I know Hillary Clinton is no saint. But neither is Barack Obama. I’m not looking to them to be the messiah who has come to save us. If Obama becomes president, racism will still persist and we must continue to deal with those issues honestly. In the same way, if Clinton becomes president, sexism will still persist and we must also continue to deal with those issues honestly. We can’t cheapen the pain and difficulty of those issues by elevating a candidate to the position of messiah who will come and erase the painful history of this nation’s social ills and divisions.
I know that some white people are drawn to Obama because of his supposed “post-racial” campaign. (what does “post-racial mean?) Anyways, for some white liberals, they are excited about the opportunity to vote for an African American. They will be able to tell their grandkids that they voted for the first African American president. Latte liberals do relate to him because he went to an Ivy League college and law school. They like the feeling of relating to an African American. As Shelby Steele states, Obama is a bargainer. He doesn’t rub racism in the faces of white people and in turn, white people return that kindness with their support. Other African Americans running for president in the past, like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were challengers, those who reminded white people of the legacy of white supremacy. Of course, Obama has to run a campaign that attracts white voters or else he won’t win. That is a given. He has to navigate a very difficult balancing act in this election because he is an African American. He has to take into account things a white candidate would not have to, which is of course not fair, but the reality of the nation we live in.
However, there is definitely a group of white liberals out there who want to turn Obama into some transcendent, post-racial hero because it releases their guilt about this nation’s history with white supremacy. It’s funny when I talk to some white liberals and point this out and they get extremely defensive. They act like I insulted their mother.
I’ve noticed that most white liberals would rather be called a sexist than a racist. I’ve heard some pretty sexist things said about Hillary Clinton by so-called “progressives.” When confronted, they will say nonchalantly, I’m not saying that about all women, it’s just about her. Hmmm. But if you even just whisper any implication of racism, they will cower in fear or protest vehemently. It’s just an interesting dynamic.
It’s sad to me that the historic candidacies of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have created such conflict and opening up wounds of race and gender. When I hear some Obama supporters who think Clinton is a bigot and Clinton supporters who think Obama is a mysogynist, I think it’s extremely disheartening. I think it’s great that supporters from each side make their case for each candidate. That’s what I do on my blog. However, I even have to catch myself taking a step back from politics because it gets emotionally engrossing. I have to be reminded of the limitations of politics. Moreover, I have to continue to keep my eyes on the larger goal of electing a Democrat to the White House, especially after the debacle of this current president. Anyways, it’ll be interesting to see what happens from here.