For me, reading the piece by my old friend Joe Darby on today’s op-ed page was another excruciating instance of the apparently unbridgeable cognitive divide between black and white Americans. I always find it very troubling — in fact, I lack words for just how much it troubles me.
Somehow, Joe looked at the fact that Republicans LIKE an inexperienced conservative Republican, but DON’T like an inexperienced liberal Democrat, and saw it as racism. I realize that after my more than half a century of living in this country, I should not be shocked at such things, but I was. Shocked, and very worried.
Remember this post about Bill Moyers’ hyperbole about the stakes in this election. Something one of y’all said caused me to express my worry about what will happen if Barack Obama loses this election: Democrats, who have been VERY charged up about their expectation of winning, and whose hatred of Republicans has reached new depths in the past eight years, will be so bitter that — and I hate even to think this thought aloud — the political polarization will be even WORSE in this country. MoveOn.org, to name but one segment of that alliance, will probably implode to the point of nuclear fusion.
(Republicans, by contrast, have been expecting to lose all year. As recently as last week, when I wrote that earlier post, I would have expected the GOP to accept defeat in November relatively fatalistically. Of course, that was before Sarah Palin got them excited. Now, if they lose, I expect the usual level of bitterness, just not as severe as what I think we’re in store for if Democrats lose.)
And that was without considering race. If you add in the expectations of so many black voters this year, the potential for bitter disappointment is incalculable. This year I’ve noted a potent paradox in the attitude of many black voters: A disbelief that a black man (if you consider Obama to be a black man, which I don’t — another subject for another day) has won a major party nomination, combined incongruously with the notion that if he doesn’t also win the general election, it’s because of racism.
Even though I was aware of that, Joe’s piece was a shock, because it wasn’t just generalized excitement about Obama combined with being prepared to resent it if he loses. It was the logic, or lack thereof, that Joe employed in seeing racism specifically in the fact that Republicans like Sarah Palin and not Barack Obama.
No sooner had I read that on proofs yesterday and taken my worrying to a new level than The Wall Street Journal reported this morning:
An anxious murmur is rising among black voters as the presidential race tightens: What if Barack Obama loses?
Black talk-show hosts and black-themed Web sites are being flooded with callers and bloggers reflecting a nervousness — and anger — over the campaign. Bev Smith, a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, devoted her entire three-hour show Monday night to the question: "If Obama doesn’t win, what will you think?"…
If Sen. Obama loses, "African-Americans could be disappointed to the point of not engaging in the process anymore," or consider forming a third political party, said Richard McIntire, communications director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
This is not a good place to be.
I first met Joe Darby about 15 years ago. The newspaper sponsored a black-white dialogue group that was coordinated by a reporter I supervised. Joe was one of the panelists, and I was struck by his patience and mildness of manner in explaining his perspective to whites flustered over black citizens’ sense of aggrievement.
I’m sure Joe would have been just as patient with the middle-aged white acquaintance — someone I’ve known for many years, and who I am quite sure is not a racist — who came up to me this morning and said, based on the op-ed piece, "That Joe Darby is a racist." I insisted that I knew Joe Darby well, and he was not, but this was exactly the reaction I had predicted to a colleague when I saw the proof the day before. I had said that what Joe had written was precisely the kind of thing that caused white conservatives to be profoundly alienated by the way many blacks express themselves politically.
Fifteen years after that black-white dialogue experience — and many, many less formal such dialogues later — I find myself close to despair that mutual understanding can be achieved.
Particularly if Barack Obama loses the election.