Monday, October 13, 2008

Fear in black and white

I ate lunch last weekend at Mabel’s Lobster Claw, a classic seafood restaurant in beautiful Kennebunkport, Maine, that's within walking distance of the Bush Maine estate. Former President Bush had dined there two nights earlier and ordered his favorite swordfish. The waitress told us he tips at 20 percent and is showing his age at 84.

She also told us she’s afraid to vote for Barack Obama because she fears he’ll be assassinated. I tried to remind her that white presidents get assassinated, too, and unfortunately there have been far too many attempts on the lives of all of our presidents.

I also asked her: “Should we elect our president based on fear?” (This was, of course, before Wall Street’s worst week in history.)

Although I believe her fear of assassination for the first black president of the United States is shared by many in this country, I wonder: is that fear just another shade of racial prejudice?

No one is talking about concerns that John McCain might be assassinated. Personally, I'm terrified of who would be a heartbeat away if the 72-year-old McCain were to die in office – whether it be from a fifth bout with deadly melanoma or something else. Others say this fear is a factor in their election decision, as well.

So, are we now electing presidents based on life expectancy rather than who can best solve a crippling financial crisis, get us affordable health care or end the war in Iraq? Have elections come down to voting for the person least likely to die in office? Or is it really that we can’t forget that Obama is half-black and McCain is all-white?

I wanted to believe racial prejudice isn’t part of this year’s presidential race – or a major factor in America today. But judging from a recent poll that found one-third of white Democratic voters surveyed agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, Martin Luther King’s dream of a society where people are judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin apparently is just that – still a dream.

A thought-provoking essay on white privilege is making its way around the Internet. White privilege means if you have white skin, certain doors are open that aren’t open to people of other races. For example, most of America doesn’t immediately form an opinion about a white person based solely on skin color.

Think about the concept of white privilege for a minute. John McCain cheated on his disfigured first wife after his return from Vietnam, divorced her and married a rich heiress. Would such a marital history be a campaign issue if he were a black candidate? Barack Obama has attended the same Christian church for 20 years. If he were a white candidate, would anyone allege he’s secretly a Muslim?

(No matter what your political leanings, the white privilege essay is worth reading if it makes you consider how your views of the candidates might be skewed by skin color. Click here if you want to read it.)

I have a friend who believes some Americans' views of Sarah Palin are slanted by her beauty contestant past and high heels. If she were a white man, or a black one, would we evaluate her conservative views more closely or question the fact that it took her five attempts and six years to get a four-year college degree? Is her candidacy benefiting from the privilege of being white AND the first female Republican vice presidential candidate?

No one wants to believe they're prejudiced. But maybe if we acknowledged our fears and prejudices, it would be easier to put them aside and vote based on the issues. I believe our future depends on it, don't you?


Rosemary Harris said...

I was never a John McCain supporter but as recently as six months ago I felt whoever wins will be better than the incumbent. When Obama chose Biden my first thought was - jeez couldn't he pick someone from Florida or Ohio? Then I came to appreciate his choice as his first statesman-like decision. And I think he made it, as least partly, because should the worst happen, America would be in good hands. McCain didn't do that. He made an unfortunate and obvious attempt to get the Hillary and the anti-choice supporters and instead got this vindictive, gun-toting fruitcake - which says to me that he cared more about winning than he cared about America.

And please..does anyone really think this woman is so gorgeous?
Standing next to McCain any one of us would look like Giselle Bundchen.

Pat Remick said...

I hadn't thought about that perspective -- that lots of people would look glamorous next to an older gentleman like Mr. McCain. Good point. So, now what kind of privilege is she benefitting from in that case? Youth? I still say those heels are a least for those men who think she's "hot."

ALittleGuitar said...

ok, i know i'm not addressing the theme of the post but i have to say that i'm quite certain that it was frank who asked about bush's tipping generosity.