Recently, I spent some time in "Down East" North Carolina, the traditional home of the Democratic Party in my native state. This Democratic Party is not the "progressive/liberal" modern Democratic Party, nor is it the union/labor Democratic Party of the industrialized North; it is the party that formed in the wake of the Civil War, mainly because Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. It is the Democratic Party that formed the political wing of the Ku Klux Klan. About two generations ago, the Democratic Party in this area moved away from segregationist ideology, forming an alliance with black political leaders, mainly through vote buying and political patronage. The black leaders slowly gained prominence and influence in the party, but the "Down East Democrat Mafia", as it is commonly referred to, is still a system of strong party bosses and good 'ol boys.
It would be an obvious assumption that this branch of the Democratic Party machine would endorse Hillary Clinton for president. Sen. Clinton was the first lady of the Southern state of Arkansas. Arkansas is a state with a similarly powerful Democratic Party machine, renowned for its corruption. Former President Bill Clinton claims William Fulbright as his mentor – Fulbright was a segregationist Democrat along the lines of Bull Conner, George Wallace and Senators Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd in their younger, Dixiecrat days.
While visiting "Down East", I ran into a distant cousin who is an influential figure in the Democratic Party (a local boss). We caught up on family matters, while standing in a grocery store parking lot that evening, as he greeted each person passing by (people he actually knew; that is how politics is done in the South) – and the conversation turned to politics. Much to my surprise, he fully supported Barack Obama for President! He was disgusted by the racial undertones of the Clintons' South Carolina campaign.
When white, old family, Down East Democrats in the state of North Carolina support a black, ultra-liberal, Northerner for president over the white, more moderate former First Lady of Arkansas, something incredible is happening. A few days later, Jesse Jackson (also from NC) rushed to the defense of two Southern, white umpires who had been unfairly investigated by Major League Baseball on the presumption that all Southern, white men are racist. I cannot state in strong enough terms that America has been turned on its head, and the catalyst is the campaign of Barack Obama!
Throughout the Democratic primaries, voters in Southern states have voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers. In most Southern states, he is winning the vast majority of black votes AND more than half of white voters. Conversely, in the "enlightened liberal North", the New England states that have so long derided supposedly racist Southerners, folks are voting along strict racial lines. Take notice folks, the South (with the possible exception of Arkansas) is now the model of racial unity!
The racial harmony evidenced in the South comes as no surprise to me. I have long noticed that most "hate crimes" and racially based gang violence occur in large Northern cities and in California. Cities such as Atlanta, GA have mostly had black mayors ever since Dr. King rose to prominence. Southern racial segregation and Jim Crow laws were outrageous moral evils that no longer exist. Racial bias may always exist in the hearts of men, but things have gotten better down here. It would be nice if the national media would recognize the progress we have made, rather than presuming the guilt of three white Duke University students when they were falsely accused of raping a black stripper, but anti-Southern bias is one of the few prejudices still tolerated in America.
It isn't just Southern whites who are flocking to vote for Barack Obama though; it is Midwestern whites, Western whites and even a few enlightened Yankees. That brings me to the other side of the coin of racial bias… black racism. Like it or not, anyone who holds strong racial prejudice is guilty of bigotry. Dr. King preached racial unity and the brotherhood of man. In his wake though came Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers. These were not merely black racists, but they were black nationalists. In some measure, they reversed the movement to end racial segregation by declaring that black people had to band together into black neighborhoods, vote in blocks and even abandon the "white" holiday of Christmas in favor of the new holiday of black power, Kwanza. They spread the ideology that black people could never be fully American, because America was opposed to the black man – that our system of governments, and our very nation, was dedicated to "keeping the black man down".
These attitudes were very useful to politicians who advanced their political careers by pitting identity groups against one another – white vs. black, men vs. women, Christians vs. secularists, rich vs. poor, etc. The movement politics of the last 40 years are identical in spirit to segregationist politics that the Civil Rights movement banded together to undo. The proof of this is simply to reverse the names of various racial identity groups – what is the difference between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Association for the Advancement of White People? How about the Congressional White Caucus, White Entertainment Television or White Power? How is giving a job to a man because he is white bigotry, but giving a job to a man because he is black Affirmative Action?
The answer is simply that both are inherently racist, but black racial identity politics and policies that advance black interests over whites is accepted, and even promoted, because of real past injustice and perceived present injustice. If Barack Obama becomes president, that perception will change. If he becomes president, no one can legitimately make the claim that white Americans are united in "keeping the black man down." If a majority of white Americans vote for a black man for president, it will signal that a majority of whites no longer hold racial bias against blacks. It will also mean that blacks may no longer legitimately assume racism on the part of whites. Blacks, whites and a significant percentage of Hispanics have a unique opportunity to abandon attitudes of racial division, and embrace being simply American.
Barack Obama may be the first post-racial candidate, the signal that the long history of racial division in the United States has come to an end. Children of all races may grow up knowing that a black man can be president, that he can succeed or fail on his own merits and that Americans really do judge a man on the content of his character, rather than the color of his skin. Perhaps this will truly be the elusive "change" that Obama promises.