With Barack Obama poised to win the historic U.S. Democratic party nomination clash with Hillary Clinton, a hitherto unexpected nadir is being reached. Clinton, an Ivy League multimillionaire, not to mention a darling of progressive Americans, is trolling for voter support on the basis of shared whiteness.
The spectacle is disgraceful, and it should be ludicrous. The better half of the Clinton co-??presidency (with husband Bill, 1993-??2001), once celebrated for being hip, funky and “down with black folks,” is now blatantly appealing for the electoral support of “hard-working (read white) Americans.”
How did this happen? How did Clinton fall into a suburban version of old??time hillbilly race-??baiting?
The answer is Iowa, and Obama’s first-??place triumph in a state that’s 98 per cent white. Worryingly for Clinton and some of the media supporters responsible for her air of being the “heir apparent,” Iowa’s Caucasian farmers hadn’t seemed to notice or care that Obama was – wait a sec – black.
From that moment on, Clinton decided not to ask voters to back her as a potential first woman president, but to morph into Ma Clampett, outfitted with musket and moonshine jug, yelling “yahoo” right along with the best snake-??handlers.
A sad moment. How ironic, but fitting, that Clinton should revive Nixon’s “Southern strategy” (i.e., coded racism) to try to stymie Obama.
Soon after, the media were full of photos of Obama in traditional Kenyan garb; whispers that he’s Muslim (which ought not to be a problem, of course); old footage, ad nauseam, of his ex-??pastor spewing vitriol along with Bible lessons. In the background, Clinton and her acolytes could be overheard saying, “Told ya! That dude is dang un-??American!”
Dramatically, the Clintonites chose to get down-and-dirty, to scare, to alarm (white) America with the spectre of a black Muslim radical in the White House.
Too, Clinton decided to masquerade as “one of the boys,” to boast about hunting, to down shots in bars and to hint that she’d nuke potential foreign threats (thus echoing a certain George W. Bush, whose reckless foreign policy has imperilled all humanity).
Indeed, Clinton’s major miscalculation has been not to offer a more feminist campaign. (She actually repressed this aspect.) Clinton’s greatest support is among older whites (sometimes working-??class, sometimes women).
But the problem is, has been and will be for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, too, that the central struggle of this political moment in the United States is neither male-??female nor white-??black. It is between the baby boomers and their children (and even grandchildren).
Last month, Purdue University health studies professor Titilayo Okoror shared with me her view that “the boomers racialized this campaign.”
She explained that while the boomers had, in the 1960s and 70s, put an end to overt racism (no more Ku Klux Klan rallies), covert racism had been permitted to continue.
Although they ended deplorable exhibitions of racism (and sexism), they had inherited some of their parents’ racial attitudes.
Now ensconced in positions of power and influence (including the media), they were ill-??prepared to accept Obama as a legitimate presidential candidate. For them, he was, is, black.
The good news, however, is that the boomers did change America. They did make it more progressive. Their children (and grandchildren), raised with anti-racist and anti-?sexist principles, are voting for, and will vote in November for Obama.
George Elliott Clarke’s newest book is Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path (Gaspereau Press), an operatic verse bio of “Canada’s first black prime minister.”