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Race to White House and the Politics of Intimidation

Nov 3, 2008, 4:30 AM

It is with no little concern and dismay that some white elements in America have retrogressed from racial rhetoric to murderous threats. Before, it's been outright denunciation of Obama or reluctance to vote for him on racial grounds. More recently, it's been actual threats to his life. All of this seems to make the electoral outcome suddenly uncertain.

The background to all this is very simple. As the clock strikes at midnight this day, America will rise to the dawn of a day that has never dawned in America or in American history. For the first time in history, a Black has come this close to the White House. For the first time in the history of that country, a Black has gone this far in its tortuous electoral process. Also, for what has in the past been ordinarily and commonly called 'race to the White House', that expression suddenly now smacks of 'race, racists, and racialism'.

Some have gone as far as alleging that the 'White House' is not a 'Black House'. All in all, therefore, the contest of 4thNovember has taken a new twist, now carrying on board, the racial factor. Opinion polls and various political ratings have from the outset pointed to a clear if not landslide victory for Obama. While McCain clearly has preponderance of military experience, Obama excels in economic strategy and development issues. It goes without doubt that a prudent America would prefer the latter, for who wants war and military expertise over progress? It is also a detracting factor for Republicans that McCain has been unwilling so far to associate himself with his own party's cause and legacy as created or miscreated by President George W. Bush. Is the Republican Party a house divided?

An Obama victory seems therefore inevitable from all indications. What keeps the battle still alive is surely what we termed earlier as the racial factor. It is the only factor that could suspend Republican hopes when everything else fails. For a country that has been deeply steeped in racial discrimination and inequality, who can say what exactly to expect from such by-products?

According to historical background, and that's only recent 19thand 20thcentury history, Blacks were freed only in 1865 by the 13thAmendment of the US constitution. In 1868, Blacks were declared US citizens (the 14thAmendment), and only in 1870 got the right to vote (15thAmendment). However, even though emancipation, citizenship, and suffrage all came through the all 'high and hallow' US constitution itself, the intended benefits have to this day continued to elude black beneficiaries as well as political observers the world over.

Finding these constitutional measures either too generous, unacceptable or irksome, some Whites, notably southern Whites resorted to fighting Blacks with the view to 'putting them in their place'.Approaches have ranged from prejudice to intimidation to physical attacks, even murder. The KKK achieved indelible notoriety in this regard. For several decades, the 14thand 15thAmendments have been largely disregarded or even flouted through discriminatory practices including the nefarious 'Black Codes' of the South. What the new constitutional provisions had done was merely trigger old latent feelings of hostility and of intrinsic superiority towards Blacks. Are these feelings quickly returning?

Once aroused, those feelings became imposed. The imposition of white superiority and supremacy therefore marched on and forced its way in American society like an unquestionable birthright. Into the 1960s even, tactics of outright intimidation have been commonplace leading at times to brutal assassinations, Dr. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy being two prime examples. It also happens, incidentally, that Democrats comprise substantially Southern Whites, traditionally and historically opposed to Blacks. Could this create derogations and shortfalls of votes in the polling stations and in the Electoral College for Barrack Obama? Chances are, if we have a 'Colourless' contest it shouldn't surprise anyone if Obama wins by a wide margin given his cogent, expert credentials. If McCain wins, the contest was probably not without colour and it should not be a big surprise given in war and peace time, his racial credentials.

'Racism? But isn't it only a form of misanthropy?"

Joseph Brodsky