One of the backdrops of this primary season has been the ingrained racism and sexism both Democratic frontrunners have had to endure. One of the first questions asked about each candidate was "Is America ready for a black/woman president?" Why? America is a racist and sexist nation.
With Clinton's mammoth lead in West Virginia and her recent bout of extreme honesty ("...Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There's a pattern emerging here."), even she is admitting that racism is playing a large part in, not only this primary, but across the country.
But while the media has been quick to jump on Bill Clinton's Jesse Jackson comment in South Carolina or Hillary's USA Today quote, Obama advisor says this or Clinton advisor says that, what's happening with the campaign foot soldiers? It's one thing to sit in the campaign office war room and direct the grand scheme of events, but an altogether different experience handing out fliers in parking lots and working the phone banks.
Examples of the overt racism experienced by Indiana staffers and more after the jump.
...It was the day before Indiana's primary, and she had just been chased by dogs while canvassing in a Kokomo suburb. But that was not the worst thing to occur since she postponed her sophomore year at Middle Tennessee State University, in part to hopscotch America stumping for Barack Obama.
Here's the worst: In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into "a horrible response," as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.
"The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive."
For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.
The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark.
The article lists example after example of the overt racist responses the volunteers encountered:
- A phone banker deals with racist voters call after call and was told by one person to "Hang that Darky from a tree!"
- In Kokomo, Indiana a group of black high school students holding an Obama sign next to a busy street are taunted and racial slurs are screamed at them.
- The Vincennes, Indiana campaign office's plate-glass window is smashed the night before the primary. A bomb threat is called in the next day.
- Two other Indiana Obama campaign offices also get bomb threats on Primary Day.
Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, was told, "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people." I hear similar comments all the time from family members, community members and online friends. Of course, those comments are always couched nicely with, "You know I'm not racist, but..."
My family is from West Virginia. My grandfather moved the family to Ohio at the end of the Great Depression after feeding a family of five for two months on home-grown green tomatoes. As the family tree spreads and turns to leaves and twigs, I find racism (and, yes, sexism too!) more often than I do in segments of the family who live in other states. They are bitter. They cling to God and guns.
Let's at least step up to the plate and flatly say that Clinton is winning West Virginia because of racism.
So why is the mainstream media ignoring this side of the issue going into the West Virginia primary? Why don't we talk about the bomb threats and smashed windows in Indiana? Maybe police are trying to stop copycats or perhaps the campaign has asked that it not be stressed.
Obama campaign officials say such incidents are isolated, that the experience of most volunteers and staffers has been overwhelmingly positive.
The campaign released this statement in response to questions about encounters with racism: "After campaigning for 15 months in nearly all 50 states, Barack Obama and our entire campaign have been nothing but impressed and encouraged by the core decency, kindness, and generosity of Americans from all walks of life. The last year has only reinforced Senator Obama's view that this country is not as divided as our politics suggest."
What else can the campaign do? What else can the media do? What can we do?
I dunno, but I'm hoping we can start having a discussion about some of these horrific actions and threats instead of just glossing them over with a "Well, I'm not racist but you know other people are so we should just expect it" and a pat on the head. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.
It makes about as much sense as "White people look out for white people and black people look out for black people," doesn't it?