Of Course Race Mattered

John McWhorter, New York Post, November 9, 2008

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After all, I have a reputation, albeit oversimplified, as a “black conservative.” I work for a free-market think tank. I’m supposed to be “controversial.”

But this means the people expecting potshots from me against Obama have assumed that his race has no resonance for me. They have assumed that I would argue not to take his race into account.

There is a conservative part of me that went there at first. Two years ago, when most people didn’t know much about Obama beyond his 2004 speech at the Democratic convention and some “Yes, we can” rhetoric, I irritated many with an editorial saying that if Obama were white, no one would yet consider him special. And at the time it was true.

But as time went by, I realized that where the Obamenon was concerned, race did matter. This time, assessing Obama by the content of his character alone would evidence a lack of genuine concern about getting past race in America.

This has not been a mere matter of supporting Obama because he’s “a brother.” Rather, I firmly believe that with Obama in the White House, people insisting that America is all about racism will have to rethink their message. Joe Six-Packs were in diners telling reporters they wouldn’t vote for a black man? Well, there will be a black man riding in Air Force One. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, those yokels “have no power here”—Obama does.

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But even if Obama did not espouse these positions, I would have been for him this year. Race matters—yet his Presidency will make it matter less so.

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The queasiness is because, in my heart of hearts, there is a part of me that thrills to the Obamas because of a red-blooded racial loyalty. There. I admit it.

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And: Young people growing up under an Obama administration will see it as normal for the President to be black, and be that much more past race than we are. My wife looked to me and pointed out that our future children will be, as I have termed it, Obamakids.

This messy tribal feeling has not been my main reason for supporting Obama. But it’s been roiling underneath. And it’s why I am so uncomfortable with the anti-Obama image many people had of me. In their minds, almost every black person on earth is toasting and jamming the phone lines, while I’m sitting glumly in a bar grumbling about taxes and William Ayers.

Sorry, folks—I’m not that controversial. Tuesday was a glorious night and I can’t pretend it wasn’t. There’s going to be a brother in the White House! Yeah—I feel it too.

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