National Review Online: That Old Devil Race

National Review Online

That Old Devil Race

Dear friends: In a recent issue of National Review — dated September 29 — I published a piece on a delicate matter: race — race and the presidential election. This matter is rearing its head more and more as Election Day nears. And I thought I would revisit my piece and expand on it, here in Impromptus. Let me just wade in.

As you know, Barack Obama is the first black presidential nominee ever. (We’re talking the major parties.) And this is big and cheering news, given American history. I need not recite that history. And it’s no fair saying that Obama is not really a black American: that he is not a descendant of slaves. And it’s no fair saying that, actually, he’s half white. That’s not the way it works in America, as you well know.

Our country has always abided by the “one-drop rule,” mentally at least. There is an old, pungent saying: America is the only country in which a white woman can give birth to a black baby, but a black woman can’t give birth to a white baby.

There have been other black presidential aspirants, to be sure — most prominently Jesse Jackson and, after him, Al Sharpton. (Before them — in 1972 — there was Shirley Chisholm, the Democratic congresswoman from Brooklyn.) But they weren’t really running for president: They were running for president of black America — to secure the King position. Which they did, largely.

After the Democratic convention, I lingered in Denver for a couple of days. And three times — no fewer — young black men asked me whether I had attended the convention. (This was in restaurants and a hotel.) I said I had. Then they said, somewhat tentatively, “What did you think of the speech?” (meaning Obama’s). I said I thought it was fabulous (which I did — as a piece of oratory). In each case, the young man beamed and beamed. 

This sort of feeling simply cannot be discounted. If Obama loses, there will be pain — more than the usual amount of pain following Election Day. A writer named Fatimah Ali, columnist for thePhiladelphia Daily News, said, “If McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race and class war.” Would it be as bad as that? There would certainly be stokers of grievance, as there forever are. 

I repeat, there is an unease in this election, owing to race. There won’t always be, in these presidential elections. And won’t that be a great, fresh-aired day?

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