Racism Review: White Guys and the Prospect of an Obama Presidency

Racism Review

White Guys and the Prospect of an Obama Presidency

In this recent piece in the New York Times, Paul Krugman compares Richard Nixon’s political strategy to John McCain’s, in particular, the central idea that:

By exploiting America’s divisions — divisions over Vietnam, divisions over cultural change and, above all, racial divisions — he was able to reinvent the Republican brand. The party of plutocrats was repackaged as the party of the “silent majority,” the regular guys — white guys, it went without saying — who didn’t like the social changes taking place.

Krugman’s piece along with Rush Limbaugh’s (”it’s all about race”) reaction to Powell’s endorsement of Obama  has me thinking about white guys and the possibility of an Obama presidency.   When it comes to white men and this election, it looks like there’s a pattern, as Joe has noted here before.   Of course, some white men are supporting Obama.  Indeed, where I live in the liberal-bubble that is Manhattan, I see a fair number of white men each day wearing Obama buttons (image from here).

White Guys & an Obama Presidency. On the face of it, there seem to be a lot of social advantages to being a white guy.  Yet, it seems that as a group, white guys are plagued by anomie.  Even as their income, education and occupational prestige are at all time highs, white guys are at higher risk for suicide than ever before, while suicide rates for blacks are declining.

Of course, some white guys will vote for Obama and wear their Obama buttons proudly while racism continues to play a role in voting behavior and political-button-wearing.   But voting behavior and the political-button-wearing are relatively small data points in a much larger, more complex picture (parts of which I sketched out above) about racism and racial inequality in the U.S.  While this campaign may be viewed by some on the left as a referendum on the intractability of racism,  it’s not the end of this particular system of oppression.   Come November 4th, I hope we’re all celebrating an Obama victory and an end to the long nightmare of the conservative movement.   If that happens, it will be an incredible victory for social progress and for people that care about all forms of equality, including racial equality.

And yet, even if there is an Obama victory and all the white guys start wearing Obama buttons, there is almost nothing in any of the policies or speeches that suggest an Obama presidency will take any significant action to dismantle structural or individual racism or racial inequality (despite fears on the right).  What I predict will change the most about racism under an Obama presidency is that the white guys wearing the Obama buttons will refuse to take racism seriously.


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