LA Times: For some white voters, Obama’s race is seen as a ‘bonus’

LA Times

For some white voters, Obama’s race is seen as a ‘bonus’

Some regard casting a ballot for Barack Obama as a victory for diversity, an atonement for past sins and a catalyst for racial healing. But they say race is one of many reasons for their preference.

Reporting from Atlanta — Will Hairston, a white Virginian, admits it freely: When he goes into the voting booth Tuesday, he will take Barack Obama’s race into consideration. 

It will be, he said, one more good reason to pull the lever for the Illinois senator. 

“For me, the Obama thing is a giant step forward for America,” he said. The 47-year-old’s ancestors once lorded over black slaves as owners of one of the Old South’s largest plantation empires. Electing a black candidate, he said, would show that “we’re not just the slavery nation, the Jim Crow nation.” 

This is the other racial dynamic that is shaping the opinion of some white voters, one that has taken a back seat to discussions of white bigotry: the reality that some whites regard a vote for Obama as a victory for diversity, an atonement for past sins and a catalyst for racial healing. 

For many of these voters, the topic is difficult to discuss candidly: Nobody wants to be accused of shallow “Kumbaya” motives. “You wouldn’t want it to be misunderstood,” said Raymond Arsenault, a civil rights history professor at the University of South Florida who supports Obama. “It sounds like identity politics.” 

But that is the charge being levied by some conservatives. In the final weeks of the election, they have been asking voters to consider whether a vote for Obama based on his race is a betrayal of the ideals of a colorblind society. 

The rise of a major black candidate may be “positive and transformational,” said Colin Hanna, president of the conservative issues group Let Freedom Ring. But Hanna contends that it is also an insufficient basis for choosing a president. “Because what you are doing is electing a policymaker,” he said, “not a token.” 

Hanna’s group has released a much-discussed Web ad that he said was targeted at voters of all races. In it, a black man evokes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dictum to judge people by the content of their character. 

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