By Claudio Simpkins
In the Sunday, September 14th edition of the Washington Post, my Professor, Randall Kennedy, spoke to "The Big 'What If,'" outlining the potential fallout should Senator Barack Obama lose this race for the presidency.
Professor Kennedy speaks to Black anxiety regarding the seemingly all-but-inevitable conclusion that should Obama lose, it will be because of "a vague, sophisticated, low-key prejudice that is chameleonlike in its ability to adapt to new surroundings and to hide even from those firmly in its grip."
As an African-American supporting Senator John McCain this election cycle, I find it hard to believe that I am the unwitting victim of a subconscious racism that motivates my work against Senator Obama. In fact, like many young minority Republicans, I see Senator Obama as a role model. I will never look to question his accomplishments, his motivations, his patriotism or the historical significance of his run. But that does not keep many African-Americans from questioning my commitment to our community or the authenticity of my "Blackness" for differing with the good Senator on the issues. It would seem that this low-key prejudice and racism is present and active on both sides of the aisle.
All too often I am challenged by peers and by "friends" on how really committed I am to my community. There is generally an underlying and sneering disbelief and sarcasm evident in these conversations, as Blacks "on board" with Obama (even those that supported Hillary Clinton before Obama showed himself a viable candidate, and "Black enough") assume they have a monopoly on Blackness. Often times this criticism comes in the form of good-natured ribbing, but sometimes it is more insidious than that.
The sad part is that this byproduct of Black groupthink regarding national politics - the political homogeneity of Black America - only serves the purposes of racism by ostracizing independent-minded Blacks from the community and by seeking to silence their voices altogether. And this type of behavior is no respecter of persons, insofar as it targets even those who have proven their commitment to their communities.
I come from a broken home. I come from a drug-abusing household. I have been cold and homeless. I have parents with criminal records. I have attended public schools all my life, until Harvard Law. This is not an attempt to garner sympathy, but an attempt to provide the context needed to understand my commitment to those groups and organizations that helped me rise above circumstance.
Randall Kennedy does not engage in such behavior in his editorial. And from the classes I have taken with him, I can confidently say that Professor Kennedy would not question the "Blackness" of anyone. (See his recent book: "Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal" for an in-depth analysis of this phenomenon within the Black community).
However, if we're to interrogate the hidden remnants of a racist America still at work in this election cycle, perhaps we might benefit from taking up a hypothetical Professor Kennedy provides:
"I anticipate that most black Americans will believe that an Obama defeat will have stemmed in substantial part from a prejudice that robbed 40 million Americans of the chance to become president on the day they were born black. They will of course understand that race wasn't the only significant variable -- that party affiliation, ideological proclivities, strategic choices and dumb luck also mattered. But deep in their bones, they will believe -- and probably rightly -- that race was a key element, that had the racial shoe been on the other foot -- had John McCain been black and Obama white -- the result would have been different." (Emphasis added).
This complicated counterfactual may in fact resemble the opinions of Black America in the aftermath of an Obama loss, but does it stand up to reality and experience? We can look to only a handful of Black Republicans who have run for office in the most recent decades to test this theory.
Recent experience lends us the case of former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. Steele ran for U.S. Senate in 2006 and lost to Democrat Ben Cardin. During his 2002 run for Lieutenant Governor, however, Steele was allegedly showered with Oreo cookies during a gubernatorial debate. Surely similar behavior aimed at Senator Obama would be ample evidence of the racism Professor Kennedy and others in the Black community finger as a likely culprit should Obama lose.
Experience also points to former U.S. Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts. Although Brooke was the first Black senator since Reconstruction and remains the only Black to be elected to a second term in the United States Senate, reports hold that white voters saw him as "too Black to be white" and Black voters labeled him "too white to be Black."
Point being, a Black John McCain probably would suffer from as much racism as Obama does. America has racial demons to exorcise in both parties and in all segments of the American polity.
Going on personal experience, I have little faith that America is ready to follow the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and judge Blacks not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." How many Blacks have evaluated both candidates on the policies and how many are supporting Obama simply because he is a Black man? How many use "Blackness" as a litmus test for candidates - both Democratic and Republican? Unfortunately, still too many.
Barack Obama has shattered many of the assumptions America holds regarding the Black race, our capacity to lead and to change, and our role within the nation and its government. However, until he or, better yet, we ourselves learn to let go of race and racial identity politics we will continue to suffer from the very same sinister force we have bumped up against for centuries. Racism is alive and well in America, white and Black, and the true test of this campaign is whether we can call it for what really is wherever it rears its ugly head.
~Claudio Simpkins is a third-year student at Harvard Law School and contributor to HipHopRepublican.com