Monday, October 20, 2008

"We're voting for the n***er."

Urban legend?
Maybe so, but it's too good to pass up.
So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the n***er!"

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the n***er."

I, for one, can believe it. Having been reared in the South, this sounds completely credible to me. The now out of fashion "n" word was an everyday noun for some people in my family. As recently as two years ago I heard it used quite naturally by one of our most beloved uncles, now deceased, without a hint of what most people mean by the word "racist." For him it was nothing more than a noun.

That was my Dad's side of the family. Because of my mother, whose family was better educated, I was taught never to pronounce the word that way, being careful instead to say NEEgrow plainly and politely. It was always better, by the way, to say "colored" and the word "black," now a term of fashion, was strictly forbidden in polite company. Only ignorant people were used the word "blacks" when referring to Negroes.

My, how times have changed.

The world is watching.
This is a video from Al-Jezeera

It wasn't hard to find these people. They have been flocking to Sara Palin's rallies in visible numbers. I would like to call them a "lunatic fringe" but I find the same sympathies among my white peers. As with my father's family and my mother's more genteel expressions of race, the sentiments I hear are less savage but no less frightening.

I had to drop out of college after my first two years because I was a poor student and was uncomfortable with a growing total of borrowed money. I got a job doing semi-skilled labor in a paint shop where I worked about a year and a half before being drafted in 1965. No one where I worked suspected that I had been kicked out of my apartment in school because I had been picketing a segregated restaurant.

My days as a student protester and liberal activist were something I knew better than to talk about. I was working among a group of older, white adult Southern men, some of whom spoke with admiration about the KKK, not because of the anti-black actions of that group (by then it was becoming clear that the KKK was no longer to be admired) but because they remembered how vigilante justice had been used to correct men who abused their wives, or failed to support their families because of alcoholism. "After they got through whipping him, boy, he straightened up and did right."

When the time came to be drafted I was at some level glad to be out of there. Besides, I had changed my draft status to Conscientious Objector (which they also never knew) and I was ready to have that chapter of my life finished as soon as possible. The Sixties was no picnic for me, but I don't regret having been on the right side of several issues at the time.

So yes, today when I hear race being discussed I listen closely. Thankfully, most white people I know are light years of where they were years ago, but among the older generation and still, sadly, among some who are younger than me, I can still pick up wistful references to the past. And when I hear people speaking openly that they worry about Barack Obama's safety, I know well they they are serious. Many of them know as Southerners, as much of America cannot know, that his safety, even his life, could be in danger. And there are some -- not many, but it only takes a few -- who would not be disturbed.

I so want to believe that Barack Obama's campaign is "post-racist" but events of the last few days clearly indicate that it is not. Anyone who believes that racism is dead in America is living in a fool's paradise. It took Colin Powell to answer the criticism of Obama that "he's a Muslim" correctly.

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Followup, five days later.
This from Five

On the Road: Big Stone Gap, Virginia

Last week, Julie Hensley made one of her thousands of phone calls on behalf of Barack Obama. A woman answered. As Hensley ran through her short script, the husband impatiently broke in.

"Ma'am, we're voting for the n***er." And hung up.

Hensley wasn't having it. "I went and made a couple other calls but chafed over this absurdity," she told us, "so I called them back, as I still had a couple questions for the wife." This time the man answered, asked pointedly who she was, and when she replied he hung up again.

We continue to hear stories like these in Appalachia. Big Stone Gap, where Barack Obama's southwesternmost field office in Virginia sits, gave us our latest version.


...her story ended with a twist. A couple hours later during a pause in her dials, her phone rang. She recognized the number. "This is going to be good," she remembers thinking, getting ready to scrap.

It was the husband. He was calling for the woman on whom he'd hung up. She then got something she didn't expect -- an apology. Calmly, Hensley told the man she'd accept his apology on one condition -- he had to tell her who he was voting for.

"Oh, I don't normally talk about it but I feel like I owe you," the man said. "I am voting for Senator Obama." He asked if Hensley would like to speak to his wife, as he'd interrupted the original call. Hensley mentioned that she had been surprised when he'd called to apologize. Apparently the husband and wife had been talking the entire couple hours since the original call. "Did she get upset with you?" Hensley asked.

"What do you think?" the man replied.

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