If you’re white and you attended a predominantly white college or university like I did, you might have had or heard a conversation like this in your dining hall:
White Person 1: "Look at how all the black students sit together at a few tables."
White Person 2: "Yeah! Why are they so separatist?"
As a white person, you might reflexively agree. At least until you interject some perspective.
If almost all the black students are sitting together at a few tables, where are the white students? Sitting together as well, of course, except at a LOT of tables. And yet, from the white majority perspective, it never occurs to many of us to see ourselves as being "separaters." At my college, there was never any allegation that the black students were stopping white students from joining them. They just didn't.
Many white people reading this will quickly retort, "Why didn't the black students come out of THEIR comfort zone to sit with some white students?" That's a fair point, but it's more emblematic of what a majority mentality instills in many: the notion that others must come to you and comform to you. You never start with the question of what must WE do.
Another idea that permeates the white American majority is that a group of people who have never had something should act like they have always had it, just like us.
This is all said as a preface to my critique of Pat Buchanan's recent question of whether it is wrong for black voters to consider Barack Obama's race, to any degree, to make their presidential decision.
Historically, African-Americans have supported the Democratic presidential candidate at around a 90% clip, so Obama likely has that locked up. What must be troubling Buchanan, therefore, is that the other 10% will probably go to Obama as well, and darn it, it's just wrong to vote for somebody BECAUSE he's black.
What Buchanan misses, but what my amiga at the American Values Alliance catches, is that the first national polls gave Obama 20% of the black vote to Clinton's 60% (the remaining 20% was spread around the other candidates). If race is all that mattered, Obama would have locked up 95% then. This is how we now know that African-Americans must have a credible Democratic African-American candidate first, and then they'll consider supporting him. They didn't at the start, and they do now.
But let's put our feet in the shoes of that other ten percent. We live in a country that says (but has not historically meant) "All Men are Created Equal." This is the only time in our history where we can actually elect a visibly non-white president. The repercussions of achieving such a milestone are significant.
What do white parents tell their kids to inspire them to do great things? "If you work hard, you can be whatever you want." How do black parents tell their children this and make them believe it when there has NEVER been a black president. (Of course, an equally compelling question is how do white parents make their daughters believe it when there has NEVER been a woman president).
Quite frankly, the question for me isn't why do African-Americans want to vote for Obama. It's how could they not? I am firmly convinced that IF McCain has black people working on his campaign (haven't seen any, but I don't hang out with McCain's folks), even they will pause when they get to the booth.
Many white people will be aghast at the suggestion that somebody should vote for a candidate, even in part, because of a group affiliation. Those aghast might include the Jews who supported Lieberman to help him become the first Jewish VP nominee, the Irish who supported Kennedy as their first President, the Chicago Poles who always voted Rostenkowski, the Italians who supported Cuomo, and the homosexuals who voted for Barney Frank.
In an America that frequently sees things in black and white, apparently its only when blacks don't see things white that it offends.
UPDATE: I forgot to add that while 20% of black voters said in a Wall Street Journal poll last month that race is the top factor influencing their "view of the candidates" and 14% admit it is a key factor, 8% of white voters said outright that race is the most important factor when it comes to looking at the presidential candidates. This is a three percentage point increase since Mr. Obama claimed the Democratic nomination. In other words, once a black man made it on to the ballot, race became an issue. An added 15% of white voters admit the candidates' race is a factor for them. If white people get exorcised about African-Americans' racial considerations, what we're really saying is: "We don't mind if you use race, black people, but just make sure you only use it as much as we do." No thanks. Instead of engaging in ridiculous line-drawing, I'll just avoid the hypocrisy altogether.