Robin K. Magee
I just returned from the Democratic Caucus in Saint
Paul, Minnesota. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of Obama. In the
room in which my precinct was gathered, the vote was 214 to 26 in favor of
Obama. (The split was similar for the gatherings of other precincts
situated in other nearby classrooms.) Caucus representation was about 90%
white, 5-7% African American, and 1-2% Asian. There was a visible
representation of recent African immigrants. During the deliberations of
one precinct, a Latino spoke.
The venue was electric for Obama. People were
charged--ready for change—or, so the slogan went. Cross-racial bonding was
in full display. There was hugging. I saw a new kind of hope in the eyes
of the brother who sat across the room from me—the only brother in the
room. He abruptly blurted out as my Congresswoman exited our room that he
had come to prefer Obama after experiencing a late night epiphany in which
he became concerned about what he perceived to be Hillary's negative
campaign tactics. He explained that to me in those words later when I asked
him for clarification.
What he actually said in the precinct room was "I had
to wonder about a person who has to stand on another's head to feel
taller." When he ended his comments somewhat self-satisfied, I saw a look
of bewilderment rise over the mostly white faces. The reflexive look of
bewilderment changed to one of embarrassment for most. For the few whites
who appear to know to attribute the brother’s action personally—rather than
to label it a curious “black thing,” a look of amusement followed the one of
bewilderment. Ultimately, all decided to let the comment waffle off into
oblivion rather than ask for clarification. It sounded to them that he was
speaking in favor of Obama--and that was . . . enough.
The brother’s declaration sounded close enough to
something I might have heard one of my preacher uncles say that I thought to
distinguish him from the so many psychologically teetering people one can
encounter at intensely political events. At any rate, I was going to talk
to him regardless. (At a candidate's victory party last year, a person with
whom I had once organized explained to me that she had cracked the Leonard
Peltier and was to free him by year-end. Drugs, I think.)
The brother identified himself as a Vietnam Vet--now on
the right track--and explained that he really was motivated because "these
white people are now ready for change." In response to my question, “what
was he expecting for himself from the kind of change for which he thought
these white people were ready,” the brother explained, "Black people are
going to have to learn to do for themselves. Obama is going to hold the
black man accountable to do for himself." I found the brother lucid.
Walking out the Obama-electric venue, I recalled the
circumstance in which I felt an even higher level of cross-racial
jubilation. It was at the memorial service for Paul Wellstone. It was a
spiritual experience. Everyone was charged. Everyone was ready to move
forward. Everyone was ready to fight the good fight.
However, not before the night was out, these Democrats
proved that they did not have enough fight in them to protect the sanctity
of the memorial service. Wellstone's seat was lost to a Republican.
As I remembered the composition of the gathering at the
precinct, I became concerned about a reoccurrence of the Wellstone result.
The Caucus participants were good people of good intentions—Minnesota
progressives. Nevertheless, I wondered about counting on them to push for
I wondered too if the notions of change held by pro-Obama
whites related to race at all. Would the hope of racial reconciliation and
equality harbored by so many Obama-supporting people of color wither quickly
after the primaries—or later in the days following an Obama election? Were
Obama supporters sharing the same hope—looking for the same change—sharing
the same agenda? Were African Americans to get a good return on their Obama
investment? Were they getting a symbol while others would receive a
I felt I was making myself crazy with this litany of
seemingly unanswerable questions as I walked out into the cold Minnesota
winter, up the sidewalk past the Caucus building, along the walkway past
the MLK Center—and then home. I live within blocks of the Caucus venue.
My neighborhood had been a predominately-black
neighborhood. Now, it is predominately white---gentrified.
I could only guess at the answers to my questions. I,
however, felt confident that notwithstanding--on tomorrow so many of those
enthusiastic Obama supporters who work or may have been called to
participate in the Minnesota criminal justice system would continue to make
decisions that will perpetuate the second worse racial disparities in the