2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Elements of ethnicity are now second to humanity


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2/11/08 N.Y. Daily News 2

There is something very fascinating about the difficulty the media have in explaining the Obama phenomenon.

It seems that not enough of my colleagues have noticed that in commercial advertisements we have seen a great shift from the older America of John Kennedy's era. Then everything was done, enjoyed and understood solely by white people, who were thought to be the symbols of humanity at large and were accepted as such by those trying to sell products.

That is no longer true and the monoracial news teams, experts on health, the stock market, fashion, technology and so on are no more. We are accustomed to seeing multiracial teams of men and women who know or are good enough to speculate about the meanings of important events, trends and evolutions of public consciousness.

Americans have become accustomed to having spent years looking at the recently deceased Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes" or the reigning queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey, neither of whom meant something in exclusively racial terms. Bradley was thought of quite simply as one of the best and most honest reporters on television. Winfrey is seen much more as America's queen of goodwill than anything else.

But those elements of distinction, of a particular ethnic style, have become secondary to the power of human qualities with which anyone can identify or reject.

During the era of "identity politics" that was interpreted as an attempt to "deny" the supposed "blackness" of the person under discussion. The problem is that every group has many different versions of itself - the simplest being an upper-class version, a middle-class version and a lower-class version. Within each of them, there are many variations and, finally, there is the most mysterious and unexplainable version of all: the individual. That is, he or she whose talent makes everything else secondary. That always transcends sociology.

I don't think that many pundits understand that about Barack Obama because they are sunk in the mud and in the statistics of a past America in which things were much less fluid. Young Americans and most others have accepted the diversity idea because it fits their experience.

For at least 30 years, they have been meeting at public school, in college, in the military, on sporting teams and on jobs of every sort - all manner of people from myriad backgrounds and cultural styles. They are accustomed to sitting in diverse groups and making jokes about how "out of it" their parents are and how old-fashioned their ideas are about inevitable racial alienation. They see themselves in generational terms and accept their many distinctions as enriching elements of the human reality in which they live.

That's how it is. But most pundits keep running forward with their eyes glued to a mirror in which only the past is clear. They don't get it any more than a television reporter did when some black guys in angular hairdos ran toward a van that caught fire and saved a couple of Jewish kids in Brooklyn during a period of "racial tension." When asked why they risked harm to save the children, one of the black guys answered, "Why? Because a van was on fire and some kids were trapped inside. Beside that, we didn't think about it."

A recent report on NPR talked about how race shaped the Super Tuesday primary. And blogs devoted to black issues say that any attempt to suggest that Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy "transcends" race is the real fairy tale. But Newt Gingrich has it right when he said of Obama after Super Tuesday, that anyone who can take a red state like Iowa, in which there are virtually no black people, cannot be looked at in racial terms. Millions of Americans across racial lines obviously like him.

Something else is clearly going on.


Elements of ethnicity are now second to humanity


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