Ever since Obama won the elections and masses of Americans celebrated in the streets, I have been thinking about the moment’s duality: on the one hand, people poured into the streets to reclaim their nation’s identity (in light of everything, justifiably or not, the Bush Administration came to symbolize) and the almost indescribable historic jubilation in electing the country’s first ever African American president.
Then on Wednesday over a sandwich, I was reading “La (r)evolución de B. H. O.” in El Pais by M. Á. Bastenier. Bastenier tries to make the argument that Obama’s victory was not really turning point in American race relations but merely reflected a change in the country’s electoral landscape. In a complete misunderstanding of the American reality and a misinterpretation of the numbers, Bastenier writes that it is unclear whether Obama’s victory signifies an important shift in how Americans view race because (i) Obama received the same percentage of votes from whites as did Kerry in 2004, and (ii) the balance was tipped in Obama’s favor with respect to Kerry’s loss in 2004, not because of white voters, but because of the change in the demographics of the American voters. In other words, Obama didn’t win because he got more whites to vote for him but because there was a higher number of Hispanic and African American voters.
Bastenier does admit that Obama did not lose white voters, but in saying so, he totally misses the point. All evidence, at least numeric, points to the fact that Obama’s candidacy was race neutral. White Americans were not divided by racial prejudice but by political preference. In other words, people didn’t vote for or against Obama because he was black; rather they voted based on how they viewed the world politically. Thus, a white Republican vote was not a statement of racial prejudice, nor was a Democrat vote one of racial affirmation. The changing ethnic make-up of the American electorate is a reality that both parties, especially now the Republicans, will have to face in upcoming elections. Nevertheless, the fact that white voters — though their majority is decreasing — did not vote differently for a black Democrat this year than they did for a white one in 2004, is historically important. It means that the majority of Americans vote colorblind.
This, in fact, is the irony of the election. At the moment Obama’s victory was announced, as reflected in John McCain’s very moving concession speech, the historical importance was so great that all Americans, regardless of who they voted for, could partake in the groundbreaking moment. Had the election been nothing more than a mere referedum on race, then only one side could celebrate.
To educate Mr. Bastenier, the weary, or anyone else who is not familiar with American history, just take a look at the photo of the First Family-elect, listen to what Congressman John Lewis had to say a few hours before the results came on Election Night, or take the time to read these words from Bill Moyers’ essay about the watershed moment, Continue reading