Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Aren't You Worried About What Will Happen to White People?"

Today we went canvassing in the morning. I left the children at home playing video games with Dan and took Ahno out with me. After picking up our canvassing packets at the launch, we found our target neighborhood, a middle class area with big trees, oldish houses, and some waterfront lots. The residents were a mix of black and white and Asian, old and young. Some had taken great care with their yards and homes and some had kind of let nature take its course. It was a very interesting place to knock on doors. Wonderful and also horrifying.

Of course we met some McCain supporters, but we met some Obama supporters too. We met a gay couple, newly moved to the neighborhood, enthusiastic Democrats. We met a small business owner who thanked us warmly for being out for Obama, and asked us for bumper stickers for his truck. Some wanted yard signs, some just offered to talk to their friends and neighbors about the campaign, be brave and show their support for their candidate. Most of the McCain supporters were polite to us, and we talked up Mark Warner, who everyone loves, and then asked them to just consider voting for Obama. They chuckled and agreed to think about it.

Then there was this one old guy. My sheet said he was eighty-six years old. He lived in a nice house, in this pleasant area, and answered the door politely. I asked him who he was considering voting for in the presidential race and he said he was leaning toward McCain. As I asked him more questions, I discovered that he was a lifelong Democrat, and planning to vote Democrat the rest of the way down the ballot.

So why was he not going to vote for Obama?

He said: "Well, I don't know about that one. Aren't you worried about what will happen to white people, once *they* get in power?"

My jaw dropped. I had only a second to think of a response.

I said: "I'm not worried at all, sir. I think Barack Obama is a wonderful person and I think he will do what's best for this country and for the whole world. I hope you'll consider voting for him too."

I think at that point I might have mumbled something about having a nice day and I stumbled off down the sidewalk. A real, live, bonafide racist. Yes, he had a lunch stain on his shirt and a few missing teeth, but he was mostly normal looking. He had no slavering fangs, no black shiny horns. He was wearing house slippers -- no cloven hooves. His yard was mowed. His car was clean. But he had looked at me conspiratorially and asked me if I was *WORRIED* about what would *HAPPEN* to *WHITE PEOPLE*!


I'm sure there are people out there canvassing in other places where they're running into this kind of thing all the time. But it felt, to me, as if there was a little pocket of rot in this nice little neighborhood. A pocket of rot right next to a house where a black couple offered us to come into their house and have a drink of water, a pocket of rot next to that small business owner, or the WWII veteran who told us he would consider Obama... a nasty little pocket of dreck in house slippers and wire glasses, looking at me *as if it were a perfectly legitimate question* and asking me if I wasn't worried, as a white person, about what would happen to me if "THEY" got into power.

I wish I had said, "Well, let me ask you: What are you worried about specifically? Are you worried you'll have to go live in a shack behind the house you currently own? Are you worried you won't be allowed to vote? Drive? Go to college? Are you fearful that you'll have to pay more for soup at the grocery store or that you'll have to sit at the back of the bus? I mean what exactly has you concerned?"

Probably that wouldn't have been good either. We're not supposed to get into fights with people. Plus, he was like a million years old. But, what would you have said? How do you respond to something like that? Here is a *lifelong Democrat* who has written off Barack Obama as a candidate because he is afraid of black people. Do old people get a pass on racist remarks? What argument can I offer, standing on the porch of this person, to counter eight decades of opinion? What do you say?


  1. Anonymous2:42 AM

    Unfortunately there are a few of the 'older generation' who think like that, it's the way things were when they were young and they wont change, things like racism become a habit, its sad but true. Here in the UK its even worse, not just in the older generation (who can probably be forgiven)but even children who are learning racism from their parents. Why can't people just be people without the labels? You even did it yourself when you told us about the 'gay' couple ;)I'm for Obama he has some good values and wish him well.
    Great Blog by the way, one of my favourites!!

  2. Anonymous12:15 PM

    I agree with Kate, I think this is a generational election more than an "race" election. People like the person you met are terrified of the unknown and have a difficult time dealing with "new" America. Let's face it, in 30 years, when our children are in our shoes, the face of American politics will be considerably different with majority's of Latinos and African Americans and Asians! I hope our kids don't have to face the same racism then! Keep up the canvassing!

  3. It's such a shame that this sort of stuff still exists. I was so disappointed when I heard the exit poll stats from here in WV where a full 25% or people said they wouldn't vote for Obama because of his color. That's 25% bold enough to admit. I don't know ho wmany felt that way but wouldn't voice it. It absolutely terrifies me. If you don't like Obama, fine, but don't make it about his race. Unbelievable. Anyhow, keep up the good work in spite of that sort of stuff!

  4. Ugh, how depressing! I am from the South (TN) and don't live there now partly because of the racism. I know that racism is everywhere, but the things I saw and heard in my school growing up were just blatant and appalling. But I also believe that people can change. My southern grandmother made a lot of progress as she grew older, helped along by the fact that my mother married a "non-white" (my father was American Indian). So, I think it's awesome that you are out there as an example to others: a white woman (at least as far as I can tell!) perfectly comfortable showing support for an African American possible president! Maybe that man you visited is thinking, "Hmmmm, she looked okay with it, maybe it wouldn't be so bad..."

  5. This saddens me, but doesn't surprise me at all. I was raised in rural Tennessee in a segregated town, and I grew up hearing worse than that, even in the 70's and the 80's. The black folks live on the outskirts of town, even to this day, and black children attend the county school, but not the city school, even though they are only about a mile apart. My father, who is 74 years old, is a committed and lifelong Democrat, but I was concerned what his take on Obama was going to be, since I've heard less-than-sensitive things come out of his mouth regarding racial issues in years past. So, I called him a few weeks ago to check in. God knows his favorite topic is politics, so tentatively engaged him in a conversation. When I asked him, "So, Daddy, who ya votin' for?" his response was, "I'm votin' for OBAMA!" My heart soared. I'm proud of him for making an informed and enlightened decision. My daddy is an Obamaniac! LOL!

  6. I believe wholeheartedly in the need for change. I also believe that change is tremendously difficult for some people. I had a run in with a vocal bigot last year and was entirely unable to form the words I needed in that conversation! My hope is that a black president will serve to show many, many people that bigotry has no place in our country.

  7. Jamie7:19 AM

    I fear Obama as a Presidential Candidate. Like you, I am disturbed by the fact that people are still judged by the color of there skin in this country. My fear has nothing at all to do with his skin color. I fear his policies and the "Change" that he promises. Our government is to large already and Obama will only continue it's growth. McCain would not be my first choice for President, but I do think that Palin strengthens the ticket. I wish you luck and happy campaigning as you support your candidate.

  8. Anonymous5:47 PM

    Go to for a non partisan view on the issues that Obama & McCain support/oppose. Obama opposes traditional marriage, supports homosexuality being taught in public schools, supports hate crime laws, supports homosexual adoption, supports right to abort including partial birth and non-parental consent for minor to cross state border to have abortion, opposes protecting children born alive, opposes nomination of pro-life supreme court justices, opposes the right to own gun, opposes the right for parents to exercise school choice, supports gov. control of health care, opposes reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, has past ties with terrorists and his memtoring pastor hates white people. Hmmmm.....This is not what the founding fathers would have ever imagined. A godless nation will receive it's dues. I could type out McCains's view, but he is everything opposite of Obama. I am voting for McCain.

  9. Oh Lydia! How uncomfortable! Sadly, I cannot say this in any way surprises me. While the open ethnic tension that defined the Civil Rights Movement is no longer evident, I think that The Slavery Wound is the second most important issue in our country (environment being the global #1 issue). This issue is literally seething under the surface of our skins.

    There is nothing you can say to a person like the man you've described. Nothing. Which is why these issues border on intractable. Arguing with him would serve to further deepen his hate. Not arguing with him allows him to be comfortable with it.

    Social evolution

    t a k e s

    s o

    m u c h

    t i m e.

    It is hard to be patient. I find it helpful to put that frustrated energy to good use- like knocking on MORE DOORS. Or writing great posts like this one. Well done, you! Your turn to diary on DailyKos!

  10. Anonymous1:42 PM

    Maybe you could have mentioned that Obama is white, and that would have made him feel better?? It seems that only black people can bring up the color of one's skin. Why? The Slavery Wound?? What is that? I sure am injured every time I have to "apologize" - read that "give money" - to make people feel better. I can never right that wrong - it is ridiculous. In the end, maybe you should have followed your leader's advice - "get in their face and argue with them".

  11. Anon 1:42,
    I think people of all shades can and should bring up skin color. I'm considered Caucasian and I'm bringing it up. Until we can talk about color without having emotional reactions, it's An Issue. Ignoring it won't make it go away. Saying there is nothing you can do about it won't make it go away.

    The Slavery Wound does not apply only to blacks- it affects everyone. Your reaction is a symptom of The Slavery Wound- you obviously have thoughts on the issue. I don't think it is the responsibility of whites to right the wrong of slavery- it is the responsibility of our *entire* culture.

    The color of someone's skin plays a role in social interactions. And until that is no longer true, I think every individual in our culture has a responsibility to step up and do something about it. Like discuss the issue, openly and honestly and without judgment.

    I did not understand the "... followed your leader's advice..." quote. Are you talking about me, Melina, my leader? Or something else? Did I miss a reference in another post or comment? Please explain.

    Also, I think it is troubling that you feel the need to be anonymous. Why not put your name on your (legitimate and personal) thoughts? Why hide?