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?