You know, I wrote and published a book four year ago titled Fear of a “Black” America: Multiculturalism and the African American Experience. I described how fearful many Americans, White, Black and Brown, are of our multicultural and demographic shift that has been underway since the late ’60s. One that will leave America with no racial or ethnic majority by the time I’m old enough to think about retirement. Which was why White neoconservatives, xenophobic Blacks and homophobic Latinos equated multicultural education with the end of American culture, the “disuniting of America,” Afrocentricity and Black Power, and the takeover of illegal immigrants, “femi-Nazis” (that’s Rush Limbaugh for ya) and sodomizing gays. With the Reagan Revolution in the ’80s and the Republican Revolution under Newt Gingrich in the ’90s came a screeching halt to efforts to bring a serious multiculturalist philosophy to K-12 public education and a backlash to multicultural curriculum at some universities (Dartmouth and Stanford come to mind).
With the wonders of a mismanaged political campaign and a multicultural candidate for President of the United States have come a re-ignition of the ’90s “Culture Wars.” Obama has been called everything short of a child of God in the past two weeks. “Kill him,” “Off with his head,” “Who is the real Barack Obama?,” Terrorist,” “Traitor,” are all things we’ve heard watching McCain campaign and audiences unravel like a falling ball of string since October 3. The racially-transcendent candidate has become “Black” once again because of the attempt to label Obama as an unpatriotic, un-American terrorist sympathizer who also has no trouble with market socialism and radical liberals. And being “Black” in this country normally equals “unpatriotic” unless we die for this country or get our heads bashed in attempted to make the country live up to its ideals.
Most important, though, is this assumption that Obama is neither American nor a Christian (hello, Rev. Jeremiah Wright?). The so-called Culture Wars of the ’90s never made sense to me, and this brush-fire of a culture skirmish in recent weeks doesn’t either. Unless you look at it with the perspective of a social psychologist. Fear, loathing and skepticism (the last two derivatives of fear) are all part of the current set of controversies over McCain’s campaign tactics and his surrogates’ and crowds’ responses to them. I’m hardly suggesting like Rep. John L. Lewis (D-GA) that what McCain’s campaign has done is in any way equivalent to the late George Wallace. But to make it sound as if this is normal in the course of attacking another candidate’s character — as folks like Joe Scarborough (formerly of the “colorblind to race” camp) and David Frum (who couldn’t spend five minutes having a civil conversation with Rachel Maddow yesterday) have suggested — is insulting to any thinking person’s intelligence. The financial collapse on Wall Street is usually the last sign of a recession or economic downturn, not the first. And what happens with every significant downturn. Increased stress, fear, anxiety about the future, a need for scapegoats whom we can blame for our troubles.
McCain’s campaign attempted to give us one scapegoat in the form of Sen. Obama. Despite his almost constant national presence since the Democratic National Convention keynote speech he gave in August ’04, the publication of two bestselling memoirs, thousands of speeches and appearances, Obama’s the great unknown? Give me a break! It might be race-baiting per se, but McCain’s campaign has used some not-so-subtle inferences to imply that Obama wasn’t a typical American. Heck, if you listened closely to Gov. Sarah Palin’s rebukes of Obama, he might not be American at all. In this process, Obama has become more “Black,” possibly more so than even Obama would admit. Long forgotten for most Americans is the fact that Obama is a biracial Black male (based on how he defines himself and how most of his supporters see him). That’s what the exploitation of fear, loathing, and skepticism can do in two weeks.
The question that I think needs to be asked is whether America is ready for its multicultural present and its need for a future based on a philosophy that embraces multiculturalism, and doesn’t just treat it as a “Black,” “Arab,” “illegal immigrant,” or “gay” thing. We’ll learn a lot about the answer in the next three weeks. But even if the answer is “Yes” to Obama, it will be a somewhat shaky yet hopeful “Yes,” one that need to be reinforced over and over again as we move forward in the midst of all of our uncertainties about America’s future.