A Ku Indeed!

No More Excuses

Posted in Life, Politics by Chris on November 4, 2008

I was watching election night coverage on CNN and Bill Bennett (on a panel) made an interesting claim. He pretty much conceded that Obama was going to win, and when asked what effect on race relations in the United States this would have, he said (roughly): “As a former Secretary of Education, I’d say that this means: no more excuses — anyone can achieve anything they want in this country.” Bennett’s claim was clear: racism can no longer, after the election, be used by anyone as a variable to explain the lack of achievements by minorities. From this point on, when minorities fail, it’s solely their own fault. Is Bennett right?

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6 Responses

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  1. Bao Pu said, on November 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Chris,

    re: “Bennett’s claim was clear: racism can no longer, after the election, be used by anyone as a variable to explain the lack of achievements by minorities. From this point on, when minorities fail, it’s solely their own fault. Is Bennett right?”

    — No. Bennet is clearly wrong.

  2. Million said, on November 6, 2008 at 1:25 am

    In reality no, but I am inclined to think that racism is less of an obstacle than it once was. Politically – on the other hand – the answer might be yes. It introduces another argument that could very well be used to counter the “race defense.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s just what happens too.

    The question depends on where politicians draw the line in the sand. What constitutes a signal that we have moved beyond racism? I think a lot of people on BOTH sides of the political spectrum want to see BO’s election as just that.

  3. Chris said, on November 6, 2008 at 6:23 am

    I’d agree that racism is surely less of a factor than it once was. I don’t see any reason to doubt that.

    However, it’s hard to see why Obama’s victory signals the end of racism as a causal contributor to the direction of people’s lives. Obama being president has little effect on the action of racist individuals.

    I do fear that the Obama victory will be used politically in just that way — as a mallet to smash any talk of institutional racism. “How can there be institutional racism?” they’ll say, “look at Obama!”

    Hopefully we can have more sophisticated discussions about race at that time. I hope so. One hope is that Obama can help to spark that discussion. Unfortunately, the Bennett types — and, sadly, many people who voted for Obama — will oppose it.

  4. Alexus McLeod said, on November 6, 2008 at 7:07 am

    This is the very thing I worried about as a result of Obama’s election, even as much as I supported it. People are already beginning to see this election as the “end of a dark chapter in American history” (I actually heard those words used on one of the networks). They’re announcing that we’ve officially ended racism toward blacks, which is just absurd. I’m afraid many people will use this as an excuse not to look at their own racism. Casting a vote for Obama and being racist oneself are not incompatible. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard racist people defend themselves by giving the “I’ve got a black friend” or “he or she is not like the others” defense. Barack Obama gets to be the super-duper black friend that’s not like the others, available as an excuse for the whole country. I’ve actually had someone tell me before that he’s not racist because he’s a liberal democrat, as if being in that category absolved him of any racist leanings. Lots of people will see Obama’s election (and already are!) as an “absolution of sins”, while they keep on thinking the way they do, and ignoring it because their racism is officially “gone”. I’ve been worrying about this possible implication of the election for a while.
    At the same time, I think Obama’s election is a good thing, all things considered.

    Bill Bennett, by the way, is a turd. On CNN on election night (I think it was) he also said that the reason a large number of young voters supported Obama is because his story is “the kind of thing they learn about in school.” The way he said that, the only thing he could have meant is either that 1) teachers and professors have the kind of liberal bias that you don’t get outside the schools and this leads the impressionable youth to take their side, or 2) these naive children haven’t seen the real world and so don’t know how things really work and thus are full of these crazy “ideals” that led to Obama’s election. Both these points are wrong, and 2 (which is probably closer to what he meant) is just idiotic. Who would vote for Obama just because “the school tells us that even a black person should be able to become president”? If that was true, why wouldn’t we have voted for Jesse Jackson, etc. Also, if 2 is what he meant, did he expect us to vote for McCain because we should all have low expectations, prefer less, and willingly abandon ideals because “that’s how the world works?” It amounts to “vote for McCain because McCain’s way is the way the world really works.” If that’s was true, though, one wouldn’t need to vote for McCain, because he would win anyway. The very fact McCain lost shows that is false. That was part of the whole slogan of the Obama campaign, “Yes We Can”. It was supposed to be a challenge to the Bill Bennett “the world doesn’t work that way” types. And Bennett was certainly proved wrong in the election, so why go and repeat his disproven statement after Obama’s victory? I think the only true thing Bill Bennett has ever said is “my name is Bill Bennett”. I can’t stand that guy.

  5. Bill Haines said, on November 6, 2008 at 7:29 am

    I think the strength of a person’s racism depends pretty heavily on whether she thinks others regard racism as legitimate. So I think the public idea “racism is over,” while plainly false, can also become to some extent self-fulfilling if it gets the right kind of sudden bump up. And I think Obama gives it multiple bumps. Big badda bump.

  6. Chris said, on November 6, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Bill,

    There’s no doubt about that. There’s a lot of peer support that undergirds racism. I’ve always noticed — in line with your claim — that racists are typically very, very willing to simply assume that any white person around them agrees with their views (I’ve always been stunned by just how much this is true, actually). The more Obamas there are, the better in order to pierce that (perceived and actual) world and break it down.

    Alexus,

    Bennett is not alone in his analysis of Obama’s win. There are (at least) three (not mutually exclusive) paths that Republicans can take at this point: (1) see it as due to some “Jesus” effect (thinking Obama is some kind of messiah, which in part would stem from some role that people would think he plays in a larger narrative about transforming racism or whatever), and/or (2) see it as a sign that people think there’s something wrong with (at least some elements of) conservative philosophy and/or (3) see it as a sign that conservatives weren’t conservative enough, and paid the price at the voting booth.

    The way I see it, Bennett is in the (1) and (3) crowd (as are most of the talk-and-radio-show-conservatives and people like Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, et al). That he’s in (3) also explains, to me, partially why he is in the (1) camp too. There was too much positive feeling for Obama to simply chalk it up to “people are upset that the conservatives weren’t conservative enough” so they turned Democrat. So (3) can’t — even to the hard-core conservative — explain all the data. So he writes off the massive positive outpouring for Obama as a kind of mass hysteria or liberal brainwashing. That allows him to stave off any talk of (2) as an explanation.

    I share your dislike of Bennett (never liked him), but the odd thing about Bennett to me is that he’s the virtue ethics guy!


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