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« A Time to Rally (Sujatha) | Main | Hockey Mama for Obama »

October 30, 2008



I like your point. Sullivan's idea that an Obama election will end identity politics in the U.S. is utopian. As you say, people vote for "the other" while still harboring biases.

Nevertheless, that we can have a mixed-race president is indeed a momentous step forward for the country, since the anti-democratic racial barrier to the Oval Office will have been toppled. Let's hope Obama seizes his moment to bring genuine transformational change in the areas of health care, global warming, and foreign policy. We sure need it.

US isn't going to turn into an utopia where color no longer matters, true enough. But a mental shackle would have been shattered in people's minds. Even if the racist vote for Obama pragmatically, it will have been a triumph of cerebral thinking over the amygdala, though that is probably a gross oversimplification, as this article shows.

Looking at the reactions of my parents and others that I know of in India, many outside the US are still extremely skeptical that Obama could pull off a win. "They will never allow a black man to win, or will kill him if he does." I am hopeful that they will be proved wrong.

I have heard of people voting for Obama partially because he is more qualified, but also because they anticipate having a large piece of ammo against affirmative action...

Sullivan misses one of the essential truths of Obama's identity: he is from a mixed race background. Certainly, this is part of a new national identity for Americans. But even here, Sullivan identifies himself as a Conservative, and part of the identity politics we have in America, an ever more virulent element of it is ideology. On top of that, the idea that people should completely overthrow their heritage and homoginize is to mistake the dangerous beauty of our nation--our style, our art, our philosophies have profoundly benefitted from inherited identities, which have been tempered in the crucible of injustice and the striving to overcome. To destroy identity in politics, which is not just about ingroup selfishness, as other parts of culture, however appealing in times of strife, is a conservative fantasy, not to mention a stunning example of either/or fallacy.

"In these turbulent times, out of self interest, a white racist may very well vote for a black candidate who appears to be more competent than his opponent."

Even with the "in these turbulent times" qualifier, I'd reject that idea that a "white racist may very well vote" for Obama.

The vast majority of hardcore racists would and will convince themselves that Obama isn't competent. Or has a secret (or not so secret) agenda. They'd find a reason to not vote for him. They'd be incapable of conceding to themselves that he was competent.

And a white racist of a milder strain who did vote for Obama would be going through an act and mental process that would almost certainly further temper his racism. A good thing.

Not Andrew Sullivan's utopia, but still a good thing.

The nature of white racism against blacks in America is, also, a factor that has be acknowledged in a way this post fails to.

A racist or anti-Semite might vote for an Asian or Jew on the grounds that the candidate was competent without having his prevailing prejudices against Asians or Jews challenged. (The racist probably wouldn't vote for them, but he might.) He could think the candidate is, say, cunning or whatever. But to acknowledge that an African-American is competent is to forfeit one of the founding blocks of white racism against blacks: that they're incapable of intellectual and organizational competence at even a modest level far, far below that of the Presidency, much less the Presidency at a time of such crisis.

Just to admit an African-American candidate is more competent than a white military hero is to assault the precepts of white racism against blacks in America. A rarer phenomena in racists than the post would anticipate, but a much more welcome one.

As a regular reader of Mr. Sullivan's blog, i haven't read his position as being an end to identity politics. Rather, he seems to argue for the triumph of common sense over identity politics - this seems to be the central theme of his "conservatism of doubt".

The examples of Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto are interesting. In the case of Mrs. Gandhi (both Indira and Sonia), one could argue that that the Nehru identity has triumphed over chauvinism. This is even truer in the case of the Congress Party than it is of the country as a whole. You could say that this positive association with the Nehruvian identity has little to do with any idealistic appreciation of the Nehruvian Socialism of the 50s. But the Gandhi family as it is known today, is an political identity for sure, just as hindutva is one.

Bigoted Indian voters could nevertheless vote for Indira Gandhi because she was Nehru's daughter. This is the difference between what you can tell of British attitudes towards women from Queen Elizabeth I becoming queen and Margaret Thatcher becoming prime minister. The regal association trumps all others -- just because the royal family practices primogeniture did not mean that lower-ranking estates went to the first child: they still went to the first male heir. But Margaret Thatcher's election did show that Britons' attitudes towards women in positions of power had changed significantly. Obama has no regal background to protect him from racists. So, if he is elected president, it'll be because Americans are looking past race to some extent.

I believe the comparison to royalty kind of explains why the negative attacks against Obama have failed so miserably. Okay, this comment is getting long. Rest on my blog.

p.s. Interesting blog ... I got here via Andrew Sullivan, but you're now on my RSS feed.

Citizen E,

> "Sullivan misses one of the essential truths of Obama's identity: he is from a mixed race background. Certainly, this is part of a new national identity for Americans. But even here, Sullivan identifies himself as a Conservative, and part of the identity politics we have in America, an ever more virulent element of it is ideology."

You misconstrue Sullivan's conservatism. It is not political in nature per se. He views "conservatism" as a disposition (see Oakeshott or Viereck). This conservatism is quite different, though not always separated from "Conservatism" as a political ideology.

For example, see Burke, who supported the US revolution and establishment of democracy in the Colonies, but did not support the revolution in France and actually foretold rather well the tragedies to follow the imposition of democracy there. If Burke was a "Conservative" in politics one would think he would have supported/opposed both.

It's not going to end identity politics in America but it's going to drive a lot of nails into the coffin. Anyone who can't see that has no sense of history and how historic changes can change perceptions. It's really not that long ago that women were thought unfit to vote because they were too dumb. It's even less time ago that black Americans were thought too dumb to vote. Or how about homosexuality which was a criminal offense until the seventies. It's all part of America's growing up process and the sooner it happens the better. You have to wonder what the future of Republicanism is tying itself to a racist bloc of voters who are deeply homophobic, reject science, are xenophobic, and are obsessed with simplistic nationalism. It aint the future that's for sure.

Actually, as a Indian origin person of mixed parentage I can say that many of the underlying assumptions made here are inaccurate.

First Indian society does not instinctively look down on women. It simply assigns them different roles of many of which are very complex. From Sita (Blameless one) to Saraswati (Lady of Erudition) to Laxmi (Prosperity) to ultimately Kali (Vengence). There is a long history of women taking on active powerful roles in society from Kannagi in the epics of the south to The Rani of Jhansi in the North.

It is in fact a feature of Indian society to transfer the respect for a family onto the male and female members seamlessly.

This is just to point out that male identity projection in India is a very different from modern Male Chauvinism and varies dramatically across the country.

The social structures in India and Pakistan have differentiated enough that they should no longer be compared. Another easy equal-equal trap to fall into that weakens the logic of the argument. The status of women is guaranteed in the Indian Constitution (though enforcement is weak) and is rising at a rapid rated.

All this is gets to my point that status of women in India can in no way relate to race relations in the US. This is a false argument.

You might get a bit closer in the modern voting blocks involving the lower communities, particularly the Dravidian parties to the South. Here the discriminated against lower community used the power of the ballot to completely overthrow the racist (arguably) over communities. After several decades of hurt feelings society has progressed on integration and the Dravidian parties are now often led by upper community leaders without much out cry. These states are now the most progressive and advanced in India.

I think Ms Paul, under estimates the transformative impact of Obama on America and maybe is unable to see the very real social progress made by the communities that have a sense of having a stake at the very top. I would remind her to read the organization of the Harijan community in India that has rallied behind the transformative figure of Ambedkar who gave India her constitution despite being an untouchable.

How much different would American politics be if "We the people..." had been penned by a liberated black slave, One can only wonder...

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