Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Back On The Bus

Last week, I wrote a piece that appeared on The Huffington Post about a harrowing experience that happened on a bus in a sleepy little town thirty miles outside of San Francisco.

A glutton for punishment, I decided to take the same bus again, to see if I would see my friend–the one with the noxious scowl for everyone who wasn’t as white as he is.

As fate would have it, he boarded the bus minutes after I did, only this time he wore a cap with what looked like the confederate flag on it. Not that I know what a confederate flag looks like, mind you. The closest I’ve been to one is when doing a Google search.

In any case, I decided to sit at the back of the bus, so I could observe, without being observed, and as I went to sit down, there were not one, but two, swastikas drawn with black magic marker on the seat in front of me. One held the letters “W” and “P” inside it which, nearby, were spelled out as “White Power.” The other was just a swastika that looked like it might have been drawn by a dyslexic.

I wondered, of course, if our friend in the confederate flag scratched the swastikas on the seat. Funny how your mind plays tricks what with all the adrenalin racing through — I thought maybe this fellow stumbled upon my article, but that’s unlikely.

More likely, all the optimism I expressed about a new America, one without racial division, was being eradicated by one dreadful stroke–the swastika — shorthand for hate, and a simple reminder that it may be naive, after all, to think we’ve come so far down the civil rights road, there’s no turning back.

Today, when reading an article about the racism some Obama volunteers encountered in Indiana, I couldn’t help but think that the color divide, in this country, is more insidious, and pervasive, than we would like to think, and maybe too great for any one person to bridge—even Barack Obama.

We must all hold our heads a little lower when we think that the bigotry, and perniciousness that has characterized the Ku Klux Klan can still exist anywhere in America. It is more terrifying to recognize how deeply embedded racism is in our culture, and that even the dissolution of artificial distinctions like “red state” and “blue state” won’t be enough to make it go away.
Indeed, Barack Obama will have his work cut out for him, as will those of us who want to see this kind of hatred go away.

Hillary’s 2 to 1 win in West Virginia also underscores how crucial it is for Obama to put down his Starbucks, and reach out to iron workers, and cab drivers who are quickly joining the endangered species list.

One of the more compelling ironies of this campaign season is how it is that a candidate worth more than a hundred million dollars is resonating better with those who earn $100,000 a year or less, and comprise more than 90% of the population, than one who was raised by a marginalized single mom. While Barack Obama has the judgment issue sewn up, he must now work harder on the credibility issue as, incredibly enough, his greatest appeal is among those under 30 and the Prius crowd.

To win the White House in November, Obama will have to enlist the support not just of the blue collar, white vote, but the same angry white men who still like to think they won the Civil War, and that diversity is something to eradicate; the ones who will, no doubt, overwhelmingly vote for Sen. McCain.