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Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama: all about race?

Posted October 21st, 2008 by

The issue of race has come up many times–and in various guises–over the past 2 years of presidential politicking (I’ve written about it several times on this blog). This should come as no surprise given the historic nature of Barack Obama’s candidacy. When something truly historic happens for the first time ever a lot of folks honestly don’t know what to say or think. And sometimes they say things that in retrospect make no sense at all.

When Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama two days ago on Meet the Press Rush Limbaugh announced that Powell’s announcement was about race. The following day I saw Limbaugh on television responding to criticism of his comments by going even further. He said the endorsement was all about race; a black man endorsed another black man because he’s black. Pat Buchanan followed suit.

Here’s a question to ponder: if a white man endorses a white man is it also about race?

Another question: do white people even think about such things?

When we were on our family journey–that became Traces of the Trade and Inheriting the Trade–my cousin Elly said something I’ve never forgotten. We white people don’t think about hardly anything in relation to our “race” because we are “the default color.” I don’t remember what I said to Elly in response, but I sure have thought a lot about her words since then.

I recognize that people like Limbaugh and Buchanan make a living by saying things that gain as much attention as possible. They also want their political views and their side to prevail. I don’t know how they can claim to know what is behind General Powell’s decision. But that’s politics, right?

These words I now write have little to do with politics other than using it as an illustration to encourage readers to dig deeper beneath Limbaugh’s and Buchanan’s words. What role is race playing in the choices that people–of African  or European descent–will make in this election? What difference will it make, in terms of racial healing, justice, and equality, whether Obama wins or loses on November 4?

Something truly historic is happening in this election for the first time ever.  What matters most isn’t what’s being said by political pundits. It’s what going on in the ever-shifting thoughts of people throughout our nation.

Dig deeper.

5 responses to “Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama: all about race?”

  1. Your comment about people not knowing what to think or say is absolutely spot on. Change is pure disorientation. One loses one's bearings. The assumptions of one's life go through an earthquake. Jumping into the breach and the vacuum of ‘historic change’, Limbaugh and Buchanan betray shallowness, prejudice, intellectual and moral weakness. They are not worthy of our broadcast airspace. They brew up trouble on purpose – at least Limbaugh does, and why he has not been prosecuted for 'hate speech' I do not know.

    The endorsement of Obama by Colin Powell is very threatening to these men’s bedrock racist and ultra-conservative assumptions. Powell is someone who cannot be dismissed – he is way too senior – but these intellectually and morally inept people clutch at straws – and insult Powell, Obama and millions of other people, worldwide, by trying to argue that Powell's support for Obama is a simplistic racial 'tribalism'. Shame on them. May they fade away from our screens and our airwaves. Their time is over. Thank Heavens. Thank Obama. Thank the millions – if not billions of people, who recognize integrity and nobility and intelligence and grace in the person of Barack Obama. And who embody these things themselves.

  2. James says:

    For better or worse, Tom, we both know people who are voting for Obama on the basis of race. I think you do an excellent job here of suggesting why that approach might not be as remarkable as Limbaugh would like to make it sound.

    In my mind, any preference which Secretary Powell might have had for Obama on the basis of race (which is, of course, strictly a matter of speculation) is greatly mitigated by the fact that he offered other reasons for his choice, and with such evident passion. It was clear to me that Powell was using his endorsement of Obama as an opportunity to make several important points about American public life, including negativity in politics and bigotry towards those of other religions. He also seemed genuinely impressed with Senator Obama, and sincerely disappointed in several of Senator McCain's recent decisions, especially his choice of the governor of Alaska as his running mate.

    I think it's also worth noting, in this context, that far from jumping onto the Obama bandwagon early on, Powell waited a very long time before making his decision. This hardly seems the behavior of someone who is endorsing a candidate primarily on the basis of race.

  3. David Howe says:

    Elly's comment about the "default color" goes right back to Peggy McIntosh's description and thoughts on white privilege. Come to think of it, "male" is often the "default gender," especially when someone refers to "people" in a general sense.

    If only we could convert all the pundits' endless parsing and microscopic analyses of every word, gesture, supposed motivation, etc, ad nauseum, to useable energy and put it on the grid! I am hoping with bated breath that, as Caroline said, "Their time is over," and that a new way of looking at our world is upon us.

    Re: "About:" aren't you a grandpa x 4 now?

  4. Tom says:

    Thanks for catching my need to update the "about" box to reflect the fact that for more than two weeks now we have four grandchildren. "JJ" thanks you as well… ;o)

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