In one of the Dovlatov’s books there is a sentence which he heard at a boxer’s match: “a black boxer can always be recognized with a blue hem on his boxers”. That quotation was turning on my mind during all the time of the presidential debates, as Obama has really made America forget the color of his skin. During the 20 months of the campaigning he has appeared on television so frequently that he has become familiar: just a usual candidate, maybe with a little bit funny-looking ears.
Actually, this is a real historical achievement. Obama is not the first black presidential contender, but he is the first one not to make a problem out of it. Refusing representing the used-to-be-oppressed minority, Obama has placed the race issue beyond the borders of the discourse. That means, if he does not speak about the black, we are not supposed either to do that. And yet we shall speak about it.
After over thirty years spent in America, hypocrisy has become my second nature – natural and necessary. This seems to be best to be said when mentioning political correctness. Being unable to answer the vexed questions, it just removes them from the surface, in the hope that they will disappear if not mentioned.
Well, that’s not a lie; this is not the whole truth, though. Much has changed since “negroes” became “Afro-Americans”. Harlem is not considered slums any longer (Bill Clinton is renting an office there). Gradually, the average incomes of black and white families got equalized (another matter is that percent of the former is a much less figure). Nonetheless, I have chanced to visit churches and schools where white faces had not been seen for generations. Black and white people live in similar way, though differently, in America. Say, they work together, but take rest separately.
All that, however, is not what you can learn about from the newspapers that practice uncompromised racial daltonism, like all decent people do. Of course, there are also indecent ones. Once, many years ago, in the Northern Carolina, a local female, having learnt that we came from New York, asked with horror my son “how can you go to same school with ‘niggers’?”
I got so scared then that until today I have not told that story to anyone, for even someone else’s racism makes an Alaska-sized blot on one’s reputation. That’s a real shame in America when one makes a bad remark about the black, putting one’s foot in it. I just don’t know what to compare that with – maybe getting drunk at a wedding or having lunch with Zhirinovsky. Concealing their worst feelings even from themselves, Americans would never say what they really think to anyone, starting from sociologists. Trying to seem better than one is, everyone lies to the latter, like crazy. According to the polls, four out of five Americans say they take dietary beer, while only 20% buy it in reality.
This is where the main obstacle for Barack Obama is on his way to the White House. In politics, this phenomenon is called “Bradley’s factor”, after the first lord-mayor of Chicago. Having an advantage of 6% over his rival, yet he lost the elections to him, because the electors did not do what they had promised.
Two weeks before the elections, Obama is also in the lead in all the polls, and that’s about 6% again. The situation plays on his side: nine Americans out of ten consider it that the country is going in the wrong direction being led by the Republican-held White House. The Bush’s rating is just slightly higher than that by Nixon before he was on the brink of being subject to impeachment. It may seem that the candidate from the Democratic Party, the one who has won in all the debates, cannot lose the elections. Not only does Obama promise, he also mentions in details all the changes to come. And he looks like the president and his behavior is quite confident. And yet the sophisticated analysis by the Stanford University has shown that in case Obama were a white man, then more electors would give their votes to him, just same 6 percent.
This is not about strong racists who would support the black candidate by no means. Their share is about 10% and it’s been half a century that they do not vote for Democrats. However, 50% out of the rest Americans (black and white) are guided by unconscious, uncontrollable and disinterested racism that leaves just a subtle taste of mistrust instead of feeling of guilty.
I know that because I myself belong to that number. I am not daunted with Obama’s racial belonging till the moment he begins to use it. And this used to happen. The nice and smart Michelle Obama used to watch that profitable contracts were given to the discriminated minorities, and for that she had an official salary of $300,000 per year. Obama himself used to conduct academic workshops, explaining to law graduates how to detect discrimination and struggle with it. There was no sin in the fact that the prospective presidential couple struggled for historical justice to be done, and yet it leaves some doubts.
I am daunted when race, descent, faith, nationality or sexual orientation becomes a profession. Probably, it’s because I have often seen professional Jews, professional Russians, professional Christians, also homosexual poets that always wrote about the same. Because I have grown up in the country where the class consciousness substituted the personal one, I do not like it when a person expresses oneself through any group…
“This is how the unconscious racism works” tells me my politically correct another voice. “You rationalize prejudices so that to find the reason for voting for the candidate of your skin color”.
Well, I am not sure about that either. Especially after I saw at a recent meeting of McCain’s supporters an elderly lady, dressed in red (the color of the Republicans), approach him and, bending to him confidently, say “Senator, how can I trust Obama? He is an Arab!”
“No, Ma’am” responded McCain, shining with nobility. “Obama is no Arab. On the contrary, he is a decent family man”.
“Oh Lord, what nonsense he is talking!” I thought to myself and postponed my final choice to the first Tuesday after the first Monday.