Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pride and Prejudice?

I had lunch with a friend recently. Not surpisingly, the presidential election came up. Now, I was surprised to hear that she's voting for Obama. She's a staunch, Christian conservative, goes to an evangelical church and believes in a strict, if not literal, interpretation of the bible. Despite the wide difference in our beliefs, we have remained friends. Naturally, I'm happy she's voting for Obama, but I was unprepared for what she said next.

"Of course, if he wins, the blacks are going to be impossible."

"What do you mean?" I ask. "Shouldn't they be excited by the first black president?"

"Well, yeah. But you should see how they're acting downstairs." By "they", she means the predominantly minority work force that makes up what the hospital calls "ancillary personel": the housekeepers, transporters, kitchen staff, etc. I try to pin her down but she's evasive. She didn't come right out and use the "uppity" word, but she might as well have. Let's be clear. We haven't had an African-American president in 232 years, the entire history, of our country. Recently, some news program interviewed people in Montana on why they were voting for McCain/Palin. Their response, "Because Sarah Palin looks like us." The not-so-subtle subtext: Senator Obama doesn't look like us. He doesn't look like the people in our family, in our town, in our schools and in our churches. What is going on here? It's almost 143 years since the 13th amendment was ratified and stiil we have people doing the electoral equivalent of locking their doors when they drive through a black neighborhood.

So what's wrong with African-Americans being undeniably proud of Obama? Our friendship has withstood a difference in age and religious beliefs, but I don't think it can survive her prejudice.

All the other slurs, against liberals in general and Obama in particular, start with the "they're not like us" argument. Sarah Palin visited North Carolina and said how she likes being in such a Pro-American part of the country. Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann (nee McCarthy) wants Congress to be scrutinized for those who may hold "un-American views." A Republican women's group sent out a mailing with a picture of Obama, along with watermellon and fried chicken, on a food stamp. Then were surprised when people thought that was racist. You can go online and find Obama sock monkey dolls. Us versus Them. Brown eyes versus Blue. Liberal versus Conservative. Gay versus Straight. Black versus White. Make "those people" sound scary enough and soon people will be believing that "they" sacrifice babies in the moonlight. That analogy isn't as farfetched as you may think-there are those who remain obstinant in their belief that Mr. Obama is a closet muslim because his middle name is Hussein and that he "pals around" with terrorists because he once served on a board with William Ayers. I could write whole articles on those myths alone.

When you start dividing people up into categories, it's hard to stop. It reminds me of the joke that there are two kinds of people: those who think that there are two kinds of people and those who know better. More important than the fact that judging people is intrinsically wrong, it stops dialogue dead in its tracks. How can you have a meaningful discussion on race, abortion, the environment or anything when one side is villifying the other? Furthermore, when you segregate off a section of society as being bad, scary and different, it then becomes easy to not only stop caring about them, but it becomes justifiable to hurt them. Political opponents will continue to sling mud at each other, but when you try and drum up your camp to actively hate the "other", you risk putting their lives in danger. John McCain tried to say that Obama was still a good person and he was boo'd by his own supporters. Yes, I know that not all Republicans are prejudiced, but some are wound up with hatred and that's frightening.

There is always someone who is going to be not like you. Remove all the people of color, people with religious differences, ideological differences, folks who don't talk and dress like you do, your neighbor down the street who acts weird and your son who is gay and who do have left? Nobody. You're alone. It's one thing to to be with people you have things in common with, but when it comes to compassion, forgiveness and kindness (all Christian values, I think?), you either have it for everyone or the reality is that you have it for no one.