Election Day

Today is a big day here in Georgia for liberals. I don’t think conservative folks really think there is much of a chance of their candidates, McCain and Palin, makin it into the White House but Obama supporters seem upbeat. And, according to the polls, for good reason. By almost every polling indication it seems that McCain needs at least a 5% swing between him and Obama in order to win. I’m not a big fan of polls as they seem designed to coerce opinion rather than reflect it. But they are usually pretty accurate. No poll being run on McCain-Obama has a 5% margin of error so a McCain victory seems highly unlikely.

I called and emailed a few friends about what they were doing this evening while the results from the day came in. To be specific, I asked them what they were doing/where they were going to watch the circus. Down to the individual, my Black friends laughed and offered fun suggestions, my white friends got upset, calling me a nihilist and cynical. I was confused after receiving the first response like this from a white friend. After the second one, I was up to speed and remembering something I’d somehow forgotten over the past couple days, the racial realities of this election. The reactions to my calls and emails reminded me that white folks, white liberals or as many of my white friends refer to themselves, progressives, this election represents a lot more than even the ‘change’ promised by the Obama campaign. For them, this election represents racial redemption and a deep, deep affirmation of their liberal perspective. A perspective that so fiercely (desperately?) wants to believe what it tells itself and others. That this system works. Specifically around the notion of racial progress. They want to believe that the system of the United States is self-correcting. They want to believe this because of two things. One, they understand that things are fucked up and have been for a long time. They understand that they, as whites, benefit from this fucked up situation. So for the sake of their consciousness and the maintanence of their psyches, they need for this situation to be altered. That’s the first foundational pillar of their intense need to believe that they live in a self-correcting system in which a person from a historically oppressed group can rise to the ‘highest office in the land’. The second reason my white friends are so irrational about this election is connected to the first reason but different. They want, no, they need an alteration of the injustice they perceive in the society but the problem comes in that they don’t want to actually stand up and do much about it. They want it to happen but they don’t want to have to do it. Building a movement requires work. Years, decades of work. A campaign requires a headquarters, 18 months and a lot of money from Wall Street. Reforms can be won and lost. Revolution of the system is what is needed. A movement can force fundamental change in power relations, a revolution. But, and of course, this is terribly difficult, sacrificing work that is also extremely rewarding. A campaign is easier but also can’t bring about revolutionary change.

The promise of Obama represents a psychic relief for my white friends (and some of my Black friends but obviously in a totally different way), and for the white population generally, that they need desperately. Thinking about this when the Obama campaign became popular last year, I knew he would eventually be the POTUS. But having insulated myself from TV and the noise of the campaign generally, I forgot what I should expect when talking to my white friends about this election.

While I can’t take, Obama and this election seriously, my white friends can’t do anything but take it completely seriously. And they can’t but take my dismissal of it as the most foolhardy insult imaginable.  I just hope that a few hours from now, when the Obama campaign is officially concluded, that I can have my white friends back. Hopefully for good.

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