Scrupuli

blunt essays with sharp points

Obama Because He Is Black

by Scrvpvlvs
Nov 4, 2008 3:05 PM–I voted this morning to make Sen. Barack Hussein Obama our next President. I have been endorsing him because:

He is not white.

He has an “Arab sounding” name.

He is otherwise qualified to serve as President.

I want to write today about racism. And if Sen. Obama had not won a very close primary race, I would have endorsed Sen. Clinton because she is a woman. So I want to write about sexism, too—about prejudice.

People keep telling me that age, ethnicity, religion, parentage, sex, and sexual preference are not what qualify someone to be President, therefore I should not consider them.

I have been told that voting for Sen. Clinton or Gov. Palin as women is sexist (as much as voting against them as women would be). That voting for Sen. Obama as a black is racist. That voting against Sen. McCain as a senior is ageist.

In short, I have been told that I should vote without prejudice. But I cannot, and pretty much nobody else can.

Almost all people have prejudice and believe that they don’t. America prefers whites, men, Protestants, straights, and tall, pretty, young people. We prefer them in daily, practical ways that matter: acts of friendship, trust, pay, and performance evaluation. And we act this way not realizing that we do. These facts have been so well proven that even a habitual skeptic like myself cannot really doubt it.

There is a test for automatic bias, developed at Harvard, called the Implicit Association Test. You can go to <https://implicit.harvard.edu/> and measure your own automatic bias for race, skin lightness, sex, sexual preference, age, weight, and political party. Even if you are black, your test will probably show an automatic bias for whites, and if so, the smart money says you have been giving whites preferential treatment, whether or not you believe it.

But it has also been proven that we are not born with these biases. We take them from our culture, and we can relearn them pretty easily once we know the trick. You cannot beat the Harvard race test by mere will power or wishful thinking. Even the authors of the test cannot beat it that way. But they learned, it turns out, that you can beat the race test by thinking about black heroes—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, or Olympic athletes—black people who achieved great things.

Here is another example. The proportion of women hired to play in orchestras is steadily rising. It was 10% in the 1970’s, and more than 35% in the 1990’s. The cause was a screen put up between the judges and the performer during the audition. Judges no longer knew if women were auditioning. But the screen itself is responsible for only a third of the difference. The other two thirds is due to a change in bias. The experience enlightened judges. Now, when they audition women, they are not made deaf by their bias. They can see greatness.

There is no screen hiding the candidates from us. We cannot pretend we do not know that Sen. Obama is black, Sen. Clinton is a woman, and Sen. McCain is a senior. It is too late. Our biases are already in play. But like the orchestra judges, our biases are shifting. Every time we gain a new hero who contradicts our culture’s automatic bias, we change. Every time a schoolteacher introduces a new generation to one of these heroes, we change.

A President is more than an executive officer and a diplomat. A President is a hero.

So, thanks to courageous activists who blazed a trail, and thanks to our teachers who preserved it for us, we are at the point of recognizing a new hero. A hero who will challenge our false implicit biases about people with dark skin and “Arab sounding” names. Who will help us see more clearly the greatness of all people. Who will help us to act more like we mean it when we say that we are created equal.

I am grateful for my small role in this as a voter, but I do not take any credit. It was the American thing to do.

I just wish he weren’t a lawyer.

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