Saturday, October 21, 2017
A View from the South
By Professor B. Flanagan
Published September 18, 2008

Since Senator Barack Obama became a serious candidate for the American Presidency, I have traveled to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, Trinidad, and Brazil, staying at least a week in each country, and as many as three in some.

From the thousands of people speaking to me in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America, the most often asked question was about Senator Obama's Presidential chances.

In full disclosure, I admit that in the early primary days I signed on as a supporter of Senator Hilary Clinton. I did not do so, because she and I are women. I have scant evidence that women are any better at making their countries or the world a better place than men-so no, gender did not guide my choice.

I thought then that she had a better chance of winning the nomination than the Senator from Illinois about whom I, or America, knew little.

I felt, moreover, that the America I know, which has, at its heart, not changed as much as many people would like to believe, would not vote for a man with dark skin.

Though originally not from this country, I have lived all over the US, both up south and down south. For the last 12 years I have been living in what is called "The New South."

It is a place just below the Mason-Dixon line and 143 years removed from the "War of Northern Aggression." It's a land as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines, but where the trees still bear strange fruit, as most recently seen in Jena, La.

The New South has museums which present exhibits about the Black American Male, but it is a place where the Stars and Bars, the Confederate Battle Flag, is portrayed as a symbol of heritage by those wishing to Whitewash their heritage of hatred.

Its capital is Atlanta, a mecca for educated Black people, but as my older son discovered, venture too far outside I-285, and you can find yourself back in the Old South, lickety-split.

But it's on the weekends, NASCAR Saturdays with engines roaring and rebel flags flying, and Sunday mornings, with church bells ringing, that, if you have the right kind of ears, the Old South resonates, revealing what Faulkner said, that "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."

It's an old and wary dance we do around each other down here in the South, for we know that just as the great grand sons and daughters of the enslaved are still here, the great grand sons and daughters of those who enslaved us, and those who profited from the system because of their color, are here as well.

After Iowa, after I saw the possibility of a change in America, I signed on as an Obama supporter, put my sticker, Women for Obama on my car, and sent in my financial contribution.

Still, I was a slow believer. In late February, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, I gave a talk on American politics and spoke about the primary race. At the end, when members of the audience asked me about Senator Obama's chances at the Presidency, I said I was hoping for his success, but knew that my tone did not carry notes of optimism.

The audience was disappointed. Like so many millions of Americans, they want to believe that what our government preaches abroad about democracy, translates, on our shores, into equal opportunities for all, even the opportunity to be the President.

It was the same with audiences in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil, where, with a kind of desperation that made me uneasy at times because it illustrated how very much the world depends on us, and looks to us for leadership, people told me, in no uncertain words, how very much they hoped that Barack Obama would win.

I wanted to say yes, he can; yes, I believe he will.

I could not say it then, and I cannot say it now. Weeks after Senator Obama earned the Democratic Party's nomination, I still cannot say yes, he can.

It is not because, since the Republican National Convention, the McCain signs have appeared on the lawns of my neighbors.

It is not because I don't know that millions of White Americans say they will vote for Senator Obama, and more so, have sent in their checks to prove their commitment.

It is not because too many Americans have grown apathetic about politics, or simply never cared because the conditions of their lives do not change regardless of who sits in the Oval office.

It is not because millions of Americans, some of whom may very well vote for Senator Obama, are not registered to vote, and will not be registered by election day.

It is simply because when I look at America from inside the South, and from beyond its borders, I see a country that reeks with the stench of fear, even hate.

We exist in the same space, but they want the space to be different. And they want us to know our place. As Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who represents portions of Atlanta's suburbs said recently, Senator Obama and his wife Michelle are too "uppity."

Yes, some Whites may smile at us in the supermarkets. Their children may buy more rap and hip-hop music than Black Americans.

Some of them will tell us that they have Black friends, coworkers with whom they mingle. None of this runs so deep, however, that they can accept a Black man as President. He would be, simply, out of place.

It is why they do not like living next to us, going to the same schools as our children, or sitting in the same pews on Sunday.

 To accept that he could be the President would be to negate the attitudes they have believed and expressed about Black Americans for generations: that we are a lesser people. The unwrapping of that falsehood is not something most White Americans are willing or prepared to do. The calisthenics would be too disruptive to their very souls. And yet, it is what is required for real change to be spread upon the land.

It was a faith in the general goodness of the American people that brought me to this country 41 years ago at the height of the modern Civil Rights struggle.

In spite of numerous instances of racial victimization, even when I lived in nightly fear that my sons would be the victims of police brutality, I stayed.

But I do not believe that the good that is embedded in this country, the desire for a better America, or an improvement of our standing in the world will lead most White American voters to vote Obama in November.

I hope I am wrong.


Categories: Op-Ed

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