Racism, in forms both overt and sly, appears to be rearing its head higher than in the 2008 election campaign, when voters took the historic step of electing the first African-American president in the nation’s history.
Already there’s been some nasty stuff. Chief among them: an online video that went viral over the weekend, which shows a car sporting a bumper sticker that says “Don’t Re-N– in 2012” (fill in the blanks with half of the word that many African-Americans consider to be perhaps more inflammatory than any other). Some question whether the video depicts a real or a photo-shopped car and slogan, but the fact remains that the bumper sticker is the No. 1 best-seller at Stickatude.com, where it sells for $3. Stumpy’s Stickers, until the site went down over the weekend, also peddled the design, one with a caricature of a black man’s face missing a tooth and another with a picture of a chimpanzee that reads, “Obama 2012.”
These and other racially loaded campaign materials point to efforts to make an issue of President Obama’s race in this election, say analysts. Such calculations are born of frustration and even rage against both the president and his policies, which some perceive to have a pro-black slant, they say. While such virulent expressions may play to the racist sentiments of a subset of Americans, they are also likely to offend a vast many more voters and could have the opposite effect of what their creators intended.
“We are just beginning to see the glimmers” of the racial card being played in this campaign, says Randall McLaughlin, a civil rights lawyer and a professor at Pace Law School in White Plains, N.Y.
He cites a video produced by the late Andrew Breitbart, conservative blogger and provocateur. It included film footage of a young Barack Obama embracing Derrick Bell, then a Harvard law professor and an architect of critical race theory, which holds that racism remains deeply embedded in US laws and institutions despite – and even because of – efforts to redress it. Mr. Breitbart had promoted the video as a “bombshell,” suggesting that it proved Mr. Obama to be a “race warrior” intent on righting the wrongs of history on the backs of white Americans. But the Obama-Bell video fizzled, says Professor McLaughlin.
Still, such efforts are designed to turn up the heat on racial issues in this election, he says. “We are not in a post-racial America,” McLaughlin adds. His prediction: “This is going to be the nastiest election cycle we’ve ever seen.”
To Mark Naison, professor of African American studies and history at Fordham University in New York, the difference between the 2008 and 2012 campaigns is that the racial messages now are cruder and uglier.
There is “an added edge to it,” he says in an e-mail, “because Barack Obama is a powerful, incumbent President who is the odds-on favorite to win the 2012 election.” This gives what “racist expressions that do come out an air of desperation, rage, and quite frankly, startling self destructiveness,” he says.
Many conservatives, however, argue that Democrats cry racism to avoid discussing topics about which there are legitimate differences of opinion. “With all due respect, I find it offensive when people refer to Americans’ dislike of Obama as race-based,” says Klea Theoharis, a New York-based financial adviser who blogs about government waste on her website, taxdollarwastewatch.wordress.com. She supported GOP candidate Herman Cain. “It insults our intelligence. For those interested enough to care about the issues and America’s future, it has nothing to do with race, but policy,” she adds.