Obama Win Wouldn't End Racism -- but It Could Be Beginning of Its End

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

With less than a week until the presidential election, my emotions are going haywire.

There's utter amazement at the prospect of Barack Obama becoming president, the son of an African father and white mother from Kansas who seems divinely favored with temperament, talent and timing.

There is also apprehension over reports that blacks are being unjustly stricken from voter registration rolls across the country -- an unsavory reminder that election outcomes can be manipulated.

"If Obama loses, there will be great disappointment in black America unlike anything we have seen before," Roger Wilkins, professor emeritus of American history at George Mason University, told me recently. "We would be crushed and we would be walking around in circles on Wednesday morning."

To say the least.

On a more pleasant note, I'm awestruck that Obama now leads his Republican opponent, John McCain, by significant margins, even in some so-called red states. Some whites have cited this as proof that race is no longer a determining factor in the lives of black people.

On the other hand, I am reluctant to let down my guard against racial discrimination in everyday life. Am I being paranoid? Some of my closest friends are also wrangling with such conundrums.

"Let's say Obama gets elected, then what does that tell me about white people?" said one of them, a friend who is an educator in Atlanta. "It has to be one of three things: that my views about white people were wrong; that white people have changed; or that the conditions of the country are so frightening that they overwhelm the issue of race. I don't know how to answer that question but I just can't quite bring myself to believe that I'm wrong about white people."

Of course, some white people would call that racist. Then again, when it comes to race, blacks and whites have long held diametrically opposing views.

In November last year, for instance, the Pew Research Center released findings from a poll that showed that African Americans were more pessimistic about racial progress than any time since 1983. The vast majority of blacks believe racial discrimination is pervasive when applying for a job, renting an apartment or buying a house, eating at a restaurant or shopping. At the same time, a majority of whites say that blacks rarely face bias in such situations.

"So Obama wins, but that doesn't turn a switch that eradicates our whole national history and culture," Wilkins said, adding that many people will hold onto their racist beliefs.

By the same token, he said, there can be no doubt that profound changes are underway in America's racial landscape.

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