“I have a feeling that in this country where we’re at today in our thinking, it’s going to be harder to elect a woman 
than to elect a black man”.  — Former Senator and Presidential Candidate George McGovern

 

Oh, here we go again! Unlike Geraldine Ferraro who made the same assertion a couple of weeks ago, McGovern’s demeanor was conciliatory, his tone was free of righteous indignation, and he also expressed self-doubt. Regardless of differing deliveries, do we really need to rehash the absurdity of these statements every time some 70+ year old political blast from the past opens their mouth? Unfortunately – “yes”. Why? Because this recent CBS poll shows that more (white) Americans agree with them than believe that a black candidate faces more political obstacles than a woman (full survey).

This “black political advantage” notion isn’t just a “Ferraro problem”, isn’t just a “McGovern problem”… it is a “mass white denial problem”. The last time so many were so wrong on something so basic, poll data came out that a majority of Americans said “Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attacks”. And since we all know how that one what turned out, no stone should be left unturned in dispelling the myth of Obama’s great genetic fortune. A good place to start might be essay: “What Kind of Card is Race? The Absurdity and Consistency of White Denial” where author Tim Wise expounds on the historical track record of white mass opinion on the subject of race:

“what does it say about white rationality and white collective sanity, that in 1963–at a time when in retrospect all would agree racism was rampant in the US, and before the passage of modern civil rights legislation–nearly two-thirds of whites, when polled, said they believed blacks were treated the same as whites in their communities–almost the same number as say this now, some 40-plus years later?… What does it say… that in mid-August 1969, 44% of whites told a Newsweek/Gallup National Opinion Survey that blacks had a better chance than they did to get a good paying job–two times as many as said they would have a worse chance?…In other words, even when racism was, by virtually all accounts (looking backward in time), institutionalized, white folks were convinced there was no real problem. Indeed, even 40 years ago, whites were more likely to think that blacks had better opportunities, than to believe the opposite (and obviously accurate) thing: namely, that whites were advantaged in every realm of American life.”

When looking through America’s rearview mirror, there is no time in history where white masses have got it right on “race”. Yet when it comes to diagnosing the current racial climate, we continue to imagine “sniper fire” where none exists, while ignoring the actual wars right before our very eyes (see educational and criminal justice systems). …Now fast forward to the 2008 presidential politics and throw in a twist of gender. Ferraro’s original statement and political observation that Obama “happens to be very lucky to be who he is” on account of his blackness has gained traction. Obama rightly called her words “patently absurd” and in a blistering rebuttal by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann the statement was called: “ugly in its overtones”; “laughable in its week grip of the facts”; and “moronic in the historical context”. His language was strong, so his words will be put to the test – in reverse order [2].

1) “Moronic in its Historical Context” – Reviewing the Past: Historically, there have been 44 elected (+ 20 unelected) first-time women Governors and Senators with 16 of 18 elected Senators winning at least one reelection term [3]. In contrast, there have been only 5 elected African-American Senators or Governors [4] post-Reconstruction and only one candidate (Ed Brooke) has ever served more than one term thus far. When factoring in re-election campaigns, history’s scorecard is even more profoundly one-sided as women hold a 60 – 4 election edge just since 1990. Prior to 1990 white women shared few statewide successes (non-inherited) while black men were virtually shut out.

2) “Laughable in its weak grip of the facts” – Reviewing the Present: In our most recent 2006 state-wide elections, 22 women ran as major candidates, and a record 13 women Senators (8) or Governors (5) were elected/re-elected. In head-to-head matchups with men women won 61% (11 of 18) contests. In contrast, Mass. Governor Deval Patrick was the only African-American male elected to statewide office as other candidates failed to cash in on the luck of their skin tone. Neither Democrat Kweisi Mfume nor Republican Michael Steele was able to beat Ben Cardin for Maryland Senator. Harold Ford was unable to parlay his blackness, resume, or long family political legacy into a victory. Other candidates like Ken Blackwell (Ohio) and popular former football player Lynn Swann lost in landslides. Current state-wide scorecard? 24 white women – 2 black men.

3) “Ugly in its Overtones – Reviewing the Insult”: Given the facts, the statement about Obama having a black advantage is – at the very least — profoundly and disturbingly ignorant of the racial political landscape. Obama bucks the odds, outworks, outsmarts, out-articulates, and out-navigates his political opponents against a stacked-deck, and his reward is to be told that he is holding all of the good cards. Talk about audacity! In the face of a mountain of objective data, the “ugly overtones” become crystal clear: “it is impossible to simply be less competent than a black man. There MUST be another reason…” And the search continues…

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Behind The “Lucky Black Man Delusion”:

It is too easy and unfair to write off the masses of people who believe that Obama is politically “lucky” as merely rooted in bigotry or political motivation. Believing in “The Lucky Black Man Delusion” often goes a bit deeper than that.

A. Black Cherry Picking: Those who agree with Ferraro/McGovern often employ of an incredibly flawed logic of “selective bias” or in this case – “black cherry picking”. Some people like to accurately cite where Obama’s “blackness” may serve him as an asset or how some voters like “the concept” of Obama because: of the historical precedence of a black man becoming President; that his candidacy is appealing because it will empower youth of all races to dream big; or that his mixed-race background is metaphorical for bringing our country together. I, for one, will readily admit that his race – mixed with his heightened sense of diplomacy and discernment – will play a factor in reducing the global hatred and subsequent terrorism against our country on the very day of his election. So critics are absolutely correct that in certain instances, race can play a positive political role.

…And so does gender. Many of the factors just listed also apply to Ms. Clinton. Not only that, had any man come on the verge of tears the day before the New Hampshire primary, it would have likely terminated their candidacy instead of save it. Now does that singular moment mean that women have an advantage in running for office over white men? Of course not! Such a conclusion is as “patently absurd” as Ferraro/McGovern’s statements. Women (vs. white men) may have a handful of selective advantages, but that is offset by far greater disadvantages beginning with the dangerous and sexist stereotype that women cannot be effective leaders.

B. Racial Barrier Amnesia: If white women have 100 political disadvantages to contend with, black men have 1000. They have to: 1) run a “cleaner” campaign than their opponents; 2) massage “white fears” at every conceivable turn while white candidates can inflame black fears and still win; 2) “transcend race” when no such “transcendence” is ever a requirement for white candidates; 3) be more eloquent speakers — if not orators. (imagine how far a black candidate as dry as John Kerry or Al Gore or as bumbling as George Bush might get); 4) Answer for the words of their pastor while white candidates can cozy up to the most the most radical white preachers without media, political, or voter retribution; 5) put your entire campaign on the line with historic speeches while walking across a political 3rd rail that no other candidate would be requested to make; 5B) sit by silently while your white counterparts will never have to bridge social national gaps on such hot-button subjects like “homosexuality” or “Islam in America” because “more answers are needed”; 6) Be judged, evaluated, and dissected by a cable news media contingent where not one single cable host in America [6] looks like you. This list could go on and on.

C. “The Privilege Delusion”: The formula is simpler than the Pythagorean Theorem. A2 (overstate the few assets) + B2 (ignore mountain of barriers) = C2 (”The Privilege Delusion”). Bigots will be bigots, but it is “the privilege delusion” that allows “the good people” of privilege to silently perpetuate and co-sign racism, sexism, homophobia, and economic exploitation. And therein lies the insidious nature of “privilege”: those who have it — whatever the privilege — are often so comfortable in its protective warmth that they often do not even recognize their blanket’s existence. And when the delusion reaches its most pathological apex, advantages become disadvantages, David becomes Goliath, and Obama becomes “lucky”.

If Chris Paul Were Running for President:

If politics were sports, and race was treated like any other topic, this conversation would be a whole lot simpler. The first athlete that comes to mind when I think of Barack Obama is Chris Paul – the brilliant point guard for the New Orleans Hornets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). In a world populated with household names like Shaq, Kobe, and Lebron, it is Paul who has become “the skinny kid with the funny name” and has recently emerged as a fresh face on the NBA elite scene. Paul is barely six feet tall which might sound big to you, but not his colleagues. In a league of 450 players, there probably exist no more than 10 players who are shorter. Paul’s height provides him with a low center of gravity which helps him: shift direction with the ball faster than his opponents can react; split double-teams with greater ease; “knife his way” to the basket with less obstruction; create steals on defense by sneaking up on a pass, and get more favorable fouls calls than the big boys as he flops to the floor.

Of course, those select advantages are not the reason why Paul: dominates a league of giants, leads the NBA in assists and steals, and is one of four leading candidates for this year’s Most Valuable Player trophy (Kobe, Lebron, and KG) . It is because he can move quicker, elevate higher, and most importantly, out-think his opponents. Should he win the MVP race over his more established rivals who stand at 6′6″, 6′8″, and 6′11″, he will be only the 2nd player in NBA history that small to win the award (Allen Iverson). So what is the difference between Barack Obama and Chris Paul in their respective races?

It is that when ALL thing are considered, no other player, no coach, no general manager, no owner, no commentator, no writer, no TV sports pundit, no fan, and certainly no public opinion poll would ever entertain the notion…

that Chris Paul is lucky to be short.

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[1] This post by Raving Black Lunatic shows that in 2006 Ferraro agreed that white women had an easier road.

[2] only elected office is focused on because it indicates the ability to democratically win statewide popular vote).

[3] Carol Moseley-Braun — history’s only African-American woman Senator– is one of only two exceptions. Paula Hawkins from Florida is the only other one-term Senator who failed at reelection. Oregon’s Maurine Brown Neuberger chose not to run in 1966, and the four women Senators elected after 2001 are not eligible yet for reelection.

[4] New York Governor David Patterson who just recently assumed office due to Elliot Spitzer’s resignation is not included here because he was not elected.

[5] In total 22 women ran for office as major candidates in 2006 including two all-women races. Women won 11 of the 18 of the total head-to-head matchups.

[6] This Media Matters study of cable hosts was conducted last year where all 36 hosts were white and only 6 were women. To my knowledge there still hasn’t been one African-American host