Here's this week's print column, which takes a look at the isee of race in the Democratic race, as well as in our society.
The race to the Pennsylvania primary continues unabated. In a manner of speaking.
I refer not to the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Oh, it’s not going away. In fact, given the record numbers of people moved to either register to vote or change their registration to take part in the Democratic primary come April 22, I’d say this race isn’t going to cool off anytime soon.
I am referring to the other race. The one nobody likes to talk about, despite the fact that it hangs over this election season like a shroud. It is the elephant in the room that no one notices. It is the festering sore that afflicts out society.
Here’s some breaking news for you: The Democratic Party is poised to make history. Or, in the case of Pennsylvania, some more history.
The Democratic rolls in the state soared over the 4 million mark by last Monday’s deadline. It’s the first time any party has shattered that plateau.
More importantly, when we go to the polls a month from now, we will become a crucial cog that will see, for the first time, a major party nominate either a woman or an African American to be president of the United States.
I doubt it has escaped your notice that Barack Obama is of mixed race — the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.
It has been the unspoken aspect of Obama’s campaign for the White House. In a perfect world, it would remain that way. Actually, it never would have come up in the first place.
Guess what? We don’t live in a perfect world. Not even close.
It was only a matter of time before the uncomfortable whispers grew into shouts.
The platform wasn’t provided by Obama, but by his minister. Videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright surfaced in which Obama’s pastor was captured spouting a variety of anti-American rhetoric, professing that instead of “God bless America,” “God damn America” for its treatment of minorities in the judicial system. He intimated that the United States had brought the 9/11 attacks on itself, and that we had purposely delivered the AIDS epidemic to the continent of Africa.
It was powerful, hateful stuff. And all of it centered on race. None of it was uttered by Obama, but it was his head being sought on the chopping block by an outraged citizenry.
Our national scab once again had been picked open, and was oozing the discomfort and acrimony that has framed race relations in this country for generations.
Obama quickly denounced Wright’s statements, saying they have no place in America today.
It did not satisfy his detractors; they demanded more. They wanted to know what Obama knew and when he knew it, and why he did not move to disassociate himself from the man voicing such venomous thoughts. They wanted to know how Obama could possibly sit in that church for 20 years and not be moved to prove Wright wrong.
Finally, Obama did just that. And much more.
Obama did something that almost no one in this country does. He approached a bank of microphones, fittingly at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our freedoms, and spoke openly about the single issue that still endangers those ideals.
For the most part, we talk about race only in comfortable settings. When all the faces look just like ours. When we know we are among friends, or at least those who will not raise a voice in protest.
That’s not what Obama had in mind. He wanted to have another conversation. He wanted to talk openly, plainly, passionately about race. It’s a conversation this country direly needs to have. Simply put, it’s a conversation most of us avoid, unless we can have it in a familiar setting.
Race is not a comfortable topic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I believe the nation owes Obama a debt of gratitude for opening a door too many us would rather keep closed.
This comes from a guy who is not in the Obama camp. The truth is, I don’t know whom I am backing in the presidential race, other than the belief that whoever heads to Pennsylvania Avenue will be an improvement on the current occupant.
Ironically, in the days after Obama’s address, while the nation parsed his words attacked in some camps, praised in others, I found another reason to like the guy.
Obama was interviewed on a Philadelphia radio station. KYW maybe, where we tune in three, four times a day? Uh, no. The Big Talker? Not yet, although he did do an interview with Michael Smerconish last week. But in the days immediately after his speech, these headlines were not yet “redefined.”
Instead, Obama appeared on 610 WIP, the sports-crazed “Animal House” inhabited by Angelo Cataldi and the Morning Team.
I know how he feels. The truth is when my eyes open each morning, the first thing I do is flip on the radio, tuned to KYW. I want an update on what’s happened overnight. But when I get into the car, it’s usually WIP that you’ll find on the radio. What can I say, I’m a sports nut. I spend the rest of the day punching wildly back and forth between 610, 1060 and 1210.
It says something to me that Obama appeared on a sports talk station. What happened during — and more importantly after — tells me something else. It tells me we aren’t nearly done with this race thing; that we’ve only just begun to pick at this scab.
In the interview, Obama referred to comments he made about his grandmother, defending her as not holding racist thoughts, but that she was “a typical white woman.”
Once again the detractors believed they had struck gold. You could almost feel the electricity surge through the region. The phone lines lit up to castigate Obama’s comments, to decipher what he meant and what would happen should a white candidate make a similar reference to “a typical black person.”
In doing so, it managed to be only another “typical” discussion about race in America.
It’s one we direly need to have, and it’s one I’m glad Obama’s candidacy is providing.
It’s the sore that will not heal. Now we can all go back to picking at the scab.
Philip E. Heron is editor of the Daily Times. Call him at (610) 622-8818. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To visit his daily blog, the Heron’s Nest, go to www3.allaroundphilly.com/blogs/delcotimes/philh/blog.html.