By Farooq A. Kperogi
Why the hate?
The overpowering but wholly groundless sentiment among many white conservatives, especially Southern white conservatives, that an Obama presidency would inaugurate the era of the irretrievable loss of their much cherished, time-honored racial privilege in both material and symbolic terms is a huge culprit in stirring sulfurous anti-Obama and negrophobic hysteria and hatred.
Additionally, many Southern whites have so scrupulously internalized notions of the innate inferiority of black people and the putative preordained superiority of white people that it would take the infliction of tremendous psychic violence for them to come to grips with the reality of a “nonwhite” person as their president, especially if that “nonwhite” person is part African.
For them, what happened on November 4 was a violently disruptive, defamiliarizing inversion of the settled racial hierarchies of their society, which signals an unsettling descent of their beloved country to the nadir of hopelessness and despair.
It is the ultimate price they are paying, they think, for allowing immigration into their country from nonwhite countries, for decriminalizing interracial marriage, for humanizing black people whom the U.S. constitution, through the prodding of Southern whites, had officially labeled “three-fifth” of a human being, that is subhuman, and for generally being too “liberal” over the last couple of decades.
Grant Griffin, a 46-year-old man from the state of Georgia here, summed up this sentiment in an interview with the Associated Press shortly after Obama’s election: "I believe our nation is ruined and has been for several decades, and the election of Obama is merely the culmination of the change,” he said. "If you had real change it would involve all the members of (Obama's) church being deported."
“Obama’s church” here is a codeword for culturally secure black people who want to transgress “their station.” And here is why. The Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the fiercely Afrocentric church Obama and his family attended for 20 years, describes itself as “unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.” The church’s Web site further states: “We are an African people, and remain true to our native land, the mother continent, the cradle of civilization.”
For many white conservatives, the “Obama church” is the symbolic representation of the kind of blackness they intensely loathe and want “deported.” However, it is this loathsome “blackness” that is now going to superintend over their affairs for at least the next four years. That, certainly, has got to hurt.
Another motive force that drives the unease with Obama’s emergence as president is the visceral, indwelling dread of change that lurks in all of us. For conservative whites, a “black” president is "the most profound change in the field of race this country has experienced since the Civil War," said William Ferris, senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina. "It's shaking the foundations on which the country has existed for centuries."
Joseph Funk, a former Secret Service agent-turned security consultant who was part of the private protection Obama put together for himself before he was officially given Secret Service protection, said security experts have known for ages that anything "new" can activate latent antagonism.
He said it is not so much Obama’s race that is responsible for the rise in threats not just against him but against black people in America, as I’ve shown in previous parts of this series; it is the unusualness of his emergence as president.
But that’s not all. Sarah Palin, the unbelievably dimwitted and hatemongering former running mate to McCain, also contributed immensely to the hate against Obama. According to the Newsweek, the U.S. Secret Service informed the Obama campaign that the number of threats against Obama sharply increased during the time in which the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies became noticeably angrier.
All that the embarrassingly ignorant VP candidate did the entire campaign was whip up raw, undiluted racist hate against Obama, by calling him a "terrorist sympathizer," a "socialist," a "communist," one who “pals around with terrorists,” "someone who doesn't see America as a force for good," and other dangerous, culturally loaded innuendos that prompted her supporters to openly call for Obama's assassination.
Even after Obama’s victory, when McCain was gracious in defeat, Palin told newsmen that she was still concerned about Obama’s past associations. It is to be expected that her supporters will still be filled with the desire to harm Obama.
But why do the haters also target innocent black people? "The principle is very simple," said BJ Gallagher, a sociologist and co-author of the book A Peacock in the Land of Penguins. "If I can't hurt the person I'm angry at, then I'll vent my anger on a substitute, i.e., someone of the same race."
"We saw the same thing happen after the 9-11 attacks, as a wave of anti-Muslim violence swept the country. We saw it happen after the Rodney King verdict, when Los Angeles blacks erupted in rage at the injustice perpetrated by 'the white man.'"
Not as bad as it seems
After reading this litany of race hate that Obama’s election has provoked, it is easy to come away with the impression that white people are having a “buyer’s remorse” after electing Obama and can’t wait to murder him at the slightest opportunity. This is far from the case.
The truth is that a vast majority of white people are comfortable with, even excited about, Obama taking over the reins of government. It is only a minority of insular, xenophobic white people who mostly live in rural areas of Southern United States that hasn’t come to terms with the momentous change that has taken place in their country.
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on December 11, over 70 percent of Americans are confident in Obama's ability to govern and unify the country, “with many who didn't vote for him now seeing him in a positive light.”
The poll also indicates that the nation is more unified around Obama than it was for either Bill Clinton in 1992 or George W. Bush in 2000.
Pundits predict that the historically overwhelming support Obama currently enjoys across the country will give him a longer-than-typical honeymoon.
Superstition about senators who become presidents
Yet another factor fueling concerns about Obama’s safety is the eerie historical fact that all standing U.S. senators who became presidents were murdered in their first terms.
In America’s entire political history, only two serving senators ever got elected as president. Obama is the third.
The first standing senator to be elected president, Warren Harding, died of poisoning in 1923, apparently with the connivance of his own wife on whom he was known to be cheating. The second sitting senator to be elected president was John F. Kennedy. He was assassinated in 1963.
If Obama survives his first term (I hope and pray he does), he would make history as the only sitting U.S. senator who became president without dying in office.
And Obama has made history all his life. For instance, nobody gave him a chance against the redoubtable Clinton machine during the Democratic primaries. And certainly not many thought he would become president of America.
A few years ago, while a part-time senior lecturer in law at the University of Chicago, Obama once told his students that he could one day become America’s president. According to the New York Times, this elicited a loud guffaw from his students.
And as a 5-year-old boy in Hawaii, Obama also once wrote an essay titled, “I want to Become President,” according to Fermina Katarina Sinaga, Obama’s primary school teacher. She said Obama’s essay was a response to her assignment to the class to write an essay titled, “My Dream: What I Want to be in the Future.”
The Hillary Clinton campaign tried to use this information against Obama in 2007—to show that his run for president was not actuated by a patriotic zeal but by a childhood ambition, by a journey of self-discovery. But it backfired on Hillary. The media dismissed the attack as childish.
So we are talking about a man of destiny here, a man who has perpetually defied odds. He may very well prove skeptics wrong again. Nonetheless, there is ever-present reason to be worried for his safety.