After trouncing chief rival Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina Democratic primary, winner Barack Obama said the following: "The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich versus poor, young versus old, and it is not about black versus white."
"Race doesn't matter!" one supporter yelled out after Obama's victory speech.
But race does matter. So does region, religion, gender, and age. Who we are in this world has as much to do with things beyond our control as any deliberate choices we might make.
For example, being raised in the South makes one a Southerner, whether that person likes it or not, a fact most Southerners are made well aware of the moment they leave the South. Being raised Baptist, Catholic, or Jewish must have some effect on a person, or why else would some folks embrace their religious heritage passionately while others reject it? Women often pride themselves on being intelligent or sexy women, with the emphasis on their femininity, a biological reality they never chose yet nevertheless embrace. And many black men consider their race a badge of honor, a phenomenon that many white men can't understand, because they're, well — white men.
Human beings are not only the sum of the choices they make, but the multiple cultural and biological realities that are beyond their control. This has always been the case, and there is nothing inherently sinister in honestly recognizing who, or what, we are. But there are two extremes we should always be careful to avoid — first, to pretend that concepts like race, region, religion, and gender mean nothing, and second — to pretend that they mean everything.
Feminists who consider gender nothing more than a "social construct" prove themselves every bit as goofy as male chauvinists who believe women should stay barefoot and pregnant. Feminists who reject the notion that women naturally want to be mothers become angry that so many let babies get in the way of their careers. Chauvinists who reject the idea of women as anything other than nurturers become angry that so many let careers get in the way of making babies, not to mention making dinner. Both are extreme views that ignore common sense and experience.
The same goes for race. To deny a black man a job because of his race would be as absurd as giving a black man a job because of his race. Will the fact that he is black have something to do with what kind of person he might be? Absolutely. So will the fact that he is a man, what kind of family he comes from, his temperament, his work ethic, his education, not to mention his resume. Only a politically correct fool would ignore the fact that he was black. And only an ignorant fool would consider his race the end-all, be-all of his worth.
When Obama and his supporters make the case that "race doesn't matter," they are ignoring the fact that Obama himself would not be where he is if he wasn't black. Obama is undeniably charming and charismatic, but it is also obvious that his race has made him a unique and attractive candidate to many voters. Obama's political platform actually differs little from that of a Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, or even someone like Joe Biden, yet something still sets Obama apart — and it isn't simply personality or leadership skills.
When Bill Clinton attempted to use Obama's race against him in the primary, insinuating that Barack was little more than a Jesse Jackson-type figure that white Democrats would reject, Obama benefitted when the tactic backfired. Disgusted black and white voters turned out in droves to rebuke the Clintons and delivered Obama a massive South Carolina victory. Race matters, whether it helps or hurts. Just ask Obama — or Hillary Clinton.
If Obama truly becomes the conciliatory leader he now boasts of being, bringing Americans of different persuasions together toward a better unity, then it will be — in part — as a president of mixed-race ancestry that he accomplishes such a feat. It's hard to imagine a John McCain, a Mitt Romney, or even a Hillary Clinton seriously contemplating such an achievement, in part, because they are white. Being a white politician doesn't make racial conciliation impossible, but it does make it less possible. Race matters.
For good or ill, better or worse, race matters. A demonstrable fact shrewd politicians have always embraced — even as they deny it.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.