Countless times we have heard that having Obama in the White House gives hope to other blacks, particularly black children. They can see that it is possible for a black person to reach the highest levels of success in America. He is the Role Model in Chief.
What we are seeing in the Republican presidential primaries is that Obama is also the supreme irritant to some white people who can no longer find comfort in the fact that no matter how bad their lives are, they are still doing better than black people. Every time they see Obama sauntering around in his custom-tailored suits, ushered into and out of chauffeur-driven limousines, helicopters, and airplanes that are just for him, and having doors held open for him by whites, they are reminded that their children can no longer count on having a built-in advantage in life.
Not all Republicans are acting out of such racist motivations. But we are hearing and reading things said about Obama that are similar to what we heard in the days when George Wallace was cheerleading a rebuttal to the ideal of inter-racial progress. So similar, it is hard to deny that racism is part of what is motivating some people to back some of the Republican candidates who are still, amazingly, considered viable.
In recent months, we have seen the re-emergence of the welfare queen stereotype, as regressives rail against entitlement programs. We are hearing once again about people who depend on government benefits but who possess luxuries – these days the luxuries are cell-phones, computers, and flat-screen televisions. The historical racist roots of these complaints is so clear that it is laughable that the people who are doing the complaining deny that they have any racial prejudices. If these folks aren't racist, they sure are ignorant.
The fact that Obama is not typical of black people in the U.S. doesn't appease the racists. They don't look at the statistics that show that the disparity between the incomes of blacks and whites is increasing. They don't look at the continuing inferiority in the education, housing, and health care experienced by blacks as a group. No, they focus on one man in the White House, just as blacks who are looking for hope focus on that same man and see what they are expecting to see.
This is not to say that all of these people will vote Republican in the general election. Some of them may actually vote for Obama if they have a reason to. If, for example, the Democrats are supporting veterans' benefits and the Republicans are promising to cut those benefits because they are entitlements, some racist white veterans may vote for Obama.
If Obama wins, these people won't give up their hatred of him, because he will still be a successful black person. They will be angry at the Republicans for not giving them a choice. And they will be angry at people who say that they are racist, because, in their minds, they aren't. They will say that they are just being honest about things. And in one sense they are right. The day after the election, they will still be disappointed with how their lives have turned out. An irritatingly successful black person will still be on their TV screens reminding them that in their own eyes, they have failed, and they will continue to complain about entitlement programs which give other races an unfair advantage over their own white race, not realizing that being white is the biggest entitlement program of them all.