Friday, June 06, 2008


In the spirit of enjoying these historical times--at least through the weekend--a question has come to mind as I've read the good comments and reactions to my previous post.

A lot of the folks leaving comments, and folks I've seen contributing elsewhere, have generally had two reactions: (1) Obama's bad for the country, and (2) I'm not really pleased with McCain. There's a little bit of a "better of two evils" thing going on for some people. And many people are quick to point out that skin color shouldn't be the deciding factor, but character and a host of other considerations. Amen to that. There's a kind of lament over the fact that many African-Americans will vote for Obama because he is black, making skin color and our social definition of "race" the decisive issue.

Now viewed from the vantage point of many African-Americans, the issue becomes, "How can I not vote for Obama; we may never get this chance again. He's the only African-American in this race and in the history of the country."

One way this election is different for blacks and whites and Hispanics and Asians, etc. is that whites have always had a choice between at least two white candidates, and at times three. There's been a field of white people to choose from. In contrast, this is the first time ethnic minorities have ever had opportunity to choose a non-white. And there's no field to choose from, there's just one candidate. So, there's a certain sense in which some African-Americans and many, many other Americans feel compelled to cast a vote for Obama.

Here's the question I'm gonna ponder a while. WWBD? "What would black people do if there were two black candidates running for president? How would African-Americans respond if there were more choice with substantive differences?"

As long as we're daydreaming about a potential new future, what do you think?


Hayden said...


I, being white, hear what you are saying my brother in Adam and most importantly in Christ. BUT is it wise to frame the discussion this way. Wouldn't it transcend this category of race if we pointed out character over race?

I come from a neighborhood that was predominately black and scratch my head with this whole Obama-mania. I know from the place I used to roll, Barak would not have been considered 'black enough' because of being 1/2 white and 1/2 black. I know that is insane and I repudiate this thinking completely, but don't you agree in some circles this is true?

Thabiti, my problem with all of this is that this is the first time this has happened in our history as a young country but that does not mean that it will be the last. Does it? Then why settle for someone whose positions many black Christians and ministers would repudiate if they were coming from the mouth of a man that is white?

As to your question, which candidate would those who are black choose if they had a legitimate choice between two candidates who were black? I believe they would choose the one that most reflects their values and core beliefs.

My question to all those who are black and thinking they have to vote for Mt Obama is this, "Does he reflect your values and concerns?"

I would repudiate anyone in my congregation that would choose a president based on his ethnic background. If someone came to me and said that they were going to vote for MacCain because he was a white war veteran I would be incensed! That would be racist. Are we going to do the same here if that is the predominate reason that someone can come up with to vote for Mr. Obama?

KG said...

The obvious answer should be that they would vote strictly on policy.

You do well to point out history. Many white people fail to understand the feelings of people not like them. This showed itself in your post below. You asked people to rejoice "for a weekend" about the historical significance of his race, and all some people wanted to talk about was abortion.

Many have never thought about what it would be like to never have a candidate available who looks like you. Many fail to realize the obvious appeal of someone who in some way "understands" their experiences.

Thank you for actively engaging these issues.

blbartlett said...


This is a thoughtful question.

It seems to me that, at least for the current time, the political outlook for much of the African American population is formed by the liberation theology practiced (whether explicitely or implicitely) in the churches they tend to grow up in.

This theology tends to drop people, especially political leaders, into "oppressor/oppressed" categories. My sense is that the groups who view themselves in these "oppressed" categories have a tendency to vote for those political leaders who affirm their status as an oppressed party and are willing to extend special benefits to them.

Liberal political candidates tend to affirm the "oppressed" status of various minority groups, so they tend to gain support from those groups too. For that reason, I imagine there is still a long way to go (in terms of cultural and theological changes in the black community) before African-Americans support conservative African-American candidates.

This is most clearly seen in the way many current black conservatives are treated. People like Clarence Thomas, Janice Brown, Condoleeza Rice, Ward Connelly, and Colin Powell are called "Oreos" for holding a conservative political philosophy. Meanwhile, deeply flawed leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton continue to hold sway in black communities.

However, people like JC Watts, Lynn Swann, Michael Steele, and the like are beginning to open minds. I am hopeful that as the systemic barriers that contained the black community as a whole in the past continue to be swept away and overcome, there will be greater diversity in the African-American experience resulting in a greater willingness to vote for candidates on either side of the aisle.

Anonymous said...

I think that in all honesty, there would be plenty of suspicion of a Black candidate coming from the Right. Here we have the legacy of the simple fact that conservatives have consistently foot-drug on civil rights, desegregation, and any number of other opportunities to indicate that they were in favor of equality for all people before the law. That has left a stain on the world of right-of-center policy that will take a lifetime to fix. In this sense, there will be an inherent guilt-by-association stigma for any Black candidates coming from the right, at least until the right can exorcise some of its historical demons.

FellowElder said...

Okay... for the sake of daydreaming about a new future... we're going call a "foul" anytime someone responds to this post with the mention of Obama. I'm simply asking what would voting behavior look like for a people who have had opportunity to cast votes without regard to the rarity of someone who looks like them running for President, and for that matter, with multiple who look like them running.

The gate is wide open here. What kind of future do we imagine? What corner do you imagine we have turned?

FellowElder said...

Actually, I can't think of anyone who would have written Obama off because he is from mixed parentage. He might have been written off as "not black enough" for not speaking propa slang, or wearing the wrong clothes, or being unable to ball or fight... but not because his mom's was white. Chances are, in an interestingi sort of way, that would have made him more attached to the African American community and the community's embrace of him would have been stronger. If he grew up where I grew up, he'd had few other options.

I think that's broadly historically true as well. Generally speaking, children/people from "mixed race" (hideous term) relationships because of the "one drop rule" would be categorized black and found little social space in white communities.


Anonymous said...

Tab, you said: "...this is the first time ethnic minorities have ever had opportunity to choose a non-white." This statement presumes something: Obama is not white; he is black? Now, what makes Obama "black" and not "white" given his biological parents? Would one be correct in saying Obama is a "non-black" as well?

For me, a black man (& a non-American :), it is not as "black & white" to deem Obama one & not the other - unless you are working with the categories (& the categories for such categories) handed down to you over the years.

I believe whites” have as much claim on Obama as one of their own as “blacks”!

Simply thinking out loud...

Joel Hamernick said...


I think it would take more than 2 candidates to see much change. As Mark Noll pointed out in his amazing lecture on race, politics and religion, there are no 2 closer groups in the US on personal morality issues than black protestants and white evangelicals, and there are no 2 groups further apart in their voting.

The reality is that conservatives have not only been conservative on education, health care, economic and other political issues, but they have been status quo on issues of race and ambivalent at best when conservative economic policy devastates urban communities -- (I know you know all of this). . . but the lack of trust for conservative leadership has extended to conservatism that includes black conservatives (Clarence Thomas, Condoleeza Rice). Colin Powell is perhaps the only example I can think of who might warrant something different.

Until "black people" in your WWBD see a shift away from comfort-in-racialization and contentedness with privilege in our society among conservatives there will be no real move away from partisanship.

I don't think it is about the morality of liberal social policy arguments (black folks are largely conservative on these issues) but about the way folks perceive they are perceived. . . and treated.

FellowElder said...

Anonymous 2,
I'm right there with you. Obama is as much "white" as "black." The social conventions define him as black. To a great extent he self-identifies as "black." But in reality, he is a human being made in the image of God, descended from Adam, far more like all of us than different. I'm with you. I'm just using the existing convention to pose the question. Perhaps one way things would be very different is the current convention would be obsolete and we'd have a new and more meaningful language for describing one another.

Hammerdad, as for African-Americans being unable to vote/think conservatively, I think that's changing incrementally. The best case in point is probably Ohio in 2004, where Bush received about 16% of the African-American vote. That's a significant margin in a swing state. The tragedy is that conservative strategist have largely left off efforts to deepen relationships with African Americans. Sad for all really.


Joel Hamernick said...

I'm not so sure it is about conservative strategists. . . and I believe that a similar proportion of African American Voters "think" conservatively on many many issues.

What I am suggesting is that conservative political leaders (and many religious leaders) have character issues that, as Noll argued, wrap up their religious beliefs with racial innuendo in partisan language. This inevitably alienates AA and other minority voters.

(should have signed my name the first time. . . sorry about that. . .)


FellowElder said...

Good point when you write: "What I am suggesting is that conservative political leaders (and many religious leaders) have character issues that, as Noll argued, wrap up their religious beliefs with racial innuendo in partisan language. This inevitably alienates AA and other minority voters."

Pastor Pablito said...

PT, you said: "Now viewed from the vantage point of many African-Americans, the issue becomes, "How can I not vote for Obama; we may never get this chance again. He's the only African-American in this race and in the history of the country.""

Don't take this wrong, but who's fault is this? It’s not mine. I would like to ask, where are the candidates and WHY is "this guy" (I don't want a foul for saying his name!) the first credible African-American candidate? (Sorry, Al and Jesse count about as much as Robertson does) I know that there are many smart, credible and capable African-American men (and women) out there. I really think that mainstream "white" America is further along than most people think in accepting others (gosh, how do you even talk about this without sounding racist). Maybe I’m wrong, I have spent the last 20 years living as a minority/outsider in another country. Then again, maybe they are too smart to run for that headache of a job!

I have another question that hopefully can be answered by this group. How will we ever move past race issues when we continually seek to be seen as different? How can we continue to say, call me a white man, call me a black man, call me an African-American, a Latino, a Native American, a Caucasian or a whatever, BUT WHATEVER YOU DO, don’t look at me as being different? The minute we label ourselves as different, doesn’t that help propagate racism? Maybe I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time. Personally, I wouldn’t care if someone was pink-polka-dotted, if they had my values and I thought they could solve at least a few of the country’s problems.

Thabiti, if this just doesn’t sound right, don’t post it, but I would like your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand how conservative minded black people christian or not can can support a party that at best uses you like a token 'round election time' and at worst is openly uncaring and even hostile when it comes to the needs of your (our) people.
Abortion is a sin but it's not the only issue. Do you listen to John McCain? He's doesn't seem to be qualified to be president. He's a little crazy, he's apparently a lover of war. He flip-flops a lot and seems willing to say anything necessary to become president. But he's pro-life so he's cool (o.k.)
People like us (christians) voted for George Bush because he said he was pro-life and a christian, what do you think about the past 7 years? Ready to do it again?

FellowElder said...

Good to hear from you bro. I pray things are well down yonda.

To your first question, I don't think of it in terms of fault. I suppose if we did, we'd have to assign fault all the way around. When you look at the history of disenfranchisement and segregation (which only ended a generation ago), a serious case can be made for "it's society's fault." I guess my take is that the doors of opportunity--qualified or not--have not really been open at this level of power before. Only the last decade or so has produced African American ceo's of Fortune 500 companies. And what makes this a historical time is that it's the first time there really has been a viable candidate for the presidency who wasn't white--never mind African-American. So, the issue of access and opportunity at these levels is more than a "problem" for African-Americans... thus far it's applied to all ethnic minorities and all women.

I agree with you in saying mainstream white America is farther along than most have thought up to this point. For me, the present race proves as much. I'm rejoicing in that, bro.

As for getting past "race," we won't get past it until we abolish the notion of "races" to begin with. I don't think the problem is the recognition of difference, per se. The difference in creation is as God intended it and we will derive glory from it (Rev. 5). The problem is the meaning we assign to difference. We imagine the difference to mean more than it does, attach certain meanings to the over-eomphasized difference, and construct an entire us vs. them worldview on all these assumptions. Imo, that's why we're in such difficulty in talking about these issues.

Good to hear from you, bro.

Pastor Pablito said...

This does all bring a whole new meaning to the terms, "The Presidential Race" and "Race to the White House"!

I am probably out of touch with the US. Next month will be 20 years since I lived there. While there are some issues of race in Cayman, it's just not the same as the US (imo).

As far as opportunity, have the doors been that closed at that level or were they just never credibly tested? I don't know.

I do see a fine line in people being able to celebrate the differences we all have as opposed to looking at those differences as seperations. I look at it like this, the differences we have as people is no different than the differences that are talked about in the body of Christ. There are many different parts to one body. If we can ever figure out how to use the STRENGTH of our differences as people, we would have it made. Because then we would be living what God commanded us to do in loving one another.

I truly believe that if you could line up all the people of the world according to the shade of their skin, as you walked from the darkest skin through 6 billion people to the lightest skin, you would never see where the transitions take place because the lines just aren't there.

God bless you bro., preach well tomorrow! We are off to the annual conference on Monday.


Joel Hamernick said...

Earlier this election season I wrote a letter to about 30 pastoral friends of mine. 25 white guys, 5 black. The only reason I included the African American's in the list is because they have some white parishioners. I pointed out that at every season of heightened racial discourse in our country in the past, black and white Christians end up further apart. Clearly many race discussions are now underway and will continue all summer (at least). I suggested to them that one of the most important books white Christians could read this summer was "Divided by Faith" by Emerson and Smith.

4 of the 5 Black pastors responded almost immediately and even though I had not suggested they read the book, they indicated they would. Not one of the white pastors responded in this way. These are close, dear friends, but as with most white's, rather oblivious to the reality of race in the US. Comfortable in ignorance, comfortable to "deal" with Obama and race from that vantage point, commenting in ways that make the vast majority of black Christians shake their head. leading discussions in ways that further establish what their white constituents already believe from their shared racially isolated vantage point.

Can they (white Christian) really be THAT ignorant they say? No, they can't so it must be willful. . . . that is the assessment of many of black my friends. . .

Your graciousness is wonderful Pastor T. . . I hope that it, as with the kindness of God (Rom 2) leads to repentance for many. We have much to learn from you on this topic.


Ted Slater said...

Thabiti -- I appreciate this discussion. It can be uncomfortable, but may be necessary in order to make progress in the area of "race."

Kind of makes me long for heaven, a place with no elections and no need to discuss "race." In the meantime, here we are ... in a historic time when ethnicity and skin color have been shown not to be a hindrance to advancement. That is very, very good.

Hayden said...


Wow, please put down the broad paint brush. I understand some of your frustrations but there is really some progress being made. Watch the movie the "Great Debators" and then look at what is happening now. I watched that movie and though to myself, 'Boy, lots has changed since then, we even have an African American running for president.'

I had some good discussion with my wife over this topic. She agreed with your assessment in this article and I too understand what you are talking about. But my question is, 'Does first black presidential candidate = last?' I don't believe it does. Even if this historic time ends with BO losing that does not mean that there will never ever be two candidates that are African American, does it?


While conservatives have definitely some blame coming to them for the ills of racial tension, to assert that they were the ones 'dragging there feet' during the civil rights era is revisionist history. Which party has a former KKK member within its ranks right now? I know this line has been perpetuated but it is not totally historically accurate.

FellowElder said...

Who knows if first African American presidential nominee means last? Maybe, maybe not. I wasn't trying to comment one way or the other on whether this nominee would be the last. I simply think that having an African American nominee opens discussion we've never had before and was trying to use it to imagine even more progress.

And if I had to guess, I'd guess that both parties have former Klan members in their ranks. The white sheet masked a lot of cowardice and hate, democratic and republican, rich and poor.

Your brother,

Hayden said...


Touce on the both parties having former clans members in their ranks. I was just trying to point out that neither party is 'without guilt' even though many give a pass to the Democrat party on this issue. The point that I was trying to make is that in order to do that you must have a revisionist view of history.

I have been so blessed by this discussion and it makes me long for the eternal church of the book of Revelation even more. Have a great day brother and keep bringing up the questions. It really is good to think about. (I do not have many others around that I can discuss such issues. so your blog serves as an 'iron sharpening iron' for me. I am expected to '[our out' as a pastor, and have to find creative ways to 'take in')

PS I will give a push for your book in our church. It seems that we have a plethora of books for the pastor and not so many for the church member. May the Lord bless thsi endeavor by it receiving a wide audience. (I will read it when I get a copy)

Joel Hamernick said...


can you give me specifics on what you thought was broad brush?

I was not trying to be disparaging, but as someone who lives and ministers in the midst of the black community I was just sharing from my experience.


Randy Biswell said...

I am a white conservative (less tax, less Government). I am a sinner who has a heart for God but always falls short of his standard. Fortunately he remains faithful when I am faithless.

I voted for Obama in the primary and I will, Lord willing vote for him in the general. The reason I chose him in the primary is that I am sick of the Clinton's (and the Bush's). I have not sensed a concern for the people from our President since Reagan who I voted for in 1980 at the age of 18.
If I have to see on TV for the next 4-8 years the man or woman who is screwing over this country to feed their lust for power I choose the guy with the positive attitude.

My hope is that True Conservativism (William Buckley style, not Republican) will arise from the ashes of political corruption like the Phoenix and lead this country like a mature adult. One that will champion the freedom of the citizen and end the hostility toward all things God honoring.

The black/white thing. The black community has ancestors that have suffered.....true.
The response seems to be Narcicism, endless introspection........this is a mistake. I actually have had an affinity for the black's since I was a child yet was typically excluded from the group at some level because I wasn't one of them.

I have no compassion for anyone that feels sorry for themselves and wallows in self pity. My life has been hard as well even though I'm white.

To quote Chris Gardner of "In Search of Happyness" fame-


Hayden said...


I didn't have a problem when you were talking about your experience, but when you shifted from those in your sphere of ministry to 'but as most white's' I think it was a bit broad brush. Some white people have no thought to 'race' ever, some are definitely more aware of it.

It is great when we share our experiences but we all must remember that this is a huge country that is not monolithic by any stretch of the imagination. I have had the privilege of living in the North, the South, the West, and now the Midwest and I can tell you each experience has challenged my pre-conceived notions. It struck me that Mobile Alabama was not the 'good ole boy' place I thought it would be. LA, in CA, was not the racially tolerant place that I thought it would be. I have had the great opportunity to travel the world, in the Navy and experienced blatant racism when some of the sailors wanted to go to a nightclub and were not allowed because they were black.

All this to say, we need to be careful when we speak for 'the vast majority' and the 'many'.

9hammys said...


I appreciate your comment. I do want to be careful not to over generalize. I mean that sincerely.

However, I think that the "as with most" is a phrase that is accurate from a statistical standpoint even if it perhaps carried some unnecessary inference.

Emerson and Smith use very specific criteria that demonstrates that the more conservative a white Christian one is, the less likely that person can name even one example of specific racism they have witnessed. We have hundreds of college students that spend a week with us each year here in Chicago and I find it almost categorically true that they have lived lives isolated from other races. These college students come from all over America.

They have never heard that colorblindness is not a virtue to African Americans, they have never had someone who is black over for dinner nor eaten in a home of someone of another race. . .. etc.. I could go on.

But the families these folks come from feel very strongly about areas of race and have VERY established notions about my community in regard to its ethnicity (Southside of Chicago) -- in other words they are from families that are very isolated racially but have very strong opinions and feel free to teach these principles to their children. . .

I hope this does not come off as argumentative. . it isn't meant to be contentious, but to stress that these are very serious realities. We have come a long way as a nation but when it comes to black protestants and white evangelicals (mutually beneficial parts of the body of Christ) we are hurtfully separated and lack understanding of one another. . . but that understanding is not evenly balanced. Blacks know far more about whites that the reverse. . .

I'd be happy to correspond on email if you'd like. . . I spend a lot of time chewing on these things. . . . Brother Thabiti sorry to highjack your blog !!! feel free to email me

Joel Hamernick said...

I just realized I left that last comment using my wife's log in. .

Evidently I am no technophile. . .


Hayden said...


Thanks for the interaction. I too at one time was one of the people that you talked about and I do not disregard you experience. I would echo it in some ways as well BUT be careful with anecdotal evidence that is all that I am saying.(Have you ever listened to or read any books by Larry Elder?)

You live on the South side of Chicago and deal with a small sample of people. I too have dealt with a small set of people. I just wanted to point out that we have had some different experiences within our small sets and are making inferences based on that set of people.

What sends up alarms is when you say things like 'blacks know far more about whites than whites do about blacks' it would better be said 'in my experience'. This assertion is an assertion that you are making but hardly quantifiable as would the reverse be.

Just be careful my brother. By teh way, If there is one city I could live in it would be chicago. i envy you :)

I better get going. There is much going on in my particular church ministry so I may not be online for a couple of day. Thanks for making me think brother.

leslie said...

I honestly would love to see two black candidates, for one it would mean a black Republican. I know there are black conservatives, but for one to go that far might do a good job at uniting Americans.
Maybe I'm just daydreaming.

Obama isn't good for America because I think he is deceptive and I think he is hiding something in relation to terrorists.