Playing Race Cards

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Playing Race Cards

Rosa Maria Pegueros

John McCain is absolutely right: Barack Obama should not play the race card. For things to be equal, we should give the same type of descriptor to each candidate. Obama will be "the first black Democratic presidential nominee." John McCain should be the (approximately) 40th white Republican male candidate or to be fair absolutely, Obama would be the first major party presidential candidate and John McCain is the 87th white presidential candidate. Works for me.

The elephant in the living room better not tell anyone he's an elephant. We don't want the whole elephant-rights movement to get a foot up. Barack Obama better button his lip about being black. White people don't want their delicate consciences strained; Obama is running on a post-civil rights platform, after all.

Just think, it would be so great to have a black president in November who doesn't talk about black-people stuff. It's so BET. Why can't we all just be white and get over ourselves. This is the great melting pot. Immigrants coming here -- whether they wanted to or not -- are here now so they should put up or shut up. If you don't like it here, go back where you came from!

Of course, people ripped from the bosoms of their families and the center of their cultures and sold into slavery may not know where they came from. All Oprah has to do is to pay for one of those fancy DNA tests for all of our black citizens so people can ascertain what their true ancestral homes were. It's okay; she can afford it.

But Obama hasn't said a word about r-e-p-a-r-a-t-i-o-n-s. We have to be careful of our language here lest my computer program warn me that my "message is the sort of thing that might get your keyboard washed out with soap, if you get my drift..." Most Americans know about slavery but I'd bet that not one in ten knows what Jim Crow laws were, that is, the laws that were passed after Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and the U.S. Congress passed and the states ratified the laws giving African Americans the right to vote, and prohibiting slavery. I bet that they don't know that after those Reconstruction Amendments were ratified, in many communities, blacks were prevented from learning to read and that it wasn't uncommon for those same jurisdictions to have literacy requirements for voters. Or that some communities imposed a poll tax: Prospective voters had to pay to vote. So voters who were poor -- many of whom were black -- couldn't vote because they couldn't afford it.

We all know how the American people venerate Abraham Lincoln; for a while he had his won holiday. The only other President to have his own holiday, George Washington, was a proud Virginian who, at the time of his death, owned 316 slaves. He only inherited 11 slaves from his father; his marriage brought another 20 slaves to Mount Vernon. To his credit, he set them free in his will but that is rather beside the point, isn't it? The growth of Mount Vernon's slave population gives a whole different cast to his title of "Father of our Country." Although, to his credit, unlike his fellow-founder Thomas Jefferson, there are no allegations of his engaging in sexual relations with any of his slaves.)

In the United States Constitution, slaves were counted as 3/5's of a person in determining membership in the House of Representatives; that, in part, is what the Reconstruction Amendments changed.

Can they tell you that until 1967 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, many states prohibited marriage between people of difference races? And if they know that such a law existed in America, even if they have never heard specifically about Loving v. Virginia, are they bothered by it? Or is it merely a curiosity to them?

Obama was lucky: Even though he was born in 1961 just a few years before the Loving ruling, he was born in Hawaii -- a state whose majority at the time was not white.

If you are white and live in the vacuum tube of the twenty-first century, I guess you can be presentist; you can just live in the moment, to hell with the past.

Maybe you can if you're white but if you aren't then the weight of history is on your bathroom scale, and your dark-skinned face, staring back at you, in itself, carries a history that cannot be ignored.

We understand that Obama has to tread somewhat delicately so as not to scare off the white folks but like it or not, his African American side is there.

Rosa Maria Pegueros is an associate professor of Latin American History and Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island.>

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