Is ‘That One’ American Enough?

The continuing stream of articles dealing with race and the presidential campaign contrasts with the infrequent coverage we saw in the primary season. Just a sampling of articles in the past 24 hours:

TIME’s Peter Beinart in an article titled “Is He American Enough?“: “With their incessant talk about who loves their country and who doesn’t, McCain and Palin are doing something different: they’re using race to make Obama seem anti-American.” [Thanks to David Wilson for bringing this article to our attention!]

From an unattributed blog post, “McCain takes on ‘that one’,” on the Chicago Tribune’s Exploring Race forum: “When I heard the comment, I wondered: Was it racial? (And not in a conscious way. It just sort of had a tinge of “you people.”) … That’s the thing about race: if you’re a person of color and you hear something like that, it can pull you up short and you’re simply left to wonder.”

Politico’s Jonathan Martin thinks that “McCain will be accused of racism regardless“: John McCain is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He could never mention Jeremiah Wright and ensure his campaign aides don’t either, and he’d still be accused of running a racist campaign. … But is McCain doing anything overtly racist? No. … That doesn’t matter, though, to the outrage industry, ever on the lookout for any sign of racism and quick to pounce even when it’s not there. … McCain has not called Obama “a terrorist.”

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Christine M. Flowers in “Obama camp’s racial decoders” says that “race has become the not-so-secret weapon of the Obama camp, allowing it to both promote the candidate as a historic step forward while at the same time attack his opponents with the bigot label. And the polls say that it seems to be working. I’m not saying that Obama will win or lose because of the color of his skin. He probably won’t.”

Commentary by Dr. David C. Wilson, Assistant Professor of Political Science & International Relations at the University of Delaware:

Who’s on First?….”That One”
So-what John McCain is 72, and has grandparent tendencies, Barack Obama is a United States Senator, a presidential nominee, a father, and a human being.
What’s most interesting to me about the “that one” comment is that it’s not necessarily the comment that’s indicative of the underlying racial meaning, it’s the use of it with Senator Obama. Saying “that one” to a white male (or a real child) would be relatively fine in context, but if it’s a woman, a racial minority, or other underrepresented political group member (e.g., disabled person), it’s closer to an “ism.”
But, to be clear, there is a difference (in social scientific thinking) between “racism” and “racialized” behavior; they are not one in the same. Racism rests on an ideology of a group’s biological superiority/inferiority, whereas racialized behavior is an action that calls attention to race, bringing about consequences that can be intentional or unintentional. I’m not denying that racialized behavior is not influenced by racism (that would be naïve), but McCain’s “that one” statement is closer to racialized behavior.
However, by no means should we look at McCain’s “that one” behavior in a vacuum. His “that one” comment, in conjunction with the personal attacks (e.g., “who Obama is” and a lack of reciprocal admiration for Obama’s storied background), and a refusal to look at Obama along with other very cold interpersonal behavior (e.g., no real salutation at the handshake) are all indicators of McCain’s apparent discomfort or antipathy toward Obama. McCain definitely does not respect Obama. We know this because he hasn’t apologized for anything he’s done or said recently.
My point is that John McCain is not racist, but regardless of what most people might think, at the very least John McCain displayed a social dominance orientation targeted at something about Barack Obama. Perhaps it was Obama’s height (i.e., Obama is taller), or his party affiliation…..or maybe it’s just plain okay to say McCain sees more of Obama’s race than he thinks (or knows… shout out to all my psychologist friends).

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