I'm bound to say something in this column that will offend some people--so if you're easily offended, stop reading now.
As I write this, the Democratic National Convention is coming to a close. There has been a lot of speechifying and debating, with pundits and talking heads on every television and radio station. There have been blogs aplenty, arguments and pissed-off pro-Hillary Democrats ranting about being disrespected, disenfranchised and throwing their lots in with John McCain.
But amidst all of this have been the rest of us: regular people clamoring to get this country we all love out of this quagmire of fear, warfare, hemorrhaging social institutions and general misery that have made up the Bush years. Many of us have been so blinded by outright relief that whatever the outcome of this presidential election, we're finally going to be rid of George W. Bush--the most inept, unconscious and possibly malignant individual to occupy the Oval Office in this country's history--that we've soft-peddled one simple but crucial fact: The United States is a racist country.
Here's a joke I heard the other day, told at a casual luncheon gathering of people I ride with:
"I'se (pronounced eyes)."
"I'se gonna be your next president."
To say that this surprised and offended me would be an understatement. But the realization as to why it did was even more of a surprise. I'm incredibly naïve. And so are most of the liberals I know. Hopped up on optimism and possibility, we're all incredibly, perhaps fatally, naïve about the reality of everyday racism in this country.
Although there have been a couple of times I've had my face rubbed in it. I mean, other than the preceding "joke."
A year or so ago, I met a black friend for a meal at a foothills-area café. We got there early; she had to get back to work, and I had an appointment somewhere, so the restaurant was almost empty, with only one or two tables filled. A white woman doing the seating, slightly pinched and fairly abrupt, gazed around the room, and it occurred to me that her gaze was inconsistent with the situation. She looked around as if the entire restaurant was filled, and she was unsure whether she could seat us. But after a moment or two, she decided on a table: The one closest to the swinging saloon doors of the kitchen.
If she could have, she would have seated us in the kitchen. We seated ourselves at another table. The meal was bad. I chalked it up to the place simply being a lousy restaurant.
Then came another experience, also at a restaurant (although obviously, restaurants aren't any more racist than anywhere else). It was a place my family and I frequented, a sushi bar. It was a Friday night, and the place was busy but not packed. We had one of my son's mixed-race friends with us. The kids were talking and horsing around and didn't seem to notice, but my spouse and I got increasingly angry as two groups of people, both white, ordered before we did. Once we'd ordered, it took an hour and 15 minutes for our food to come, twice as long as it took any other table's order to arrive. We tried to tell ourselves that the fact that we were being ignored was just a coincidence, but it had never happened before.
These kinds of experiences feel like a lifting of the veil. Being white in a predominantly white nation inoculates people like me from this virulence most of the time, but not always.
A liberal friend of mine once said, "The saddest thing in the world is to see the world as it is instead of the way it should be." I thought this was dumb then, and I think it's dumb now. It should be the case that Barack Hussein Obama will be elected or not based on his intelligence, character, policies and ability.
But in my heart, I believe this election will be decided on one thing, and one thing only: whether our disgust for racism and the viciousness it entails has, at this point in our history, been eclipsed by the strength of our character as a nation.