The American presidential election, the quadrennial
gathering of citizens for a supposedly common purpose, actually
parallel universes. For one group, the opportunity to ratify
one of two choices vetted by the permanent rulers of the land,
the highest expression of civilization on Earth to date – proof
of the inherent goodness of the American project. For another
group of Americans, the chance to ratify the same choices is
triumph over the historical crimes of the first group, whose
most powerful elements are busily plotting new assaults on the
“Opposed universes” may be a better term to describe the perceptions
of Blacks and whites as revealed in a four-year study of racial
divisions under President George W. Bush. Harvard Professors Michael
C. Dawson and Lawrence Bobo report that 63% of whites believe that
efforts to disenfranchise Blacks in Florida in 2000 were either “not
a big problem” (20%), “no problem at all” (18.5%), or a “complete
fabrication” of the Democrats (24.5%). This, in answer to questions
posed in 2004, as evidence mounted that the election nightmare
was about to revisit the state.
Speaking from the real world, 76% of African
Americans described the events of 2000 as a “big problem,” 15% as “not a big problem,” and
5% as “no problem at all.” Just 3.7% believe the Democrats made
the whole thing up – a sliver of Black folks who must be considered
mentally incompetent, since they do not have the excuse of living
in the white parallel universe (’s
Just over a third of whites (37%) recognized
that something very serious – “a big problem” – happened in November, 2000. “There’s
clearly a divide in the white community,” said Dr. Dawson, a noted
social demographer, adding that his conclusions are preliminary
and general. “No substantial divide exists in the Black community” over
the significance of efforts to disenfranchise African American
voters in Florida, he said. What is most troubling is that “there
is a significant segment of whites who say, even if you can do
something about the disenfranchisement problem, legally, nothing
should be done about it.”
Whose world is real?
In the course of questioning Blacks and whites
in 2000, 2002 and 2004, Professors Dawson and Bobo have found “deep divisions” between
the races that have been “hardening, not converging.” Indeed, “whites
and Blacks look at the world extremely differently,” said Dawson.
For those Blacks who feared the worst when the Republicans took
over the White House, “Bush has fulfilled all their expectations.
Black people’s low expectations [of Bush] have been reinforced
from 2000 and 2002.”
Nevertheless, said Dawson, “Some optimism has
not been beaten out of us.”
Although whites grow increasingly divided among
themselves as Bush’s first term nears an end, “African Americans from all economic
situations are opposed to the war” and erosion of civil liberties. “The
appointment of Attorney General John Ashcroft meant much more to
African Americans than Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell,” notes
The collective white mind is muddled, at best. “A nebulous fear
of America’s place in the world has enabled Bush to lie and have
these lies believed…and even when he’s not believed, a significant
part of the nation outside of the Black community believes that
the future will be better with Bush,” said Dawson. By rights, Bush “should
be losing many of the seniors, all the working poor, and even large
segments of the middle class.” But he’s not.
The Iraq War has caused the most dramatic movement – and conflicts – in
white opinion. Bobo’s and Dawson’s data show “there’s a growing
uneasiness about the war.” About one-half of whites “are very uneasy.”
In surveys last year, said Dawson, “large majorities of whites
thought it was unpatriotic to protest the war,” while “large majorities
of Blacks thought it was right to protest the war if you disagree
with it.” This year, “what’s changed among whites is not the question
of whether it was right to go to war, but there is more tolerance
for protest.” Dawson speculates that “what’s driving that is there
is a clear uneasiness about the conduct of the war.”
It is clear to that
whites are “uneasy” because the U.S. does not appear to be “winning” the
war, which is very different than a moral objection.
African American sentiment against the war
is solid, and consistent with historical Black opinion. “With the exception of the first
Gulf War,” said Dawson, “African Americans in the late 20th century
have been extremely skeptical about American overseas adventures.
They are also skeptical about the president who is leading the
war. Nobody is going to tell African Americans that it’s unpatriotic
Black support for the 1991 Gulf War plummeted
almost immediately after the war ended. “This time the skepticism was from the start
of the Iraq War, and it did not wane,” Dr. Dawson reports.
Blacks and whites see the world from opposite ends of American
Manifest Destiny, which is at the very core of the white national
personality, worldview, and sense of self. Like a Black Hole, Manifest
Destiny exerts a near-irresistible pull on white Americans, distorting
history and even the near-past beyond recognition. Realities are
made invisible, even as they unfold in plain sight.
Many politically progressive whites think they have broken free
of the delusions of Manifest Destiny, yet remain in its orbit.
Howard Zinn, the eminent and prolific radical historian (A
People's History of the United States), writing in the
November issue of The
Progressive, blames “the press and television” for not having “made
clear to the public – I mean vividly, dramatically clear – what
have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq…the deaths
and mutilations of Iraqi children.”
The American people’s “natural compassion?” Zinn cites the alleged
collective quality as if it were a self-evident fact, when history
and contemporary reality tell us that, regarding non-white lives,
nothing could be further from the truth. Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
The “compassionate” white consensus continues to hold that the “Japs” got
a well deserved payback for Pearl Harbor. Most Americans don’t
lose a minute of sleep over two to three million dead Vietnamese,
Laotians and Cambodians (1960 - 1975) – unless, of course, they
are up late enjoying one of the scores of Hollywood movies in
which American actors slaughter villainous Southeast Asians all
over again. The “compassionate” parents of these Americans likely
sated their bloodlust through hundreds of ritual cinematic re-enactments
of the conquest of (similarly villainous) Native Americans. And
their grand- and great-grandparents flocked to D.W. Griffith’s
pro-Ku Klux Klan film “classic” Birth
of a Nation and his rabidly anti-Mexican blockbuster Martyrs
of the Alamo, both released in 1915.
A huge segment of white America revels in
seeking out dark enemies and watching them die – preferably by the thousands. This is
provable, empirical fact. Yet Zinn, a fully credentialed anti-racist
intellectual and activist, insists that these same Americans
would rein in their government’s war of terror against
Iraqi civilians if they only knew the facts of the carnage.
Actually, these Americans know quite enough,
and what they don’t
know, they make up, creating or choosing to believe fantasies
that always end with more dark dead people littering the landscape.
This must be a happy ending, since it is the one the white public
repeatedly ratifies (in real life wars) or cheers (in the cinematic
kind). How Howard Zinn and other progressives find general white
American compassion at the end of the rainbow is a mystery, presumably
based on an article of faith specific to the way white Americans
construct reality in their parallel universe.
Zinn’s baseless belief in “the American people's natural compassion” was
contradicted by a representative sample of white Americans themselves,
even before the Iraq war began.
2002, Zogby pollsters elicited damning evidence of white
disregard for Iraqi lives in the final weeks before the invasion: