Because he is black.
No wonder this presidential election is the most racially-divided one in America since 1988, (which resulted in the American presidency transferring from one powerful white man to another). The key figure that some pundits argue will determine the race is that Obama has lost white supporters. In 2008 just before election time he trailed McCain by eight percentage points when it came to white votes, today he trails Romney by 21 points.
But those pundits are wrong. The problem in this election cycle is not Obama’s blackness, it’s more Romney’s whiteness.
Why? Because though Obama is African American, he is mixed race, with an international up-bringing — many of us aren’t exactly sure how to categorize him – he’s an “other” like a significant and growing number of Americans are. But most of us agree that Mitt Romney is as white as it gets. And that “whiteness” boils down to one thing: he’s privileged, and any ordinary obstacles he faced in the journey of life were not weighed down by the additional burdens of race.
Particularly in these tough economic times, the very idea that anyone would be born with an advantage is repugnant to the massive numbers of voting Americans who’ve lost their homes, their jobs, and their optimism during the economic downturn.
For the first time in American politics, we are seeing the white man on his back foot because of his race.
The reaction of many white voters, then, is to compensate for this perceived withering of influence by voting Romney — knowing full well that Obama and Romney appear to be almost identical when it comes to foreign and domestic issues of great import.
America is, as America was, it seems: race is still a defining factor in how this country operates.
The fact is, America has a long way to go in the way of racial issues. Other countries, be they “developed” or not, do not instill the sense of otherness in their residents and citizens when it comes to race that is so extreme, so palpable even in 2012 America.
In the Middle East, race is a non-issue: the diversity is so pervasive that children don’t grow up feeling that they are different — let alone inferior, judged, or lacking — for their hair type or skin tone. There are so many people whose racial background isn’t even immediately apparent that the very idea of judging people based on it would be counterproductive to a functioning society. Malcolm X was one of the more vocal observers of this phenomenon, and broke from the exclusively black Nation of Islam toward a more international Islam after a visit to Mecca that was profoundly impacted by this single observation.
In South Asia, paler skin — regardless of actual facial features or beauty — appears at times to be the only measure of beauty, but if Bollywood is any indicator of the superficiality of success, just look at the significant number of “darker skin tone” actors on the A-List.
And in Europe, particularly America’s great ally Britain, one need only walk down any given street to notice that interracial couples are far more common there than in America. Minorities of all skin tones and physicalities appear to reach greater heights in Britain — while still retaining their racial identities — than they do in America. Just look at the media in the UK: some of the top television hosts are of South Asian, African and Middle Eastern descent yet haven’t changed their originally “foreign” names, aren’t fiercely establishment to make up for their “otherness”, and are quite normally considered British.
Obama, the elected President of the United States, on the other hand, is still dealing with questions of proving his Americanness.
And while many powerful white Americans are trying very hard to detract white voters from Obama by emphasizing his non-white otherness, they are realizing — too late — that what would have been more useful toward a win would have been courting non-white votes.
Old school, out of touch powerful white Republicans like Romney’s Campaign Chair John Sununu — who said this week that former Secretary of State Colin Powell is endorsing Obama because Obama is of his “own race” — and Donald Trump, who reached new depths of ridicule with his stunt about Obama releasing his passport information, are the reason Romney will lose the election.
The brutal truth in this election cycle is that if more non-whites vote this time around than they did in 2008, Obama doesn’t even need to worry about the larger deficit in his white votes. His off-the-record (and now public) comments to the Des Moines Register recently confirmed that he was well aware of that.
“Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
By focusing on the white vote and ignoring the non-white vote, Mitt Romney has given the significant and growing non-white voter block in America their decision: vote for the non-white guy, he’s one of us.