I ask this question because as I look at the papers this morning and see who, at least for now, the momentum is with after the Iowa caucus I find myself asking a question that I've not seen asked readily (that's not to say it hasn't been asked, just that I have not seen it). That question is quite simple, is America ready for a black President? I realise that some people may find such a question insulting in itself. After all, the civil rights movement in the US was a cornerstone moment in that nations' immediate and conscious history.
To even ask the question assumes that the answer is unknown and crucially ponders upon whether that answer might still be in the negative. Personally I hope that it's not, but at the same time I am not foolish enough to think that prejudice does not exist. After all prejudice stems from the sum of human experience and if human experience has negative interaction with absolutely anything then inductive empicism kicks in. That is just human nature. I for example have never driven or owned a Ford that I like, so I'd never buy one. No manner of legislation to criminalise anti-Ford views would change that prejudice. in fact this is the case with all forms of prejudice.
To really tackle prejudices they need to be challenged with their opposites. That is why, when it comes to something as dangerous as racism the solution is not to criminalise the thoughts or words but to challenge the preconceptions of those that think in such a way by providing evidence that runs contrary to their sum of experience. In a sense Obama, whatever happens, is doing that already and that is a positive thing. But I still cannot help wondering if that alone will be enough should he go on to secure the Democrat nomination.
As I said earlier about Thatcher. Was Britain ready for a female Prime Minister or did the male part of the country just balance the options and supress it's prejudices in the face of Labour being a potentially worse route because of their previous failures? Was the prejudice stronger against Labour than it was against a woman? I think it may very well have been. The result being that the idea of a female Prime Minister is not even something anyone would bat an eyelid at today. in a way it is quite ironic that one temporally short prejudice, Labour, helped destroy a greater prejudice that was temporally long.
The question therefore - if we assume that electorally Obama will find it tough to win over certain parts of the electorate whose experience means they still harbour racial prejudice - is have the Republicans reached a point where the prejudice against them outweighs any simmering racial prejudice below the surface of American society? America was at least a nation split down the middle in 2000, is she still at the point after eight years and two (unpopular) foreign wars? Or has she reached an impasse where the desire for change overpowers everything else?
If she is, and if Obama wins the nomination, then it may just be that she will do the most significant positive act for race relations in the history of the Western World. She has never been shy about coming forward and astounding us all, in fact it is what makes what is such a young nation so endearing in a way. The election of Obama would, whatever his politics might be, do more than any hate crime legislation could ever hope to muster because it would challenge the preconception of racists and non-racists alike. The only drawback would be if Obama didn't win, because then the question of racism would rear it's head during the presidency of a Republican winner. Hanging chads would be replaced with allusions of other things hanging in the Deep South, in a way that could represent a bitterly divided step backwards.
Of course, all these questions remain hypothetical for now. But should Obama win the nomination the answers will have a massive impact on not just the next four years of America's political future but the wider Western world too. An Obama nomination win but presidential loss would provide fuel for sneering anti-Americanism abroad after all, and ironically we're back at that little thing called prejudice again aren't we (in two ways, with accusations of racism and sneering anti-americanism)? So is America ready for a Black President? I honestly don't know. I do think though that if anti-GOP prejudice is more resonant it won't matter anyway and the most powerful nation in the history of the world will change the world for the better yet again through the law of unintended consequence.UPDATE: Having spoken with a long-standing American friend he thinks that there is an undertone to this piece that suggests I am saying that America is inherently racist. That is not my intention. More that should America still have racist undertones by virtue of social history, human nature and natural prejudice then it won't matter anyway if dissatisfaction with the status quo is strong enough, and the resulting unintended consequences of that will be a very positive thing indeed.