Return of the ‘Real’ White People

The Democratic primary has unleashed some old forces and feelings that had largely disappeared from the public space. They were just in hibernation.

The men weren’t blatant racists, like Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, who reads Rise of the Colored Empire and rants that “the white race will be utterly submerged,” by immigrants, Jews and Negroes. They were nice guys—they would help me, a black woman, put luggage in the overhead compartment of a plane if I were struggling—but they were also the same kind of fellows who once thought women should stick to being nurses and teachers. 

And, like their fathers and grandfathers, they were hesitant about seeing people of color—for that matter anyone with a “strange” name, different culture and swarthy skin— as American as themselves. The women differed only slightly from the men. They were angered by the continuing disparity in pay between men and women doing the same job. But they were sure that any gal with her gumption would sort it out once she found she wasn’t making the same salary as a male counterpart.

Admittedly, there is a crazy factor when you’re dealing with focus groups. You never know whether you might have fallen into one whose opinions are way off the mark. After all, Barack Obama wouldn’t be within shouting distance of the Democratic presidential nomination without the support of a whole lot of white people. But, as my friend, Jim Myers, a white man, points out in his book, Afraid of the Dark, in polling, a very small percentage of white people who object to merely sitting next to an African American on a bus translates into millions of real white people with the same attitude.

And this election year is proving it. Masks off. Real white people are back.