(The Root) — In December 1976, United Artists released Rocky, the story of an obscure, aging Philadelphia boxer, an underdog who challenged insurmountable odds to get his shot at facing a brutish, flamboyant champion.
Sylvester Stallone never claimed that he intended any racial connotations in his now-beloved character, but it's easy to see Rocky as a metaphor for white men who felt they were slowly losing control over a society that they felt was their birthright to dominate.
Rocky went the distance against the arrogant Apollo Creed, a cartoonish characterization of Muhammad Ali, whose over-the-top persona had been an offense to the sensibilities of many whites ever since he defied the draft and refused to go to Vietnam.
Much of the country still hated Ali for that, so seeing Rocky challenge his pompousness, personified in Creed, was a welcome draw to the movies. Even though, by the end, Rocky had lost to this bad black man, the film seemed to signify a call to action to defend what was right and just.
For much of its history, Western pugilism was one of the few martial arts dominated by white men — that is, until Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Ali and others came along and established a black foothold, pouncing white challengers left and right, until the Klitschko brothers emerged — and they weren't even American.
I don't want to get too far into boxing analogies without explaining my reason for them: The victory of Barack Obama in the recent election, both in the popular vote and electoral votes, is being seen by many white male conservatives as a historic tipping point that indicates the demise of white male societal dominance. For them, America is no longer a white dude's game, and it makes them sad.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly announced it as if it were a declaration of America's new identity: "The white establishment is the minority," he said on election night as Obama ran up the electoral score, state by state.
Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan was more morbid, lamenting that "white America died last night." His verbal requiem mourned that America had become a "socialist Latin American" nation.
As unsurprising as these notions are coming from those two, these are paranoid expressions that are probably not isolated.
As much as blacks were accused of voting for Obama simply because he is black, there were likely many whites who voted against Obama because he is black. Preventing him from assuming a second term in the White House somehow protected an institution that should remain the domain of white males. This is what O'Reilly and Buchanan were really expressing, and to their credit, at least they had the balls to admit it.
What everyone, including the right wing, acknowledges is that the votes of minorities and women were basically what put Obama over the top. While only 39 percent of white voters preferred Obama, he got 93 percent of the black vote and 71 percent of Latinos. He also got 55 percent of female voters, which was actually a percentage point worse than he did in 2008.
What is scary about this to the old guard is that traditionally, white votes were enough of a bloc that how other groups chose to behave at the polls in national elections was really of little consequence. Rep. Shirley Chisholm and the Rev. Jesse Jackson likely did not have much chance in their bids for the Oval Office, as valiant as their efforts might have been, because the voters — mainly black — in their corner were simply too few to win them enough primaries to capture the Democratic Party's nomination.
But now, with minorities on track to become America's majority population by 2050, and with an 18 percent increase in the number of women who are heads of households, it now means that they have a say in who best represents their interests. It is no longer enough to be a white guy who talks tough like Ronald Reagan or who embodies great statesmanship like John F. Kennedy.
So to an extent and in a skewed way, O'Reilly has a point. He continued blathering about "50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama."
Yes, the people who elect a chief executive want the things they feel he can deliver. Historically, that's what people have always wanted from presidents. But O'Reilly, Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh — who said in his postelection meltdown, "I went to bed last night thinking we're outnumbered" — are implying that the only acceptable version of a president is one who presents the Ward Cleaver image of a square-jawed white male. For them, that's enough to magically take care of everything, from the economy to unemployment to national defense. Anyone who can't be Ward Cleaver does not deserve the chance to run for president.
Now the hold on power that these guys always took for granted is slipping away. However, their racial rhetoric is still very dangerous. Hitler used it to rise to power and take over Germany by pretty much stating that Jews had wrested power from "Aryan" natives. It was also used when the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 and resurrected in 1915.
Still, white guys don't have too much to worry about yet. Why? They've still got all the money! According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median net worth of white households is about $113,149. Compare that with $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks, and it's easy to see that wealth is nowhere near evenly distributed among racial categories. That means that for the foreseeable future, white Americans can continue to comfortably adhere to the "golden rule": He who has the gold makes the rules.
And most of all, O'Reilly, Limbaugh and the others get four more years to make their livings bitching about people who don't agree with them. So they'll all probably make out like fat rats.
But what is beneficial for nonwhites is that in national elections, we have the "golden ticket": the vote. That is a tool that can work to even the playing field, and now that we have it, we're not letting it go. We finally realize, in large-enough numbers, what a blessed privilege it is to cast a ballot. The evidence is poignantly tangible that white men must now share America with everyone else.
In the 18th century, white men who were afraid of what enslaved blacks would do if they became educated passed laws that forbade teaching them to read. These were the same men who followed doctrines declaring that blacks were three-fifths of a person and who considered it preposterous that a woman should vote.
It is ironic that the people they wanted to prevent from gaining power now have a blueprint for it.
Madison Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and Web journalist. Follow him on Twitter.