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The Appeal of Obama

In response to:

Dreams from Obama from the March 6, 2008 issue

To the Editors:

Neither Darryl Pinckney nor Shelby Steele really understands the appeal of Barack Obama [NYR, March 6]. Obama is the Great White (or Black) Hope. He allows us to think that we are really capable of overcoming the curse of racism in America. And he is right. Whites, even those not particularly favorable to blacks, are voting and will continue to vote for Obama because his victory puts aside race as a problem. The new problem will be class—black and white underclasses will continue to be a problem—but it is easier to deal with, or to endure, class than race.

The New Testament assures us that the poor we will always have with us. It says nothing about race. Not really, despite Paul’s meanderings about Jews and Greeks.

Norman Ravitch

Professor of History Emeritus

University of California, Riverside

Savannah, Georgia

Darryl Pinckney replies:

No doubt many will agree with Dr. Ravitch that Obama’s candidacy represents race transcended as an issue, but nobody behind either Senator Edwards or Senator Clinton chanted “Race doesn’t matter,” which suggests that those who chanted “Race doesn’t matter” for Senator Obama did, indeed, notice his race—at least they noticed it long enough to offer the senator the benefit of negative identity. Dr. Ravitch is also probably correct to say that at a time when the Democratic contenders point to the growth of inequality as an urgent social question, much discussion will focus on class, which few would not say has always been one of the most important things that defined the black condition.

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