We need Atticus Finch; we need to recognize that although we have made progress, the sentiment in Atticus' closing statement still prevails, the sentiment "that evil assumption, that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings; all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women. An assumption that one associates with minds of their calibar, and which is in and of itself, gentlemen, a lie."
Or I could just let Gregory Peck actually take it away:
The problem with this mindset should be obvious. It casts a shadow on everyone in society. It masks and it colors our approval and disapproval of candidates. A person could say they are not voting for Obama because they do not feel he has the credentials to bring about the change he has promise. Polls show "more than a quarter of all Democrats expressed doubt that Obama can bring about the change they want, and they are likely to vote against him because of that". But that is still perverted by the color issue. The specter of doubt lingers about whether or not the quarter would feel differently if Obama's name wasn't different, if he looked a bit more like every other guy on our currency. And it profoundly depressing to note that it is still acceptable to ask for an inclusive adjective to describe a group of people who span geography, income levels, education levels, personality, and political affiliation. Barack Obama has proven that he is not lazy, nor is he irresponsible. But the prevailing ignorance still remains; and Obama's own personal achievements, along with those of Michelle Obama and Michelle's brother and countless other African Americans who work hard and who follow the rules and who achieve greatness (or even just averageness), do very little to change that because they -if the bigots and racists choose to- can just be described as outliers. As bucking the trend. As being a sport. As being, for some reason, different.
I know there's the Avenue Q song, "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist", and I agree. I think the charge should be to fight racism, both in oneself and in the greater society. But when I hear that voters don't like McCain but hear Obama is a Muslim and that influences their voting decisions, I cringe. I cringe because not only is it patently untrue, but because his religion shouldn't matter; and it is a representative of how race and racial issues seep into the public consciousness. Rumors about Obama being a Muslim would not be so prevalent if he weren't black. "Muslim" wouldn't be as big a slur if our vision of Muslims wasn't of the Other. And both of those prejudices hurt Obama, and hurt Muslims and African Americans, and hurt America in general. Because the "statistical models derived from the poll suggest that Obama's support would be as much as 6 percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice", we may end up with the lesser of two presidential choices based partially on our own stupid, irrational, and altogether ridiculous assumptions; assumptions not worthy of minds above a certain caliber.