Race in Obama’s America
Searching for the promised land
Dec 4th 2008 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition
What will Barack Obama’s presidency mean for race relations?
AS HE sat in a television studio in Alabama on election night, Artur Davis saw a white cameraman with tears in his eyes. It was while Barack Obama was giving his victory speech in Chicago. Of course it was an emotional moment, says Mr Davis, a young black congressman. But he was still surprised to see a cameraman cry, because”they’re a pretty cynical lot.”
“Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job” was how the Onion, a satirical newspaper, reported Mr Obama’s triumph. But most Americans are still overjoyed to see such conspicuous evidence that their country really is a place where anyone with talent and drive can make it. And blacks are ecstatic. Some 80% of them tell pollsters that Mr Obama’s victory is “a dream come true”, while a whopping 96% think it will improve race relations.
The election provided solid evidence that race matters less in America than pessimists suppose. Mr Obama won a bigger share of the popular vote than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and more of the white vote than either John Kerry or Al Gore. Outside the South, he beat Mr Kerry’s share of the white vote in every state except New Mexico and Arizona (John McCain’s home state). Even among southern whites, Mr Obama did well. He scored worse than Mr Kerry in only five states: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia.
这次大选充分证明，在美国，种族并没有悲观主义者们料想的那么重要。继林登•约翰逊（Lyndon Johnson）1964年当选美国总统以来，尚无哪位民主党人获得过比奥巴马先生还要多的普选选票，而且奥巴马先生还赢得了比约翰•克里（John Kerry）或阿尔•戈尔（Al Gore）都要多的白人选民的支持。南方之外的各州中除了新墨西哥和亚利桑那州（约翰•麦凯恩的家乡州），奥巴马都赢得了多于克里先生的白人选票。即使在南方各州，奥巴马先生也获得了可观的白人选票，仅有阿拉巴马、阿肯色、路易斯安那、密西西比和西弗吉尼亚五个州的票数少于克里先生。
But what difference will a black president make for black Americans? “He’s not a magician or a messiah,” says Marc Morial of the National Urban League, a civil-rights group. He will, however, be a role model. For one thing, “he finished school,” says Mr Morial. For another, he is a good father. And when black parents tell their children that if they work hard they may grow up to be president, those children will no longer find the notion absurd.
一位黑人总统将给美国黑人带来怎样的不同呢？”他既不是魔术师，也不是救世主。”民权组织”美国城市联盟 “（National Urban League）的马克•莫瑞尔（Marc Morial）如是说。但他将成为一个榜样，首先，”他完成了学业，”莫瑞尔先生说，其次，他是一位好父亲。而且当黑人父母教育自己的孩子说”你们努力学习，长大了就能当总统”的时候，这些孩子不再觉得可笑。
Some pundits think the role of role-models is exaggerated. Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think-tank, doubts that having a black man in the White House will have much effect on the proportion of African-Americans who are born out of wedlock (currently more than two-thirds) or wind up in jail (black men are nearly seven times more likely than whites to be locked up).
有些学者认为榜样的作用被夸大了。美国保守派智囊团–胡佛研究所（Hoover Institution）的谢尔比•斯蒂尔（Shelby Steele）怀疑，黑人当选总统未必会对非婚出生（目前，有超过三分之二的黑人是非婚生子）或卷入牢狱之灾（黑人进监狱的可能性比白人高将近7倍）的非洲裔美国人的比例产生较大的影响。
Maybe so. But it is already affecting the way black Americans are portrayed in the news. Not long ago, when television producers wanted a talking head to represent black America, they would call up Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, who would always say the same thing about every problem-that white racism was to blame. Now the spotlight is falling on black leaders who have led more than just protest marches. Deval Patrick, the first black governor of Massachusetts, is a close friend of Mr Obama’s. Mr Davis, who first met Mr Obama at Harvard, plans to be the first black governor of Alabama, of all places. Valerie Jarrett, one of Mr Obama’s closest advisers (who is also black), boasts that her boss will make public service cool, thereby attracting the best talent into government.
这也有可能，但是，奥巴马的榜样作用已经对新闻中塑造黑人的方式产生了影响。就在不久以前，当电视节目制作人希望一个黑人代言人参加节目时，他们会找来杰西•杰克逊（Jesse Jackson）和阿尔•沙普顿（Al Sharpton），他们对每一个问题的解决之道都一样—那就是，白人种族主义应对这些问题负责。而现如今聚光灯却落在了那些除了组织抗议游行之外更有作为的黑人领袖身上。德沃•帕特里克（Deval Patrick）是马萨诸塞州的第一位黑人州长，也是奥巴马先生的挚友。在哈佛大学与奥巴马先生第一次相见的戴维斯先生正计划成为阿拉巴马州的第一位黑人州长。作为奥巴马最亲近的顾问之一，瓦莱瑞•贾勒特（Valerie Jarrett）（她也是黑人）夸赞她的上司能够将公共服务做得很出色，从而将最优秀的人才吸引到政府机构中。
Mr Obama’s early choices for important jobs include two dynamic African-Americans: Eric Holder as attorney-general and Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations. Apart from a flap over Mr Holder’s role in advising Bill Clinton to pardon a dodgy financier, neither has attracted much attention. Americans have grown used to seeing blacks in top jobs.
奥巴马先生早前还提名两位年富力强的非裔美国人担任重要职务：埃里克•霍尔德（Eric Holder）担任司法部长，苏珊•莱斯（Susan Rice）出任美国驻联合国大使。除了霍尔德先生曾建议比尔•克林顿赦免一位狡诈的金融家而引起争议外，他们二位都没有得到太多注意。美国人已经逐渐习惯黑人担任高层职务。
Mr Obama is always respectful towards the older generation of civil-rights leaders. He likens them to Moses, who led his people to the edge of the promised land. It is now up to younger leaders, he says, to complete the journey. Some of his elders are unwilling to be shoved aside. In July, unaware that his microphone was turned on, Mr Jackson said he would like to cut off Mr Obama’s testicles. Mr Obama had suggested that black fathers should not abandon their children. Mr Jackson deemed this “talking down to black people”.
Advocates of colour-blind government think Mr Obama’s victory helps their case. If America can elect a black president, racism must be less of an obstacle to black progress than previously thought. The time for racial preferences, they argue, must surely be past. Voters in Nebraska agree. On November 4th it became the fourth state in 12 years to ban official discrimination in favour of “under-represented” minorities in hiring, contracting or public education.
A study by Richard Sander of the University of California, Los Angeles, found that when black students are admitted to law school with lower test scores than whites or Asians, those black students are less likely to cope. More drop out, and fewer pass the bar exam than would have done under race-neutral admissions policies. But many universities are convinced that racial preferences (“affirmative action”) are necessary to diversify the intake, both racially and sociologically.
Mr Obama’s views are hard to pin down. He has suggested that affluent blacks such as his own daughters should not get special treatment when applying to college, and that poor whites sometimes should. But he also says he supports affirmative action, his website includes no plans to scale it back and his allies would howl if he did. “I think probably in his heart of hearts he knows better, but I’d be shocked if [Mr Obama] does away with affirmative action,” says Mr Steele.
Mr Obama’s black supporters hope he will make good on promises to root out racism in the criminal-justice system and the workplace by enforcing existing laws more vigorously. Many also seek “environmental justice”, which means less pollution near black areas (more than half of those living within two miles of a toxic waste dump are minorities). And everyone expects a push to improve the relatively poor health of black Americans, who die, on average, five years younger than whites. Reforming health in general will have a marked effect on blacks, because they tend to get the worst care.
But the new president’s most urgent task will be to grapple with the economic crisis. If he succeeds, Americans of all hues will cheer.
[注]:平权措施（affirmative action）:在美国指为消除种族和性别歧视而在雇佣和教育方面采取的照顾黑人和妇女的行动，又称为”补偿性行动”和”肯定性行动”。白人反对这种矫枉过正的做法，称为reverse discrimiantion(倒歧视)。
译者：Bender.Z ; 编辑：Phantom; http://www.ecocn.org/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=15908&extra=page%3D1