Are We Racist?

Congressman John Murtha certainly has gotten western Pennsylvania fired up about the Presidential race, hasn’t he? Here we were as a region, relatively quiet as the election draws near. My guess is that most voters in our region had made up their mind about who they were going to choose on November 4th and based on the polling, Obama was going to take Pennsylvania.

Then congressman Murtha called the voters of southwestern Pennsylvania “racist”. Asked the clarify, he told our reporter Jake Ploeger that it was a “redneck culture” which existed here as recently as ten years ago. His belief is there is still much of that culture in place and that local voters, especially older ones, would not vote for a black candidate once they were behind the curtain at their polling place.

Murtha’s comments, which were intended to take race out of the equation may have done anything but, have ignited a conversation that I am sure is going on around the country. Whether behind closed doors or out in the open, we are just two weeks away from the real possibility of electing an African-American as President of the United States. Plus, if you believe the polls, the odds are in Barack Obama’s favor at the moment.

Will racism or reasoning determine our vote on election day? John Murtha raised the question, but it’s up to answer.

Here’s the question: are we ready as a society to look past race and make this decision. Granted, there are a unique set of circumstances that are fueling this suddenly-feasible scenario. You have a very unpopular Republican President and an economy that borders of recession. You have a contender in Obama who has inspired and excited new voters. All you need do is look at the number of democrats registered to vote nationwide and you can see the edge he has there. You have a republican Presidential campaign that is getting criticized from even inside the party for mis-steps in the race for the White House. Sounds more and more like a slam dunk for Obama, right?

Maybe not. The fact is that we do live in a country were racism exists and western Pennsylvania has no reason to feel guilty about it. Racism is everywhere, from Hollywood to the Heart of Dixie. There are people who won’t vote for a black, woman or anyone that is not white. I have traveled the country and I can tell you western PA is no worse than many of the places I have visited.

The issue is whether we are going to let race blind us to the decision as to who will lead this country. I’m not just talking white racism. There is black racism as well. There are those who will vote for Obama because he is black. That’s no good either.

Look, we all have biases. Some maybe racially motivated and some maybe gender-based. I have biases as well. I hate people who do dumb things. It’s a small thing, but it’s one of my biases. However, I’m not going to let those biases prevent me from doing my job or influencing who I will vote for on election day. It should not influence you either.

Whether Murtha is right or wrong is really not the issue. The question we, as a region, need to ask ourselves is if we are going to let whatever racist feelings “some” of us have overwhelm our need for solid reasoning in making the most important decision we will make all year.

Who we choose on election day.

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