But Uncle Billy grew up in Mississippi, and there he has stayed – in a place and a mindset where it’s acceptable to use the ‘N’ word among your friends. My aunt, a decorator and collector, makes frequent trips to a community they refer to as Black Town to purchase vivid pottery pieces hand-crafted by African Americans. A few years ago I was coming back from a pottery pilgrimage to Black Town when we passed a sign saying, “You are now leaving Merigold.” I felt shamefully ignorant for never questioning the town’s derogatory name. I had been handed that ignorance and accepted it. I had never paid close enough attention to the signs passing me by.
Racial ignorance, or racism itself, is something that I have come to understand a bit more. You inherit it, you acclimate yourself to it and you let it mold you to not affect your relationships with the people around you; the people like you. There are thousands of people in this country like my uncle, and they will go to the polls on November 4th with this ignorance settled deep in their souls. They’ve never been to Merigold, only Black Town. This is not an excuse for racism by any means, but a reason for their ignorance.
But there is another type of societal ignorance that is more insipid and below the surface. Because it carries none of the stigma of race and color, it is more acceptable – sometimes laughable – with the right crowd. The epitome of this ignorance came to me during the summer of 2004 when I was at a horse show. I found myself arguing with one of our wealthiest clients about politics. I used to incite conversations with her on all sorts of voodoo topics: religion, homosexuality and, being an election year, politics. An evangelical Christian, my client had invested a nearly equivalent amount of money in her three childrens’ private school education as she had in her one daughter’s equine pursuits. I remember the conversation dwindling down to her final statement: “Rachel, at the end of the day, I’m just going to vote based on my taxes.”
As a 20 year old getting by on about $30,000 a year at the time, I remember being horrified. It was my first confrontation with someone concerned about taxes. With all that was going on – the war, the recently reported Abu Grhaib abuse, George Tenet’s resignation – she was concerned about taxes?
By the end of November 4th, that is what this election will be all about. Will there be those same people like my former client going out to vote based on their taxes, reelecting a regime that will dangle an IRS carrot in their left hand while orchestrating a false war with their other? Or will there be enough people stirred up by volunteers and Obama’s inspiring rhetoric to drag themselves out of their nearly destitute daily lives to vote for a candidate who promises to act in the middle class’s best interest? I'd like to have faith in the latter, but I'm more acutely aware of the first.
And so my closing argument, to those Republicans who tell me they won’t end up voting for someone, “just voting against someone else,” is this: You may not be racist, but should you choose to cast your vote based on something as ultimately unimportant as your personal finances, then you ought to do a little soul-searching. Because voting based on your bottom line, and whether you can buy a new plasma screen with that extra $600 you’ll get back from the government, is just as despicable as voting against someone because of the color of their skin. You'll never know you are in Merigold if you only carry the spoils of Black Town.
And, yeah, I’m talking to you.