Some of those who read the article took offense at their perception that the author was labeling all white liberals who don't support Obama as racists. Regrettably, they were unable to get beyond protesting loudly, "I am not a racist." Hush, no one said that you were.
The thesis of the piece is not that white liberals who question Obama's policies are racists. It fascinates me that when the term racism appears in any piece of writing, particularly by a black person, that the immediate reaction of so many whites is to become indignant at being called a racist. Makes it sort of difficult to get to the heart of the matter being discussed.
Harris-Perry's essential point can be summed up in these lines:
The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors. (The Nation)Harris-Perry only arrives at this point after carefully explaining the concept of electoral racism: Electoral racism in its most naked, egregious and aggressive form is the unwillingness of white Americans to vote for a black candidate regardless of the candidate’s qualifications, ideology or party. Harris-Perry is also careful to affirm that positive movement has been made beyond such electoral racism in its most blatant form.
She then tackles the issue of the criticism of Obama, who has actually accomplished a great deal, and how the liberal base appears to hold Obama to a far higher standard than the most recent Democratic president, Bill Clinton. Essentially, Perry's discussion is informed by the noble savage archetype that has characterized much of the European interaction with indigenous peoples or with those of African ancestry for generations. (See for example: Noble Savage, Magical Negro, or On Being a Noble Savage) Essential to this archetype is elevating the non-white to a favored status as noble and honest, an admirable race in spite of its oppressed status. This archetypal pattern is particularly seen in American culture, indeed it is promoted in much of early American literature in works such as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "The Last of the Mohicans." These unrealistic portraits lead to expectations that are based on a glorified and mythological image rather than the realities of the people of color.
Perry questions whether those archetypal patterns are informing the differing expectations that generate what she labels electoral racism in which some liberals held such unrealistic expectations of Obama that they were bound to be disappointed with the reality of his presidency. In simplistic terms, take Bill Maher's comment, repeated with approval by Michael Moore in which Maher asserts that he voted for the black guy but got the white guy. (See clip from The View) In other commentary, Maher laments that Obama is too professorial and not a real black president, "the kind that lifts up his shirt so that you can see the gun in his pants." (Frances Martel, Bill Maher Disappointed that Obama Isn't a Real Black President, 5/29/2010)
I don't suggest that Maher is a card carrying racist but there is inherent unrealized racism in his observation. What is Maher's definition of blackness? What is there about Obama that's not black enough for him? What is there in Obama's demeanor that makes Maher define him as acting white? Who is Bill Maher to define what it means to be black? A similar observation with regards to unrealized racism is asserting that, "All Asians are good at math." It doesn't have to be a negative observation, but simply a sweeping generalization that presumes to define an entire group based on a perceived characteristic.
The animosity against Obama is couched in very personal terms. Some accuse him of intentionally betraying liberal or progressive causes, of being a sellout who has turned to the dark side and abandoned all progressive goals. That goes far beyond being disappointed and desiring a change in his policies. It's the worst type of character assassination. Perry raises the question as to why so much vitriol is directed towards Obama on this very personal level when in comparison with Bill Clinton, he has accomplished as much and in many cases more than Clinton. I recall when Clinton signed DADT into law; he didn't get nearly the attacks from the left for signing the bigoted law as Obama has received for not fighting for an anti-discrimination provision in the bill repealing the law.
Race informs all aspects of life in this country. To pretend that it doesn't is naive and unrealistic. Interestingly, I've seen this same article shared by many of my black Facebook friends. Those who have shared it have found it credible. This doesn't mean that black people are always right; however, it does reflect a difference in perspectives along racial lines. The question to ask yourself is do you use these differences to engage in honest dialogue or do you shut down into a defensive posture in which you deny that there is anything to be discussed? I truly appreciate those of you who have elected the first option. I have found your perspectives affirming and comforting. It is through such honest exchange that we all learn and grow.