ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
This is Talk of the Nation, I am Andrea Seabrook in Washington, Neal Conan is away. A year ago, many believed America would never elect a non-white President. Then came November 4th. From Times Square to Michigan Avenue to Hollywood Boulevard, crowds flooded the streets as news outlets announced Barack Obama would be the 44th President of the United States. Now, since the jubilations have simmered down, some have begun to ponder what does this mean for race relations in America? Today, we talk at two African-American journalists who have reappraised the way they think about how the other sees us, how we see them, and what we should expect from one another. Later in the hour we'll talk with Howard Dean about leaving the Democratic National Committee.
First, reexamining race relations in a post-November 4th world. What about you? Has the election made you rethink the way you see others? How has it changed the way you live? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. The email address is email@example.com and you can join the conversation online, go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. We begin with Dawn Turner Trice. She writes about race relations for the Chicago Tribune and she joins us from member station WBEC in Chicago, welcome.
Ms. DAWN TURNER TRICE (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Hello, Andrea.
SEABROOK: One of your most recent posts is about encountering a man who decided he was going to drop the hyphen in the word African-American. Is he dropping African as well? Tell me about this man.
Ms. TRICE: Well, absolutely. I met him over the weekend at a big celebration at a local Chicago suburb had celebrating its diversity. And he said to me that he was going to drop the hyphen and the qualifier and become simply American. In the past, he felt like he kind of a sat on the fringes of American culture and with America having such a tortured past with race relations, he said he really never felt fully a part of the fabric. And - but that 44 percent of white Americans could come out and elect a man of color president, he said it really made him rethink how he felt about himself and how he felt about his country.
SEABROOK: Barack Obama got more of the white vote than John Kerry did, more than Al Gore did, more than Bill Clinton did.
Ms. TRICE: Absolutely.
SEABROOK: So, I really want to pass this around to your readers. You asked your readers. Has Obama's win made you feel more wholly American? And you asked white Americans as well, if they feel they're part of a quote, "more perfect union" where race is concerned. What did you hear from your readers?
Ms. TRICE: Well one white woman from St. Louis told me that she'd grown up in a Chicago suburb, in a very segregated town in Chicago, and she had very provincial views but Obama inspired her to give money and she'd never thought that she would be able to vote for a black man. And then on election day, she said the she worked at a polling place forum and she was working there with blacks and whites in the spirit of coming together for a common purpose was so amazing and she said that she - the next day, she immediately went out and approached a black coworker whom she had been wanting to talk to just to start a conversation and to kind of further those good feelings. She said to me that she was - it wasn't enough to just feel good coming up to the election but she wanted to carry those feelings beyond the election.
There was another man, a young white Republican man who said that he was disappointed that his party hasn't been able to attract young voters or people of color. He said that he had - he had never been politically active but he was going to go to work to make sure that the Republican Party looked more like the country. He lives in Michigan. He had grown up in Chicago and on the South side, in a very diverse neighborhood. And he was, he said that he was going to join some type of young Republican group or something to make a difference in his party, to make sure that it is more racially diverse.
SEABROOK: Now, I don't mean to be the jaded journalist here but it seems as though, especially Barack Obama supporters are in this sort of starry eyed period and seeing the world as this happy holding hands place. How was this going to translate into action? What's your guess and what are people telling you?
Ms. TRICE: Well, the guy that I just talked about, the Republican man said he voted for McCain so he was not one of those starry-eyed Obama supporters, but he did want to take some of those sentiments and apply them to his party. You know, it's hard to tell how this is going to develop. You know, weeks from now, we have an economy that's kind of lurching along and often in times of economic peril, some of the social issues kind of fall to the side but there are people who have (unintelligible) out front and working on diversity issues, whether they were fair housing people.
I've heard from them as well who have said, you know, they feel kind of a bit of firm since Obama's election that they've been trying to push mixed race communities for some time. So you have people who have been doing a lot different types of work toward diversity and who will just - who feel like they feel a little buoyed by all of these, and they feel like they are, they will just continue to work harder. Now, how other people will - how this will manifest later on, it's not clear.
SEABROOK: Now, we definitely want to hear from our listeners about how their lives have changed - their perspectives have changed since November 4th, 800-989-8255 is the number. Let's go first to, let's see, Depti (ph) in Chicago, Illinois. Hi, you're on Talk of the Nation.
DEPTI (Caller): Hi, thanks of taking my call. And I do come from Barack-o-land so I'm very happy and, it has changed a lot. I come from Indian background and it has never been a criteria in our country whether you are - look whiter or blacker or you are of certain religion or certain economic level. It has never been the issue, but since I came here five years ago with little girl who goes to a very homogenized society and school is very homogenized. So for her, it has been a struggle and it breaks my heart that - still whatever you say, this country is still a bit of polarized but since Barack Obama got elected, and she also got into the student council. I think she's extremely confident and whether it changes anything for me or not, I am very happy that it has changed her outlook that not only that she become a doctor, a attorney or whatever as we are stereotyped as being Indian, she can also be a successful politician.
SEABROOK: Well, thank you so much for your call. Is this the sort of thing that you're hearing, Dawn Turner Trice?
Ms. TRICE: Absolutely. I think you know, sometimes we try to imagine what are some of the big cataclysmic things that will come out of this, but we can't underestimate the power of the small changes or not so small internal changes that people are undergoing right now. I mean it's undeniable the media has such a huge impact on image, in the way we see ourselves. And for, I mean, little boys and girls of all colors and races, religions, I think that Barack Obama really starts to change the model of some things, and so I think that's a huge step. It kind of - it says a lot for a number of different types of (unintelligible) especially I think little maybe black boys and black girls.
SEABROOK: What piece does Barack Obama's speech on race that he gave back in the spring - what does that play now that this man is going to be the President of the United States?
Ms. TRICE: Well, I think that for, when he was talking - Obama was talking about Reverend Wright and how he understood the challenges of the 1960s Barack did and how he understood why the people were still - there were some older people who were still disheartened by those memories. And he said something about how the problem with that, thinking was that they considered things to be fairly static as opposed to capable of change. And I think that that was the thing that really resonated with me. And it wasn't just that older generation, but there are those of us that are of late 30s or 40s who also kind of stumbled into that line of thinking and that maybe, you know, America was this place where you had some finite, finite growth - if that's not a contradictory.
And then I think that when you started to see what was happening in the primary, you had - you looked at some of your friends or people who - maybe weren't your friends but they were white and they were just so, they were so engaged and just saying things that you just - I live in Chicago and so very I live outside of Chicago, but I work in Chicago. And really, it does - you don't find many racially polarized - more racially polarized cities than Chicago. And you started hearing people kind of switching over or saying things that you never expected. Then I think that you really - you start - it was evidence that maybe the whole race condition wasn't as static as many of us had once thought.
SEABROOK: What strikes me about Barack Obama speech back in the spring, now that this man will be President of the United States is that he spoke about how his own white grandmother confessed him at one point that she felt nervous when she was walking down the street alone and would pass a black man in the street. And now that there is the option at least in people's psyche, that that black man could be the President of the United States passing you on the street. It was not an option before.
Ms. TRICE: That's right. And I believe that John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony magazine was so - he was so - he understood the important, the importance of image, and how you have to be able to see - no matter who you are, you have to be able to see so many different diverse versions of yourself. And to be able to understand that, yes, there are still a lot of young black girls and boys who are in peril, who are in communities that are not faring well. But at this time, the invisible on part of that, of the black race that we often don't see are the people who have achieved and Barack Obama's not (unintelligible). There are a lot of people, of African-Americans who have succeeded and who are succeeding.
SEABROOK: So, did this election in your view, become about race or did it transcend race and become about the man?
Ms. TRICE: Well, I think it was definite - it was definitely a referendum on race. Because - I mean from the very beginning, from January when Barack won Iowa, and won the Iowa caucuses. And it was just as - it started me to re-evaluating the way that I saw race in America. And as someone who has written about race and who has thought quite a bit about it, I was just absolutely floored that a state that's overwhelmingly white would, could choose - and in open caucuses. So you're not afraid to say this in front of your neighbor, but could choose a man of color.
SEABROOK: I want to ask you more about that, especially re-evaluating race in America. We're talking about what's changed in race relations since the election. How is this playing out in your life, if at all - 800-989-8255. You can also send us an email; the address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Andrea Seabrook, you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
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SEABROOK: This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington. According to Gallup, more than two-thirds of Americans say Barack Obama's election as President is either the most important advance for black people in the past century or among the top two or three most important advances. The question now, what's changed in race relations since November 4th? Calvin Wearie(ph) is a dark-skinned man that lives in a mostly pro-McCain area in York, Pennsylvania where he worries about the other.
Mr. CALVIN WEARIE (Caller): Do they think that I'm pulling out in front of their car because now I think that I can get away with it, or did they realize that I'm just a jerk when I drive. I think - I'm hoping that I'm not adding to any anxiety they might be feeling since where I live basically voted for McCain.
SEABROOK: Michele Norris of All Things Considered and Steve Inskeep of Morning Edition have been talking with a diverse group of voters in York, Pennsylvania about race. Their third and final conversation following Barack Obama's election airs on both of those shows tomorrow. Did your perception of race relations change after last Tuesday night? How has your life changed? Give us a call, its 1-800-989-8255. The email address is email@example.com. And you can join the conversation online, go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. Now, we were hoping to speak with Ta-Nehisi Coates, he's contributing editor at The Atlantic but we haven't been able to get him on the line. And we're sticking with our best person, Dawn Turner Trice, she's a columnist at the Chicago Tribue. And before the break, you were saying that this whole election beginning with the Iowa caucuses has made you personally re-evaluate race in America.
Ms. TRICE: Absolutely. I am - I couldn't put my finger on what I was feeling exactly for a long time until I heard a woman say -I heard a young white woman say - and then she said these words. She said, we see our self, we see our self in him. And she was speaking of Obama. And I figured, oh my God, that's kind of what it - that's what's been kind of (unintelligible). Because in some ways, we Americans see ourselves in our president, and that so many white people in a country with such a tortured history regarding race could see themselves in a man of color. That was astounding, and that was something that I never thought that I would see in my lifetime.
SEABROOK: I definitely want to hear from more of our callers, let's go to Angela. She's in South Bend, Indiana. Hi there.
ANGELA (Caller): Hi, how are you?
SEABROOK: Very good.
ANGELA: I love Talk of the Nation. I'm so glad that we're having this discussion. I'm trying to keep it brief. There's just so much that I have a comment. The only thing that - I'm an African-American woman, I am 25. So I am in that demographic that I guess, you know, starry-eyed, the starry-eyed Barack Obama supporter. But living in Indiana, driving past a field of cows as we speak actually. I live in the city, but I work kind of rural and so does my boyfriend. And we are both surrounded by McCain supporters, of amazing dead(ph) Indiana, went blue after 44 years. But the attitude is kind of tense now. It was tense to begin with. It started out when before he was selected as the Democratic nominee.
You know, they were, it was joking and it was a little lighthearted, it was, you know, wow this history, there's a woman and a black man, you know, there were jokes around our co-workers. But eventually as it, looked as if he would actually become the nominee, things got a little more tightlipped. (unintelligible) my boyfriend didn't really have lunch with any of the co-workers. He ate alone. He's one of the three African-Americans that works in this entire factory. There were, you know, postings up on bulletin boards about the otherness of Barack Obama about, you know, how he's most the rumors (unintelligible) eventually it came down to - even some people that he would speak with that were Republicans, they would admit, you know, some things that Barack Obama were proposing, some of his ideas, they made sense to them. But they just couldn't vote for him.
And they wouldn't really, you know, say why, it was like this tense. And also, to come in out what your guest is saying earlier, about how older generations could, you know, they're still a little apprehensive thinking, you know. I have - my grandmother and I work with older African-Americans and their thought was I hope he's not assassinated. Yeah, it's like this country would never tolerate a black man as leader. Yeah, we have this afterglow and everyone's happy. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty in a year, two years from now, you know, there's still that tenseness. It's just kind of a downer.
SEABROOK: Angela, let me ask you. You're talking about how you feel your scene as a black woman, you and your boyfriend. How about - do you see whites differently?
ANGELA: I don't, I don't. I did on election night and maybe the night after. I actually was at a friend's house for an election night party. We were all Obama supporters. They were mostly white. And they, you know, we were crying and holding each other at the same time. That made me feel proud as an American. And that made me feel like OK. Now, things are going to be a little bit even. But after that, and after speaking with black people actually. Not white people. I mean it's a little - it's a little tense around work with the older white people that I work with. And I'm just - I would like to chalk that up to you, you know, disappointed that their candidate didn't win.
But in speaking with older black people, they're hoping. I mean, I've even heard, you know, well, watch out. There's going to be more speeding tickets in Indiana now for black people because there are going to be some angry cops that are going to racially profile because black man as a president. And now, this is their way of retaliating, I mean retaliation is the feeling around there.
SEABROOK: Thanks for your call, Angela. And Dawn Trice Turner, what do you think of this? Is this sort of thing that you're hearing for narrators as well?
Ms. TRICE: It's interesting because coming from Chicago, and we all kind of remembered when Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor was elected. And the day after that election was just incredibly tense. That whole, whole election, the campaign was so racially polarized. That I mean those of us who remember that time, we were kind of, you know, we weren't certain on what to expect the day after November fourth. And I have not heard readers - I haven't heard that from readers and I have not seen that here in Chicago. And hadn't heard much of it from readers in Indiana, but I can understand that the caller's perspective. Because, I mean, there is that. You know, we have the kumbiyah side of the story. But there were people who voted for Obama, even who wouldn't want to live next door to him - or who would not to sit next to him in a pew. But they voted their interests, you know. So the whole issue was very complicated.
SEABROOK: Let's go to Kai in Surprise, Arizona. Is that right?
KAI (Caller): That's right.
SEABROOK: Tell me what your comments are.
KAI: Well, I'm a teacher and I'm African-American and all the students are white. I had - when I first started teaching at this school - that is, I love the school. It's a wonderful school. And I work with students with behavioral disorders. That the parents, I had several parents who did not want to shake my hand. I had parents that - and this was about five years ago. And I had a parent that wanted to see my credentials because they really didn't believe that I was capable of teaching their child. But what's happened is, in the last few years, even before this, is that they realized that I had their child's interest in mind. And that - that we have to work together.
Now what that has done as far as acceptance on a political realm, I would have to say it's minimal. They just identified me as - or I was identified by one parent as that nigger teacher. And that parent is now extremely apologetic, and one of my biggest fans. But in terms of support and working together, they are working together with me. But again as far as on the political scene, I'm in McCain country, and that's very difficult to see very much changing on a larger scale.
SEABROOK: Thanks very much for your call. We also have an email coming from Christie in St. Louis, Missouri. She says I'm hearing and seeing from some of the white community in my area that the guilt that white people are supposed to have about slavery to black people is over, because now we have a black president. Do you think this goes - this takes a step in that direction? Dawn Turner Trice?
Ms. TRICE: Well, I don't. I mean I never liked the whole, the thought of white guilt. But during the Democratic National Convention, I wrote a story for the newspaper about whether a black president would mean that there would no longer be any need for groups like the NAACP or the Urban League or maybe even policies such as affirmative action. And the reality is that, I mean we have - we definitely have come a long way. But there's still a long way to go. And I think that it's just important to keep that in mind. And when I look around Chicago, and look at the things that are happening in various impoverished communities that are mostly black. You realize that it's huge that that there is a black man who's been elected president, but there is still so much work that has to be done.
SEABROOK: What about expectations? I mean, what are some of the expectations that say white people have of black's now after this election and vice versa?
Ms. TRICE: Well, I think that there is the expectation that we should we or they or black people as a whole should be able to look at Barack Obama and this is kind of a huge expectation and be able to perform accordingly, and you know, to understand that it's OK to do well in school. Some of those clichés about just standing up and being better citizens and the reality is that there are lots of African-Americans who are - who were doing that already. The expectations I think are high across the board. There are lots of expectations from the black community or from other communities.
SEABROOK: Mm hmm. Let's go to Joe in Little Rock, Arkansas. Welcome to Talk of the Nation.
JOE (CALLER): Yeah. Hi. I just want you to sing a little kumbiyah from my perspective. I'm a 40-year-old, white guy and I work in sales and it's pretty predominantly a white industry, but I have a highly educated and highly sophisticated African-American woman as a co-worker and we went to lunch the other day. And while it was in back of my mind, right I never once mentioned race. I never once mentioned how fortunate for all of my co-workers family and friends and - of their African-American race that Barack Obama won, that wasn't anything near the subject matter. And my point of course is that I think in our actions we can show that race is less of an issue as much as we can in our words.
SEABROOK: Mm hmm. Interesting (unintelligible) back to their style of talking about race which was attempting to be color blind.
JOE: Yes and that's how I've raised my kids, you know, we don't use the word black as a descriptive.
SEABROOK: Mm hmm.
JOE: You know, there's a movie "Cinderella" with Brandy as the lead and we talked about what we liked about the movie and what we like about the "Cinderella," but we never ever have taught them to use color of skin as a descriptive.
SEABROOK: You know, I wonder though if I could just ask you that sort of been - there are some people who say with Americas has gotten beyond that the talking of - is it better than not talking about race and then it's only white people that ascribe to this idea of color blindness.
JOE: Well, I think it's time for both sides and I also think that - you know, I'm not avoiding the issue clearly it's a - there's a bit of a paradox there because it is an issue and I'm of course in Arkansas which is - and there are a lot of racial strains here, but I have had the fortunate opportunity to live in the pacific northwest for 14 years where there's less of an issue. So you just your experience back to the south and I'm a willing to talk about. I'm absolutely thrilled to share my prospective. But, I think just go into a movie with a friend who's have a different color or race doesn't have to be African-American and just really showing that there's not really either powerful.
SEABROOK: Joe, thank you so much for your call. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Dawn Turner Trice, what do you think of what this caller was just saying?
Ms. TRICE: Well, I've always - my personal feeling about that is that I really don't have a problem if someone notices that I'm African-American or black. I'm also five foot 10 inches tall and so if you notice that that's not a problem for me - me either. But the challenges are not ascribed some of the negative feelings you have my brownness, my blackness, just you know, just based on meeting me - that first impression - so it's like don't hold it against me, and that's always - that's been the challenge. So, I think it's also it's interesting because I have - we have a 13 and a half year old daughter and she's growing up in a racially diverse community and it's interesting how - you know, she does not - she won't describe her friends as being Asian or black or white, they're just her friends. And so, it's her parents who from time to time will say, well is she black or is she white, you know.
SEABROOK: Mm hmm.
Ms. TRICE: And then, she'll - and she'll kind of, mom.
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Ms. TRICE: What difference does that make? So, is that generational divide too that you know, that we're guilty of.
SEABROOK: We've got a call her from Ronnie in Cincinnati. He writes I'm a 30-something African-American male, when passing groups of whites I would wonder who the closet racist is. Now, I wonder who the closet Obama's supporter is. A great option to introduce to my psyche. This election means I can no longer allow automatically label anyone anything.
Ms. TRICE: Absolutely. It's interesting.
SEABROOK: Let's go one more caller. Dwayne in Columbus. Hi, you're on Talk of the Nation.
DWAYNE (Caller): Hello there.
DWAYNE: I love the show and thanks for having me.
SEABROOK: Great. Go ahead with your comment.
DWAYNE: You know, my comment is that I stay in a very predominantly Caucasian area of southern Kansas and the feeling that I and my friends have had really after Obama was elected, is an immense feeling of pride. And being American at this point that we've not really got to steal before now and you know, my entire friend group is white other than myself and I'm mixed race, but notably you know, I'm very brown in color, so obviously I would be judged as African-American. But my wife's friends have a huge sense of pride.
SEABROOK: And do you - so this has changed you do you think?
DWAYNE: Yeah. You know, my feelings and my sentiments I think have changed a lot. I mean, really just unbenounced pride.
SEABROOK: So, will it translate into actions do you think?
DWAYNE: Now, the area that I specifically live in, I don't know if there will be much change here being that I am in such a small community that's so predominantly white. I don't think it will change here but I think on a national spectrum. I think we'll - a lot of change and advancement of colored people.
SEABROOK: Thank you very much, Dwayne, for calling in.
DWAYNE: Thanks a lot.
SEABROOK: And a last word to you then, Dawn Turner Trice, do you think of it this carries more meaning for people of white than color?
Ms. TRICE: You know, that's interesting and that's the kind of the way I pose the question on the website the other day because I realize it wasn't just about how - I mean the changes of the internal changes that African-Americans or any other people of color how they were feeling, but it's also how white people were feeling as well. And I think, that that is that there are lot of people who have felt that - I mean, how do you show or tell somebody that, you know, that I'm not a racist or that I've really do - I want to get to know you on a level that's more than superficial. And the election was a way I think on a national scale to that a lot of white people probably felt like, well, this is the way that we were able to do that to convey that message.
SEABROOK: Dawn Turner Trice, she writes about "Race Relations" for the 'Chicago Tribune' and she joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. TRICE: Thank you.
SEABROOK: Coming up after a big win for Democrats, Howard Dean plans to step down as the head of the DNC. We'll give them an exit interview. I'm Andrea Seabrook, it's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
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