That anti-Obama sentiment, which is fueled by reckless politicians on the right, is widely shared among ultraconservative whites who would never consider violence and who are appalled by the shooting of Sikhs at their place of worship. But those anxious white Americans also see in Obama an augur of a demographic shift they believe deprives them of their rightful place in the socioeconomic scheme.
“In the short run, diversity is not easy,” said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who has studied civic life in diverse communities.
“I’m a strong supporter of integration and diversity …(but) diversity is not easy. It’s tough, it’s difficult,” said Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone.”
To function well in heterogeneous environments, people must overcome primal instincts that compel us to fear and distrust the “other.” We must consciously set aside those negative reactions that flood over us: aversion, disinterest, distaste. That’s hard work.
Clearly, some Americans don’t want to do that — especially those who believe they have much to lose. A social and economic hierarchy that once guaranteed white Americans a place at the top is changing into one that places a premium on talent and hard work, no matter the packaging in comes in.
That might be easier to accept in a growing economy that offered good wages to everyone. A shrinking economy simply fuels the human tendency to cast about for scapegoats to blame for personal setbacks.
Still, I’m heartened by the country’s history. America has proved its resilience time and time again. It has also proved its adaptability — it’s knack for rejuvenating and re-creating itself to come closer to its stated ideal of full equality for all. My little girl and her friends are already doing their part.
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at email@example.com.)