Last night I woke up, startled by a B-grade racist dream. It was surreal. But arent they all?
dream began with me walking down a street, and then Im in a moment
where I am making a racist remark about Senator Obama. Its
not that my mind doesnt do all sorts of unpredictable things, but rather that
this time, something really honorless and vexing leapt out of me. I was
shocked and surprised that I had done this. It was the
kind of thing where I was left going, wow, I didnt know I really felt
that way. Even more alarming was the apparent fact that somehow Barack
was aware of what Id said! He overheard me, or was omniscient, or I dont know it was a dream!! But anyway, it startled me.
dream quickly cut to the next scene, and Im kind of floating above my
own body, watching myself walk down a hallway, heading to a meeting
with the whole Obama Family, like being called to the principals
office. And just like that, there I am. What a dream!
a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach. I open a plain door and
enter this small sterile square room, like the hospital waiting room
they brought me to tell me my father had died, with bland blue vinyl
chairs and couches, and I am staring face-to-face Michelle Obamas
father! Also inside are Barack in the left corner in front of me,
Michelle to my immediate left, one daughter between them, and the other
to the right. Michelles father their girls
grandfather(!) is immediately to my right, his face practically in my
face, and hes staring at me with very intense eyes which are saying a
But he says nothing.
looks at me with a silent, disappointed consternation. Its a strong
glare, though not entirely a bludgeon. He alternates this look with
glances around the room at his family. And clearly Michelle is
come there to have my contrition, kind of like Colin Powell so publicly
endorsing Obama last week, after selling the world on the Iraq War. I
knew I had been cruel and stupid felt terrible, and wanted to get on
with taking responsibility, admitting my transgression, let them judge
me if they will, and attempt to show some honor.
What I had thought I was going to do is to walk in there, say what I had done, apologize, and hope to move on.
something about the energy in the room immediately threw me off. It was
uncomfortable in that room, and they didnt know what I was gonna say! Being
a parent, I realized that I just couldnt walk in there and say that
stuff! The Obamas and Mr. Robinson were broadcasting: Howre you
going to handle this one?! I realize quickly I cant repeat what Id
just done in front of the kids! How would that be? Adding insult to injury is how thatd be. What kind of example is that?!
I paused and reflected, and then something like this came out of my
mouth: Im really learning how to appreciate people for who they are.
I really have a lot to learn about respect and respecting people, and
about really deeply caring, and about trusting and feeling deeply
The whole room relaxed. I was so relieved.
Then I got woken up by my baby and the dream was over.
[Anecdotally, Ive discovered how having a child is such a great way to get to remember dreams sleeping through the night is so a thing of the past!]
awakening, I was left with a small sense of guilt, but more strongly a
sense of dignity and esteem, in having been present and powerfully
Soon after, I told my Reality Sandwich colleague, Ken Jordan, about this canny dream I had had, while at a retreat in Utah. He said my dream showed me confronting my shadow. And
that everyone is having this type of experience right now. Its
happening across the culture. People are being confronted deeply, and
their shadow is being confronted. Deeply. Right now. Its happening all
over the place.
when I heard some bells going off inside my head. Suddenly I saw it; the whole country is confronted with their prejudices in this
election both collectively and individually. And we have a
choice about how we are going to respond. While the election is not
about race, per se, it is an election which nonetheless really draws a
line in the sand.
contrast between these two candidates could not be more clear. Deepak
Chopra goes into this when he says that Palin, particularly, and the
Republican party in general, represents the shadow, while Obama is calling for us to reach for our higher selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind. (He follows up with part two, here.)
This time around, no one is going to make the claim that the candidates are just like each other, thats for sure. And
while the difference is way more than skin deep, nonetheless people are
going to have an opportunity to make a choice that is deep and
personal, a choice with dimensions which goes beyond who becomes
Sure, it seems self-evident that plenty of people will look at their ballot and think, "Id vote for him, but hes black." But
Im guessing that a lot of racist-thinking people will see that thought
for what it is, and raise it with a bet that a Senator Obama Presidency
would be better for them. I think that at the end of the day, a
surprisingly low number of people of any stripes will actually vote against their economic interest this time around. A lot of pundits are mentioning that the polls may lie because people want to lie about their true feelings. But I think something entirely opposite will occur for vast numbers of people: they will surprise themselves. They dont actually know yet that they are going to vote for Obama.
I know, it sounds crazy. While some people wont admit in advance theyre planning on voting for Obama, other people
who had originally thought that his color would be the deciding
factor, will find themselves in the voting booth reflecting hey,
wait a second, hes black but so what? He obviously does a better job of standing up for me. So
many people are going to have an inner experience of something like,
Well Im either going to go with my prejudice here, or vote about
something thats a little more concrete, like putting food on the table
and not blowing up the rest of the world. People will be
going, Wow, I cant believe Im doing this, but Im not stupid enough to
be able to deny what I see. Much has already been written about this in the press.
Having set their minds to voting for McCain,
having told their friends and co-workers, and people they gather with
that Hell yeah, Im voting for McCain, I think countless people will
meet that moment when they fill in that box, or punch that card, or
touch that screen, and theyll pause, maybe hold their breath, and
maybe think about their kids, and their finances, and theyll vote for
Obama. Then theyll walk away in wonder, scratching their
heads, and theyll chalk it up to, well, lifes just confusing, and
theres plenty of things I am conflicted about, so what the hell. Self-interest versus small-mindedness. Its a beautiful, perfect bind, because people like to do things they can feel proud of.
one level, these candidates offer us a clear choice between past
thinking, and a different future. There is just no question about it.
On a certain level, though, the vote will end up being a referendum on
prejudice. And because both of these streams are running
concurrently, people will have the equivalent of a perfect storm type
of moment, when those for whom its useful will be able to rationalize
looking beyond their fears and prejudices out of a deeper sense of self
would go on to conclude by saying that in hindsight, this election will
be a life changing, transformative moment for many, many people.
Regardless of whether Obama wins, people who vote for him after
wrestling with their shadow will come away from the experience of
having taken the physical action of making the vote as people somehow
changed. Its different than a thought, or something spoken of or even a dream. When you take an action in the real, physical world, it leaves an imprint on your psyche, your consciousness, and your unconscious. Like a line drawn in the sand, it marks a moment, and a place, where someone did something different than they ever had before. And
while many people will meet this moment with variations on surprise,
loathing, uncertainty, and conflict, it also sets up an opportunity, if
things go well, for them to look back on this in the future and feel
proud that they made the change in themselves. Since people love to take credit, if theyre happy about it later, theyll surely be thinking, I did that.
In a nutshell, or a voting booth, or a far too easily disqualified mail-in ballot,
I dont entirely think its too reductive to say that, in a lot of ways,
this choice, this election, this year, now, really does boil down to
change, hope and inspiration versus racism.
Nonetheless, in order to overcome the voter caging and the traditional hidden racism Bradley effect, which could each account for the polls being off by as much as 5%, Obama really needs to come in with closer to 60% of the vote in order to win this. Its far from over. But, it seems like a pretty good set-up. So Im crossing my fingers, and Im guardedly excited about it.
Hope is no more a platitude than racism is just a concept. They are realities. And
if ballots and voting have a deeper meaning, then to a large extent
this election really seems to be about a choice among these realities.
Its consequences will extend far beyond just who becomes the next
President. Its the ultimate reality show; were all
contestants, and well all take away something from it whether were
aware of it or not.
Image by fakeplasticgirl, used via a Creative Commons license.