In The Times (Oct. 30, 2008) under the title "What? Me Biased?" Nicholas Kristof reported the grim findings:
"For the last year and a half, a team of psychology professors has been conducting remarkable experiments on how Americans view Barack Obama through the prism of race.
The scholars used a common research technique, the implicit association test, to measure whether people regarded Mr. Obama and other candidates as more foreign or more American. They found that research subjects — particularly when primed to think of Mr. Obama as a black candidate — subconsciously considered him less American than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain.
Indeed, the study found that the research subjects — Californian college students, many of them Democrats supportive of Mr. Obama — unconsciously perceived him as less American even than the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It’s not that any of them actually believed Mr. Obama to be foreign. But the implicit association test measured the way the unconscious mind works, and in following instructions to sort images rapidly, the mind balked at accepting a black candidate as fully American. This result mattered: The more difficulty a person had in classifying Mr. Obama as American, the less likely that person was to support Mr. Obama.
And so on.
Apparently we are to be amazed, we are to find intolerable, that some Americans do not immediately think of a man whose father was born and spent almost his entire life in Kenya, whose stepfather was born and spent almost his entire life in Indonesia, who lived, during his childhood, either in Indonesia (where he was listed as a "Muslim" in the records of the school he attended), or when he was living “in America,” that part of America turned out to be Hawaii, in the middle of the Pacific, as "American" quite as they do others, and, Kristof tells us, research shows that they "subconsciously considered him less American than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain." And when that man went to work, for the past twenty years, he chose to live and work as a community organizer and then politician, among the largely black population of southside Chicago. For twenty years he attended a church whose minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a friend from whom he learned so much, routinely screamed or demanded that "God damn America!.," And when he wasn’t in church, or plotting his resistible rise, he was handing out foundation money to some very doubtful, race-based undertakings, and his collaborators, acquaintances, friends (call them what you will) included William Ayers, whose terrorist acts, including support for those who murdered policemen, may – as Obama says, be “despicable acts that took place some forty years ago,” but what Obama fails to note is that Ayers' refusal to distance himself in any way from those acts remains dew-fresh. And then there is his friendship – those meals, those earnest conversations – with Rashid Khalidi, and his associations as well, with his most important financial backer, the crooked Syrian-American Anton Rezko,and Rezko’s backer, a shadowy Iraqi billionaire whose louche activities have caused him trouble with the law.
But the most important thing, the obvious thing. Is never mentioned. Kristof mentions race. Kristof mentions Obama’s “Kenyan connection.” But he never mentions his name. It’s the name. Barack Obama, or for some, Barack Hussein Obama. For god’s sake, after a long line of washingtons and jeffersons and adamses, and having accommodated, finally, first two roosevelts and then an eisenhower (and seven years after the end of World War II!), the country might have been prepared, just, to vote for someone bearing the name Giuliani, or even possibly Lieberman, but to expect, when the country has been attacked by, and like the rest of the non-Muslim world is under permanent threat from, Muslim terrorists, no one to notice, or react to, the name “Barack Obama” is absurd.
Can Nicholas Kristof not understand this? Is he so lacking in common sense? Does he not see that what he is so quick to label as “racism” or to depict as fanatical xenophobia reflects only the understandable desire for a semblance of cultural continuity, including a continuity in the names of our leaders, and what those names signify .
Kristof expects his readers to be as amazed and ashamed as he apparently is, that there are some Americans who find something just a little unsettling, a little off, about Barack Obama, with all of his ideological baggage, accumulated over a lifetime (baggage he has deposited in a locker, and now assures us he has lost the key). Yes, Americans have been subjected to a moral test by Nicholas Kristof, And, by Nicholas Kristof, they have been found wanting.
Let's -- as those hands-in-pockets law professors like to say, as they strut with an air of furrowed-brow thoughtfulness across the front of the classroom -- vary the hypothetical. And because Kristof’s wife is Chinese, let’s set our scene not in fair Verona, or even fair Belmont, but in China. Kristof should ask his wife what would be the reaction, not of Chinese peasants, but of the most sophisticated Chinese, those who have been well-educated, and thus most keenly aware the development and the achievements of, Chinese civilization. And let’s make them dissidents, people as disgusted by Chinese mad-dog capitalism as by Communist Party rule. Now let’s go through it: First, imagine that some foreign student, African or European, spending a few months at a university in China, nearly fifty years ago, had impregnated a Chinese woman and then promptly decamped. She raised the child, for a few years outside of China, and then, in China itself, in an off-center part --- say, in Kashgar, in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang. That child of course would have learned perfect Chinese. And eventually – let’s fast-forward this hypothetical – he grows up, and in a China with open elections, runs as the candidate of a major party. And he bears a name, given to him by his fickle, fleeing father. Let’s call him Nditozuke Shamuyarira. Let’s call him Oginga Odinga. Let’s call him Jacob Zuma. Call him whatever you want. Or if you wish to make him the son of an English student, who similarly met, wooed, impregnated, left, an impressionable Chinese girl, then give him another name, say Anthony Ashley Cooper, or George Villers Buckingham, or James James Morison Morison Weatherby George Dupree.
Now what would be the reaction to such a candidate, from the most sophisticated and worldly of Chinese – say, from the lady who is Mrs. Nicholas Kristof? You and I have our strong suspicions. But Nicholas Kristof knows, or Nicholas Kristof can so easily find out.