Thursday, October 23, 2008

Opinion- Bigotry Gains A "Joe The" Convert In NJ

Last night I witnessed first hand an unfortunate dynamic (or two) of this presidential race. My cousin, an adopted Son of The South,and his wife dropped in for a visit here in Central New Jersey. After the usual swapping of family stories, we decided to have dinner at a local Italian restaurant, a small "BYOB" operation with great food, moderate prices, "all Sinatra, all the time" on the music system, and just a nice, intimate atmosphere.

There was calamari, and Caesar salad. Spaghetti Bolognese and Eggplant Parmesano. And "to die for" lemon gelato. There was great service, incredible food, music, and atmosphere.

And other than our small party of five, there were only two other tables being served in that restaurant the entire night. We were there for nearly three hours.

The owner of the restaurant is a local chef of with a great reputation, an immigrant from the Old Country- I'll call him "Mario" for this piece (the reasons for disguising his identity will become evident very shortly).

It was close to 9:00 PM on this Wednesday night, and Mario talked to our group as we were leaving. We almost got him to divulge the secret of his artichoke recipe, but he never really caved to us. We asked him how was business. He only shook his head, and asked, "When are things going to get better?"

Mario watched his once thriving year old restaurant limping by, barely able to make payroll. That night the staff consisted of one waitress/hostess, an assistant/"go-fer" in the kitchen, and Mario. He conceded that most weeknights were like this one, and only Sundays kept him from disaster.

Wall Street crumbles, and Main Street gets flattened by the debris.

Before leaving we started to talk about the presidential election. My cousin and his wife, both registered Republicans, voted early- both voted for McCain, but with reluctance. They didn't think he was a good candidate, and seemed to be put off by "The Palin Factor". Neither had any real animosity towards Obama, but felt there was undue pressure, particularly on Southern whites, to vote for Obama or else be unfairly labeled as racists.

Mario then told us he was really unhappy with McCain, but wasn't going to vote for Obama.

His reasons were simple- Obama is black, and he is a Muslim.

Rather than get into an argument with a man who was a good host to us that evening, we let this lapse into racism slide. Mario, a man who came to this country looking for a better life, had bought into the poison of racism, and the erroneous assumption that you cannot be a "real" American and a Muslim.

Mario seemed like a good guy, a regular "Joe The Chef" (since we are a working class nation of "Joe The______ "s according to certain candidates on the campaign trail).

To try to correct him at this stage of the game would have been futile. Sadly, the hate mongers and those who seek to exploit divisions among us had gained another convert. Here was a man in front of us not unlike the woman at the McCain rally who told McCain that Barack Obama was an Arab.

Mario wasn't going to be parodied on Saturday Night Live, or see his image on You Tube. But he is indicative of a problem that a President Barack Obama will have- that thousands, perhaps millions, of American citizens will still distrust Obama because of the color of his skin. This is a prejudice that has been alive and well in some form or another on this continent for 500 years and counting.

But even more will still hang on to the erroneous belief that Obama is not a Protestant, but Muslim. There are those on the Far Right who's mission this political season was, if not to propagate that lie, was to make sure that the doubt of "who is the real Barack Obama?" would not go away.

The Agents of Fear did their job very effectively in one little corner of New Jersey.

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