My blog overlord, Joe Gandelman, links over to a Rasmussen poll which says that more "voters" found Barack Obama's "dollar bill" comment to be racist than they did John McCain's Britney Spears/Paris Hilton ad. The article is a bit unclear if they asked if voters thought the ad and comment were "racist" or "played the race card", which I think is generally meaningful, but not for the discussion I wish to have. For I think the real story about the Rasmussen poll is being buried here.
As I just said, the article frames the story as most voters (writ large) thinking that Obama's remarks were more racist than McCain's ad. That isn't exactly immaterial, but it hides the fact that this opinion tracks racial lines very closely. In the middle of the article, it is revealed that while just 18% of White voters thought that the McCain ad was racist, 58% of Blacks did. And while 53% of Whites thought Obama's remarks were racist, only 44% of Blacks did.
So in reality, there are at least two stories here. Certainly, from a purely political point of view it matters what the electorate as a totality thinks. But from the view of furthering our understanding of racism and society's perception thereof, the real story is that Blacks and Whites have substantially different ideas of what constitutes something as "racist".
Unfortunately, that second story -- the continuing divide in how Whites and Blacks perceive racism -- gets buried because "the majority" (which, of course, is dominated by Whites) thinks Obama was racist and McCain wasn't. The Black voice gets subsumed by the White majority, and ceases to be a relevant competing view -- it's just the minority (wrong) view. But I think it is very relevant that Blacks consider McCain's ad to be more racist than Obama's comments, and that Whites think the reverse. Is it racial loyalty? Is it a greater perception by Blacks about what racism actually entails? Is it partisanship? Who knows. But it is relevant, and the way the story is being covered hides that fact.
Also, a quick digression: It is interesting to me that White voters considered Obama's words to be racist, given that they don't pass the general threshold of racism in American public discourse, which is that nothing can be racist unless it explicitly and overtly expresses malice and hatred towards a racial group. Obama's comments were way to subtle for that, but presumably were covered under the "Black speaker" exception where anything that a Black person says that ties to race or otherness automatically is presumed to be a playing of the race card. And that gets transformed into "racism" because there is nothing more racist than a Black person ever insinuating that there is anything racist in what White people do.
UPDATE: One Drop at Too Sense has a great post on this topic as well.