In a Sea of Red

Earlier this week, a friend forwarded me an email originated by a professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma. The email contained statistics, collected immediately following the election, on the presidential voting results in Norman, the most “liberal” town in Oklahoma. The professor’s agenda with the statistics was to map out the town’s blue precincts. Norman’s level of liberalism must be understood in context: At 66% pro-McCain, Oklahoma is redder in 2008 than it was in 2004, making it the only state in the country that increased its republican vote in this election. Oklahoma also now holds the distinction of being the reddest of the United States of America and the only state in which not one single county went Obama. Cleveland County, the county in which Norman (the “Berkeley” of Oklahoma) is located, went 62% McCain.

The main question driving the professor’s research might be summarized as, “Are there at least people in my immediate environment who share my view of the past eight years?” He took solace that his findings showed he actually does live in a blue precinct – probably close to the university and composed mostly of out-of-staters affiliated with the university.

I found something both sweet and sad about this guy’s efforts to make sense of the election for himself, and perhaps to make sense of a decision to live in this red state, red county, red town. The research question, as I understand it, resonates with my own sense of loneliness these days post-election, and provides me with some reassurance that I’m not quite as alone as I had thought. Perhaps the professor, like I, felt like he’d been left off the invitation list for all the “Obama-brations” around the country, sensing the excitement and energy in telephone calls and emails from friends and family across the nation, but unable to find the party in Norman. Perhaps he, like I, is aware of the sharp sense of disappointment blanketing the town and, out of simple courtesy, in public has expressed his pleasure about the election results in hushed tones to friends. Perhaps he, if he is white, has shyly smiled at black people in town, as if to secretly say, “It’s our victory.” If he’s bold, maybe he has said to a random black fellow citizen, “I’m really happy my candidate won.” And if he’s black like I am, he’s maybe had the experience of people shouting out their window, “WE HATE OBAMA!!” as they speed city streets in large pickup trucks. Unlike the buttons and t-shirts, the skin can’t be removed.

In my good moments, I think Oklahoma plays an important role in grasping the political reality of the country, especially right now. Oklahoma helps us not to forget that the popular vote margin wasn’t big. Close to half of the citizens in the United States (46%), would have preferred to have had a republican White House, after all we’ve been through in the past eight years. Or maybe party affiliation wasn’t the issue, they would just have preferred to have had a white White House, regardless of what it would mean for us as a country.

While our friends in more progressive states have the pleasure of celebrating and basking in Barack Obama’s victory, those of us in Oklahoma (and places like Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Alabama, and Alaska, all of which went 60% and more McCain) sit with hope when we can – over dinner with friends and in those moments of eye contact with a stranger driving in a car with an Obama bumper sticker – and always with a clear picture of the reality of the work ahead.

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~ by evansmousike on November 17, 2008.

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