..for people who don't read Salon.com
What liberals like me don't seem to get (a clue -- it's the same reason so many men - a more than a few women -- don't get Hillary Clinton, so while this is specifically about how people see Obama, the same principle applies to THAT CLINTON WOMAN).
It took many years for my light bulb to go on -- the short form of this is that urban liberal types look JUST AS weird and exotic (and therefore viewed with a wariness) and the Appalachians and Suthreners do to us.
I remember my wife coming home from her job when we lived in Houston, where we'd recently arrived (we were both raised in Pennsylvania), and saying "I just realized we were TAUGHT to consider people with that accent ("Y'all... etc) as dumb.
Hell, Lenny Bruce talked about it in the 60's, that LBJ had a mind as keen as Schopenauer's, but as soon as he opened his mouth ("Mah fellow 'mericans...") us Yankees said "Hell, he don't know NOTHIN' He can't even talk good like us."
Nearly every white person in America has been taught since childhood to have some combination of fear and dislike for black men (Eunuchoid-looking Cutie-pies like Gary Coleman are ok, though.) So make that adult virile black men, teenage or older. And it seems to take every day of your life to shed it and KEEP shedding it. When I told this to a neighbor of mine, a black man from Jamaica, he said in surprise, "You're the first white man who ever admitted that." To which I could only say "Most white men don't actually know that."
We have been fortunate over the years in that my car's engine exploded while in Houston and it took every cent we had to fix it, meaning we were finding work to get back to San Francisco by which time I had met and become friends with some amazing and brilliant Texans. (Well, I don't know about "brilliant" because that's sort of self-aggrandizing. Let's just say a lot of them were a lot smarter than I am.) By the time we returned to the Bay Area, I could see the sophisticated prejudices my friends had against computers and suthreners.
We have also been fortunate to only afford a house in a relatively unknown neighborhood in Oakland -- thoroughly integrated -- about 50% black, 25-30% white and the rest "Other." Because this gets to the crux of it ... many people, regardless of locale or station, are what they used to call "Intellectually bigoted." These people (most of us) think "Oh those -----" (Fill in the blank of the appropriate otherness.)
But have no problem being friendly, even close with people of that category.
So it comes down to "when you know one of THEM as a person (white, black, hillbilly, metrosexual, gay, lesbian, French, Persian, WASP, Arab, etc) it turns out they're just like real people -- some delightful, most sort of OK, and some annoying nasty and unpleasant people you just want to kick."
What a shock.
A few years ago, I watched an interview on CSPAN with General Wesley Clark, a man who'd been there and done that and actually ended a war he didn't start, explaining why the best possible outcome in Iraq could be a grade of C-minus. The interviewer asked "Not even a C-plus? And General Clark said "C-minus is reaching, meaning if we changed course RIGHT NOW and did everything right we MIGHT get up to C-minus, but it's not likely." And the interviewer asked why. And Clark said something that caused the interviewer's jaw to drop as if someone had just explained Quantum Physics to him -- "Because people are pretty much the same everywhere -- if you bomb their houses and kill their friends and neighbors, they get angry."
To whatever degree, we as a society have devolved to the point where people don't seem to understand that THEY are MORE OR LESS like us and that if anyone is not LIKE us or doesn't AGREE with us, there must be some REASON (they're bigoted, they're too urban, too unsophisticated, too dumb, too smug and acting smart, etc).
It can't just be that their lives and points of view are different from ours. But every bit as valid. Even their prejudices, the ones we see, are just as valid as OUR prejudices (the ones we DON'T see),
It's a two-way street.