Many white Americans are suffering from what I’d call race fatigue. It’s not like ordinary fatigue, because this fatigue takes the form of being sick of the fatigue itself. Not only are they are sick of the fact that race is an issue, but they are sick and tired of feeling guilty about racism, and sick and tired of the fact that they are sick and tired of the feeling.
The ugly fact is that the guilt and the feelings will never go away, no matter how much they might want them to go away. Part of this is because of actual guilt; slavery left a lingering legacy and Jim Crow laws were within recent memory; I remember them! And a major part of it is the perception of guilt — created not so much by the perception of racism but by the perception of the appearance of racism. No matter what people do, there’s no way to make the guilt virus go away.
Unless someone came along and offered a way to at least make the appearance of racism go away.
Might that someone be Barack Obama?
Admittedly , I was a bit shocked to see the following line staring me in my face at InstaPundit this morning:

It is reasonable to surmise that Barack Obama will be the next President.

But I read on:

Mr Obama has a once-in-a-lifetime charisma that Hillary Clinton could never approximate, and she also suffers from the handicap of not being black. For all of his other plusses, part of Mr Obama’s appeal lies in the fact that many whites feel that voting for a black presidential candidate would be Doing the Right Thing. Leon Wieseltier has been explicit about this; he is not unique.

And the more I read from John McWhorter, the more painfully obvious it became that Barack Obama’s already strong psychological appeal (to both guilt-ridden and guilt-fatigued white Americans) offers something no other candidate can offer:

It will be intriguing to see what a certain contingent makes of it if we finally have a black president. All rhetoric about America as an apartheid nation, racist to its core, will run up against the fact–which will ironically feel inconvenient to this contingent–that the man who wakes up every morning in the White House and flies on Air Force One is black.
Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell have not really counted in this regard. Serving a Republican administration renders them to an extent “not really black” in the eyes of many, and neither devotes much effort to “identifying” with the black community. But Mr Obama would be a Democratic president, and with no war blood on his hands.

If you ask me, Obama’s strength is that he provides what amounts to a “offset” against racism — whether real, perceived, or imagined.
While the argument is made that Obama is “not black enough,” it strikes me that that argument has been fading, although McWhorter thinks the debate is long overdue:

We will likely hear that a child of a white mother and African father who spent much of his childhood abroad is not a true black American, as has already been observed by Stanley Crouch and Debra Dickerson.
But interestingly, I doubt this issue would come up about Mr Obama if, like even many blacks with histories like his, he had the speech patterns and demeanor associated with “real” American blackness: think Spike Lee, Bernie Mac, Morgan Freeman.
The issue, then, would really be about the extent to which Mr Obama is culturally black American, regardless of his biography. Some would lob this out of a constitutional antipathy to admitting that racism in America is receding (neither Mr Crouch nor Ms Dickerson are among this group). However, when couched more sensibly, the discussion would be one I would welcome.

So would I, and so would a lot of Americans — black and white. Guilt-ridden and guilt-fatigued.
McWhorter touches on another uncomfortable issue, and that is past prejudice against “miscegenation” (which I sometimes suspect is being perversely kept alive by “identity politics”):

One person can, after all, be more culturally black than another one. We are trained to roll our eyes and say “What’s that all about?” when this is brought up. But if blackness is about nothing but having a certain amount of pigment, then we seem to have gone back to some assumptions that bring to mind sepia-toned photographs and words like miscegenation.
In an America with increasing numbers of biracials, it’s time to start this conversation, and a President Obama would be a useful kick off.

I couldn’t agree more that it’s time.
FWIW, I think Hillary is blowing it badly. Her comical and lame attempts to show how “black” she is are precisely that — comically lame. The irony is that the more she pretends to be black, the blacker she makes Obama look. So, by trying to insinuate that he’s not “really black” (with a condescending wink-wink to black voters), she’s actually reminding everyone that he is black, and creating an anti-Hillary backlash among blacks and whites!
This might work if Obama weren’t really black, but the problem is that because of his appearance he can win the argument without saying a word.
Voters can look at him and see that he is black. And if Obama isn’t black, then who is?
I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of voters considered the accusation that Obama is “not black enough” a form of racism too.
If a vote for Obama can be translated into a vote against racism — a vote to end racism — he’ll be president.
(And while I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, I’m fatigued enough to think that maybe he should be.)
UPDATE: Loren Heal links this post, but doesn’t think white guilt will be enough to put Obama in the White House:

One would hope people would still want someone who had a proven record of executive leadership, experience in government and industry, and a nice dog.

I’m not planning to vote for Obama, but I think there’s more to this than white guilt. White guilt is one thing, but I don’t think that’s enough to elect anybody. A much larger factor is white resentment of being made to feel guilty.
If Obama’s election is seen as official certification that White Americans Are No Longer Racist — if he can package himself as the man to make the guilt go away along with the resentment — I think this is a powerful combination.
UPDATE: Speaking of blowing it badly, Hillary Clinton is now defending her accents as multilingualism:

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) – Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she sees her sometimes Southern accent as a virtue.
“I think America is ready for a multilingual president,” Clinton said during a campaign stop at a charter school in Greenville, S.C.

America may have already had a multilingual president (Garfield was described that way), but multilingualism means the ability to speak multiple languages.
Sorry, but speaking in accents doesn’t count.
UPDATE (04/29/07): Thank you, Glenn Reynolds for the link, and welcome all!
I hadn’t thought about whether racism offsets are as phony as carbon offsets, but shouldn’t it be easier to offset racism than carbon? Skin color can be seen as superficial, but there’s no getting away from the fact that underneath our skin, we’re mostly carbon.
That last remark overstated the actual percentage of carbon in the human body, which, though present in substantial amounts, runs second to oxygen:

96.2% of body weight comes from “organic elements” present in many different forms. DNA, RNA proteins, lipids and sugars are all composed of primarily O, C, H and N. Also, Water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2)as well as other small molecules involve these elements.
Oxygen (65.0%)
Carbon (18.5%)
Hydogen (9.5%)
Nitrogen (3.2%)

UPDATE (04/30/07): Might an Obama candidacy be the thing that finally forces the Republicans to draft Condi Rice? Clayton Cramer has seen a “Condi ’08” Bumper Sticker:

Yup, I saw one of these today on my way to church in Boise today. I like the idea, but Condi is clearly too intelligent to be elected. Still, a
Thompson/Condi ticket would be very attractive!

I’d vote for such a ticket, and while I don’t think assuaging guilt would have anything to do with my vote, as I noted in a comment below,

It is undeniable that a Condi Rice candidacy would have a similar appeal; the difference is that she’s more qualified to be president.