Friday, May 16, 2008

The Question of Racism

In election years we develop all kinds of crazyass bits of conventional wisdom. Al Gore was a delusional liar. John Kerry was a craven coward. George Bush was worthy of the presidency because he's the sort of guy folks would like to have a beer with.

Now, with very little evidence, we're being deluged with the notion that Democrats who didn't vote for Barack Obama are racist.

If we don't watch out, "conventional wisdom" is going to be that the Democratic party is the party of racists.

I don't want to be a racism denier. If it's true that there's a substantial racist element in the party, then we need to all stand up against it. But I have several reasons to question the notion:

1. Small anecdotal issue, but I didn't vote for Obama and my reasons had nothing to do with his race.
2. Part of the racism story is that Hillary and Bill Clinton are racist and fuel the racists. This is totally bogus.
3. I have read a lot of articles about this supposed racist anti-Obama vote, and they don't supply first hand evidence, substantial evidence, or serious allegations. This is such an explosive issue that the media would have dug up more dirt by now if there was dirt to dig. There are always nutters in every arena screaming horrible stuff, but in this case there appear to be fewer than you might expect (fewer than the people who made insulting comments about Hillary's body, for example).
4. Media reports on anti-Obama racism often provide evidence of people complainng about his religion, patriotism, citizenship and involvement in radical groups. These are ridiculous charges for sure, but they aren't racism.
5. Media reports on anti-Obama racism imply that the racists are Democrats, but don't say whether their anecdoates come from Democrats.

Even sensationalist Democrat-bashing MSNBC couldn't come up with anything more than "Doors have been slammed in [Obama campaign worker's] faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping." Hmm... white volunteers are called racist names. They've had doors slammed in their faces. Hell, I've been chased down driveways while canvassing for the middle-of-the-road Liberal party in small town Ontario. While canvassing for the NDP in Toronto I've had more doors slammed in my face than I can count and had all kinds of abuse hurled at me, including threats and profanity. That stuff happens in political campaigns.

MSNBC cribbed their story from a Washington Post article, Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause. The WP spent a lot of time looking for racist incidents, and didn't find much more. One volunteer said, "The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive." If the guy had numerous such incidents, why didn't he say how many? It sounds like he had one and is extrapolating from it.

The Financial Post did some investigative journalism in West Virginia. They say West Virginia's anitpathy to Obama "raises fresh doubts about whether the US is ready to elect its first black president" but they don't uncover a single racist sentiment. They uncover a lot of nutty misconceptions, but candidates tend to face that sort of thing before they make themselves known to the country - in the spring of 1991, many Americans thought that Bill Clinton came from a rich family and was the son of a previous governor of Arkansas.



KC said...

Ummmm... According to the West Virginia exit polls, race was a factor for 1 in 5 of the Democrats and Independants who voted. Seeing as <5% of West Virginians are black I think thats some pretty hard evidence.

LeDaro said...

You must live on some other planet if you deny rampant racism in US. Surveys after surveys have shown that many won't vote for Obama because he is black indifferent to his qualifications.

Yappa said...

To kc -

Actually, 22% of WV voters said race was important, and of those, 83% voted for Hillary (but then nearly 70% voted for Hillary of the total) - so 17% of the electorate said race was important and didn't vote for Obama.

It's hard to know what that means. On the one hand, it's doubtless underreported, because many racist people aren't going to admit that they're racist. On the other hand, in perceptions of Obama there's this crazy conflagration of race, religion, nationality and involvement with radical groups - when they say that race was a factor, do they really mean that it's because he's black or do they mean they think he's muslim, non-American or a Black Panther? (all of which are apparently believed about him)

Yappa said...

To ledaro -

You're right of course. I don't claim that there's no racism in the US - there's tons of racism, from systemic racism to personal attacks on people of color.

If the media attention was on racism in society, I'd be applauding it. What got me worried is the tone of the articles painting the Democratic party as racist. I'm not sure I have it all worked out yet. Anyway you're absolutely right that I can't deny rampant racism in the US. I haven't seen these surveys that show that many won't vote for Obama because he's black. It was only in Mississippi, Arkansas and WV that exit polls found these results that people said race was a factor and then they voted for Hillary, and it's not clear what those results mean.