Friday, October 26, 2012

The Importance of Race in the Race

How's that Post-Racial World Working Out For Ya?

The 2012 election is shaping up to be more polarized along racial lines than any presidential contest since 1988, with President Obama experiencing a steep drop
in support among white voters from four years ago.

At this stage in 2008, Obama trailed Republican John McCain by seven percentage points among white voters. Even in victory, Obama ended up losing white voters by 12 percentage points, according to that year’s exit poll.

But now, Obama has a deficit of 23 percentage points, trailing Republican Mitt Romney 60 percent to 37 percent among whites, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll. That presents a significant hurdle for the president — and suggests that he will need to achieve even larger margins of victory among women and minorities, two important parts of the Democratic base, to win reelection.

Dismal support for Republicans among minorities is a long-term problem for the GOP in a rapidly diversifying nation. Fully 91 percent of Romney’s support comes from white voters.

At the same time, Democrats cannot count on the share of the white vote continuing to drop as it has in recent years. The share of white voters in the Post-ABC polling is similar to what it was in 2008, when whites made up a record-low 74 percent of all voters.

I'm not sure why this is news, but I felt like reiterating it anyway. Not only is the idea that Obama's election in 2008 represented a new "post-racial world" silly and absurd, but the tea party movement was, fundamentally, a racial reaction to Obama's ascension to the highest office in the land. Throw in the staggering rise of race-related hate crimes since his election four years ago, the most segregated public school system since Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and all this other dog whistle politics, and there you have it.

Racism is alive and well in American politics today, and to deny otherwise is a ravaunchist, middle class, "colorblind" fantasy.

UPDATE: As usual, SocProf at Global Sociology has a much more eloquent take on the social construction of race.
Racism in the US is a deep, entrenched and multi-layered phenomenon. The increase in individual racism has social roots, be they historical and institutional racism, or as manufactured and funded phenomenon that benefit certain powerful segment of the population.

UPDATE II: Former Sec. of State Colin Powell came out and endorsed Obama a few days ago. The reaction from his fellow Republicans ranged from the stupid to the outright racist. But it's the comment made by Powell's former Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson in reaction to those reactions that bears repeating.
My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people -- not all of them, but most of them -- who are still basing their positions on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that's despicable.  

Doesn't sound like such a dog whistle anymore, does it?

UPDATE III: Jodi Kantor of the NYT had a well-written piece ten days ago on the importance of race in Obama's reelection efforts, particularly from the viewpoint of the African-American electorate. Very nuanced and thoughtful, but still leaves you with the same conclusion: we have a long way to go.

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