Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Someone mentioned that since Barack Obama became President, there are no longer any elected Black senators or governors (Gov. Paterson in New York was installed in response to Gov. Spitzer’s resignation; Sen. Roland Burris was appointed to fill Obama’s seat). Why, though, are Blacks so unsuccessful at seeking statewide office? In the House, Blacks comprise a fraction almost proportional to their general population proportions (9.5% in the House; 13% generally).

Latinos (Govs. Sandoval and Martinez; various Senators) and Asian-Americans (Govs. Haley and Jindal; Sens. Inouye and Akaka) have had more success in recent years, despite similar problems — gerrymandering, for example.

So, why does this happen? A few hypotheses:

  1. Gerrymandering pushes Black House members too far to the left: Most Black Representatives come from districts that are majority-black, and these districts also tend to be urban heavily Democratic districts that push the left spectrum of the party line, thus making them even less palatable to the median voter.
    • BUT: How do you explain the success of white rural conservatives, who often come from districts as far on the right side of the spectrum as urban districts? Why aren’t they punished for their conservatism? (Consider, say, Sam Brownback.) Why wouldn’t a Black candidate be successful in a similarly liberal state (New York, say)?
  2. Majority-Black districts tend to be in big states: The barriers to entry in state-wide races in big states are bigger — more fund-raising required, more statewide organization, and more pull within the state party apparatus. Again, the odds seem long for a Representative with a comfortable margin of victory every year having the organization within the state party to guarantee the nomination.
    • BUT: How do you explain the success of Latinos, who presumably suffer from similar circumstances? Mel Martinez and Marco Rubio have been successful in Florida, while Ken Salazar represented Colorado and Bob Menendez represents New Jersey, all of which are in the top half of states by popualtion.
  3. Latent racism against Black politicians: Possible, or at least some variation thereof. For example, people may consider Black politicians more radical than their counterparts, despite similar policy platforms. (Compare reactions to Herman Cain with reactions to Rick Santorum, say.) Additionally, Black politicians may face increased scrutiny from rural and suburban whites, who would be essential in any statewide race. Latent racism would probably be most detrimental in statewide Southern races (see the Alabama gubernatorial Democratic primary in 2010). Media representations of Black candidates can reinforce this latent racism.
    • BUT: The Bradley Effect has largely vanished, and Barack Obama’s presidential election victory suggests that racism is not an insurmountable barrier, especially in liberal states that one imagines Black Democratic candidates could win (New Jersey or Massachusetts, say).
  4. Bad demographic luck: Of the top ten states in proportion of African-Americans, seven are in the old Confederacy, and Tennessee is close. Because of party affiliation barriers, ideological fissures, and latent racism, Blacks cannot get traction in these states.
    • BUT: Shouldn’t they at least do OK in states like Maryland, Delaware, Florida, New York, and Illinois, that aren’t quite as Old South? And why aren’t there more successful Black Republicans from the Old South states? There are Latino Republicans despite the national immigration policy. Does history of southern white racism run that deep?

There might be other reasons, too, such as broader party affiliation (Blacks tend to be heavily Democratic, even moreso than other demographic subsets).

I think some combination of the above probably does it, but it’s hard to say the exact chemistry of it. Consider the prime counterexample — Barack Obama — who was elected in a statewide, then nationwide race. He never represented a House district, so he could never be pulled heavily left by the local party. He never had a record to trail him as he ran for Senate (#1). He ran in a big state, but he lucked out when his opponents either disappeared (Jim Ryan) or became jokes (Alan Keyes) (#2). The state apparatus was glad to have Obama rather than scandal-plagued Ryan. Latent racism is less of a problem in Illinois, one of the more currently reliable liberal states (# 3 and 4). Additionally, latent racism may have simply diminished over the years (as compared to, say, the response of the country to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign).

Anyone have any better ideas?

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The most popular TED talks tend to be uncontroversial and, to use TED’s own terminology, “jaw-dropping.” People want to stare in wonderment or be blown away by the advances we have made in the sciences or hear about a new discovery.

People don’t like to hear about race, poverty, and justice, so Bryan Stevenson’s TEDTalk is a bit outside of TED’s usual purview of Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

But to me, this fits perfectly into the question of design. When we design something, we must think about its purpose; design is more than attractive chairs. Institutional design determines how we administer justice in our society. What are the values we uphold? What does the design of our systems tell us about the answer to that question?

Stevenson’s talk doesn’t quite answer those questions, but it digs at the heart of what we believe to be a justice system and the shrugging apathy we afford it.

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In a new paper (PDF here, press release here), Michael I. Norton and Samuel R. Sommers find that whites now believe themselves to be more the victim of racism than blacks. For whites, anti-white bias now appears to be more widespread and damaging than anti-black bias.

It is easy to scoff at notions of a zero-sum game in racism, but the reasons for this perception derive from basic human misunderstandings of absolute levels vs. rates of change.

For example, despite the fact that America’s economy is 2.5 times larger than China’s, more than half of Americans believe the Chinese economy is larger. There are probably many reasons for this (media coverage and general xenophobia among them), but because China’s growth rate has been astonishing, we more readily perceive that it must also be absolutely larger relative to the American economy.

Similarly here, despite the fact that blacks probably face more institutional racism (and despite lower graduation rates, income for similar jobs, lack of political clout, etc.), many whites mistakenly see the derivative of anti-black bias (a negative rate of change) rather than the absolute anti-black bias that exists. In their minds, because blacks face less bias than they did previously while whites face more bias (a dubious assumption to be sure), blacks must face less bias overall than whites.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the definitive article on how there are no racist people back during the 2008 presidential election (and occasionally blogs updates about the same thing.)

The latest entry into this never-ending saga is Marilyn Davenport, a member of the central committee for the Orange County Republican Party, who sent an email with the following image attached:

You can imagine where this is going

“Reached by telephone and asked if she thought the email was appropriate, Davenport said, “Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist. It was a joke. I have friends who are black. Besides, I only sent it to a few people–mostly people I didn’t think would be upset by it.”

Not only does she say it is obvious she cannot be a racist… she also has friends who are black! Or as John Cole says, she’s not a racist, she just sends racist emails.

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We’ve grown rather used to the self-congratulatory nature of many white politicians and commentators today, particularly those who seem to think that integration went just fine and we can focus on other issues now. The gap of experiences between black and white Americans continues to be vast, and ignoring the difference only widens the gap further.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s memories of his days at Ole Miss. I don’t doubt that he honestly believes he made great strides to accommodate his black classmate, Verna Bailey, the first black woman admitted to Ole Miss. I have no doubt that he believes that the experience seemed altogether normal to him. That’s how it feels to be the dominant social group — comfortable. He was operating in his element — a good ol’ boy, cutting classes, having a good time, enjoying college.

Bailey’s experience was a bit different:

Bailey said she finished her undergraduate degree in three years, not because she was a great student, but because she wanted to get out of Oxford, Miss., as fast as she could.

She recalled dancing in Oxford Square once with another black student at a school celebration when a crowd of whites began pelting them with coins and beer. “It was just an awful experience. I just saw this mass of anger; anger and hostility. I thought my life was going to end.”

A campus minister, one of the only whites she remembers showing her kindness, took her by the hand and led her to safety. She said the minister was ostracized.

During her undergraduate days, she was inundated with intimidating phone calls to her dorm from white men. “The calls were so constant,” she said. “Vulgar, all sexual connotations, saying nigger bitches needed to go back to the cotton field and things of that nature.” She’d complain, have the phone number changed. Then the calls would start again. Funeral wreaths with what appeared to be animal blood on them were found outside her dorm.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Barbour remembers the time fondly, remembers his classmate as “a very nice girl who happened to be African-American.” That’s all he ever had to experience.

For minority and poor Americans, the America that Barbour recognizes — where hard work gets success, where you can slack off a bit and still make it, where the police protect you, where every door is open to you — does not exist in the same way.

The self-congratulatory air of Barbour’s statements (all in service of his possible presidential run) reflects a broader culture in which the aggrieved party still feels prejudice, while the “merciful” dominant class believes it has already done enough. (see: the disparity between blacks and whites in the prevalence of racism)

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A black woman’s father is murdered by a white man. He doesn’t go to jail.

The KKK burned a cross into her yard.

The black woman gets a job helping farmers. She discusses her original difficulty in helping a white farmer, but ultimately triumphs and helps save his farm.

The white farmer and his wife say to this day that this woman helped save their farm.

The black woman, decades after the incident she described, gets fired for being racist against white people.

The media spins this bullshit story, beats it to death, and knocks out of place any other news.

Like John Cole says, the reason the right wing hate machine does this shit is because this shit works. I’m sure NYT public editor Clark Hoyt will reaffirm that he is very sorry that the media aren’t paying enough attention to right-wing news and are overlooking these important stories. To compensate, they’ll all go along for the ride the next time Andrew Breitbart or whomever does this.

And while I apologize for not updating the blog much recently, it’s mostly because I’ve traditionally written mostly on politics, and stuff like this disgusts me to the point that I tune it out and have nothing to say. I’ll pick some new, better topics.

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And I’m back. Which means the posts ought to come more regularly now.

To begin, like a lot of people I was initially outraged by the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. But upon thinking about it some more, I’m completely with Conor Friedersdorf, who gives us all some very important reminders. There is simply too much injustice in this world, and the most egregious of it never gets one word in print.

…and just to be clear, I think that adding “-gate” to a presumed scandal is one of the dumbest plays on words possible, and ought to be thrown under the bus (another one of my least favorites).

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