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Thursday, January 17, 2008

race and the politics of fear

For me, at this moment, life is about politics. I am a political junkie and having two competitive national party primary contents unfolding is about as good as it gets! Of course the negative assault on Obama by the Cintons and their surrogates is cheezy. And to do it under the guise of MLK day is a damn shame. Imagine assailing a black candidate's commitment to equality during an MLK event. Then to turn and say, I think gender and race have no place in this campaign. I'm stunned. But hey, maybe that's what 2008 will be all about.

I have a friend that is running for office. He decided to throw his hat into the ring. He is black and running against a white incumbent. The campaign is about 1 month old and the race card has already been played by the white opponent. The tactic is to suggest that if my friend gets elected, there will be too many blacks on the council and that the white voters will lose their voice - so artfully carried by this white politician. This ridiculous assault on my black friend comes as he launches a campaign to unify voters across a racial divide in our city. The tactics used by the incumbent confirm that a unity campaign is essential and will probably be ignored.

Why is the politics of fear so easily raised and so readily accepted? My suspicion is that when whites feel threatened (outnumbered), they use race as a way to draw a line of difference between options and conveniently, their option - the white option - is best. Now typically the overt race card is not played except by Confederate flag fans, reverse discrimination critics, and white supremacists. But the subtle race card is played frequently and easily. In my friend's case, the incumbent is suggesting that my friend is beholden to black political bosses. Of course the incumbent is not at all beholden to his white political bosses - the white business community! Why the business community stands for progress and civic gain. The black political bosses don't care about black citizens and businesses, but only lining their own pockets. Black bosses are bad. White business bosses who try to control politics are good and care about the community. Get it?

Whites seem to confuse racial solidarity with race-based political control. If you are black and stand in solidarity with another black, you must be a crony. Yet if whites support other white candidates, no one questions it at all. Some news person asked a national black business person why he was supporting Hilary and not Barack for President. He had to first justify why he did not support the person who looked like him - Barack, and then proceed to explain why he supported Hilary. No one is asking Bill Bradley, a white politician, why he isn't supporting Hilary and instead is supporting Barack. While Blacks may stand in racial solidarity with a black candidate, they could choose to support or not support based on other criteria. But whites are never put in the position of defending their choice to support a white candidate.

In my neighborhood, the local black political club hands out endorsement cards to cue people on how to vote. Unions do this too, so it is not just a black thing. Political machines do it too. The old Daley Machine in Chicago had it down to a science. White people I talk with think it is awful that these endorsement cards are used to guide the uninformed black voters and that blacks vote like sheep (yet I have never seen a sheep at a polling place...). While it might be ideal for everyone to study up and figure out who to support - blacks have to consider who they can trust as well as whose ideas they like. When whites have to face that added burden, then come talk to me about being uninformed.

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