Election 2012: The Race Factor

“As much as we’d hope the impact of race would decline over time … it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on voting is about the same as it was four years ago.” – Jon Krosnick, Stanford University professor

 

Over the next week you will hear about why you should vote for and against President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, but what you will hear little about are the racial attitudes that have emerged steadily throughout this campaign. I know that race is a sensitive subject, a subject many Americans like to stay away from because it may expose some of our own prejudices, but with the country becoming more and more diverse it is a subject worthy of a national discussion. That discussion may never come, but the race factor could play an important role in determining the next President of the United States.

Sonya Ross and Jennifer Agiesta of the Associated Press recent wrote an article on the current prejudices toward African Americans in this country (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/27/racial-views-new-polls-sh_n_2029423.html). Here is an excerpt:

Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not.

In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.

Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.

Overall, the survey found that by virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote in his Nov. 6 contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But Obama also stands to benefit from a 3 percentage point gain due to pro-black sentiment, researchers said. Overall, that means an estimated net loss of 2 percentage points due to anti-black attitudes.

The poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent).

The rise in prejudice can be attributed to the changing demographics of the country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau by the year 2020 there will be more minority kids in kindergarten that Caucasian kids and by the year 2050 the country will be minority-majority. That kind of demographic change doesn’t come easy. It essentially eliminates the old way of living and thinking. Politicians have a responsibility to respond to such changes, but instead of easing tensions and fears today’s politicians tend to play on them for pure political gain.

The Republican Party faces the most obstacles to accepting this new way of American life. The Republican Party is 93% Caucasian in a country that is growing more diverse. Republican politicians often talk about “taking our country back”, but from whom and to what? It does not take a rocket science to see the racial undertones in such statements, statements like that use to be referred to as a dog whistle because they were not overtly racist, but statements by today’s Republicans are more like a police siren than a dog whistle.

Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and Republican Vice Presidential nominee, once again showed her ignorance in a racially charged attack against President Obama. Palin used the term “shuck and jive” when describing President Obama’s response to the Benghazi terrorist attack. “Shuck and jive” is a term that dates back to the late 19th Century and was used as a term to describe how African American slaves would deceive their Caucasians in roles of authority. Here is how Raynard Jackson of the Washington Post described it (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/shuck-and-jive-palin-around-with-ignorance/2012/10/25/7abc100c-1eaa-11e2-9746-908f727990d8_blog.html).

The expression “shuck and jive” is a term of survival from slavery and is often interpreted as the act that slaves would take to deceive their “masters”or other whites in power. Slaves would be in the field shucking corn or picking cotton, and when the “master” came around to check up on them, they had to make sure “master” was satisfied with their production or they would be subject to beatings, rape, and other types of punishments.  This is a horrific term to be used by someone in Palin’s position, whether the President is African American or not.

I now hope my white readers will have a little more understanding about why there is such uproar over this latest Palin incident. (Ed. note: Palin has defended her comments in subsequent news reports)

When Palin makes statements like this, it’s the personification of everything that is wrong with the Republican brand. Since there is absolutely no diversity within the party, there is no opportunity to see things through a different set of eyes. This leads many black people to conclude that the Republican Party doesn’t care and has no interest in learning to appreciate people who come from different walks of life.

John Sonunu, the former Governor of New Hampshire, is a national campaign co-chair for Mitt Romney and has proven himself to be nothing more than a bigot time and time again. The fact that Romney keeps him on as a spokesperson for his campaign tells you a lot about the character of Mitt Romney. Igor Volsky from Think Progress compiled some of Sonunu’s incendiary remarks (http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/10/26/1094491/john-sununus-history-of-racial-remarks-about-obama/?mobile=nc):

– Obama is foreign. Obama doesn’t understand the “American system” because “he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia, and, frankly, when he came to the U.S. he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure.” [Fox News, 7/17/2012]

– Obama doesn’t know how to be an American. During a conference call, Sununu claimed, “The men and women all over America who have worked hard to build these businesses, their businesses, from the ground up is how our economy became the envy of the world. It is the American way. And I wish this president would learn how to be an American.” [Conference call, 7/17/2012]

– Obama is a lazy idiot. Sununu described Obama’s debate performance as “babbling,” “lazy,” and “disengaged,” and dismissed the possibility that he could do better in the future. “When you’re not that bright you can’t get better prepared.” [Fox News, 10/4/2012]

– Obama has no class, just wants to be cool. “That moment of using the B.S. word was kind of a self-defining moment for the president,” he told Sean Hannity. “No class, wants to be cool. Sacrifices the dignity of the presidency for appearing cool to a magazine that works for some of his base.” [Fox News,10/25/2012]

Sununu’s most recent racial attack has to do with former Secretary of State General Colin Powel endorsing President Obama. Sununu’s states that the fact both Powel and President Obama is African American as the reason Powel endorsed President Obama, here is Sununu’s full quote: “I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him”.

Newt Gingrinch often refers to the President as the “Food Stamp President”, playing on the racial stereotype that most African Americans rely on government aid and food stamps. According to a CBS report in 2008, among both conservative Republicans and Republicans overall, 16 percent said Mr. Obama was Muslim. Now 30 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of conservative Republicans think he Is Muslim.  Republicans have demanded to see the president’s birth certificate, arguing he was not born in America and requested to see his school records suggesting that he has benefited from Affirmative Action. A Republican Governor put her hand in the president’s face arguing a moot point and a Republican congressman yelled “you lie” to the president as he was addressing the nation. These attacks are not solely based on party politics, but a large amount of it has to do with racial politics.

The current Republican stander bearer Governor Mitt Romney has done his part in flaming racial tension. For weeks during the campaign he was running an ad suggesting that President Obama removed the work requirements from welfare, this attack was a lie of course, but that did not stop Romney from saying the president removed the work requirements to “benefit his base”.  I do not need to note minorities make up a large portion of the president’s base. He is against the Dream Act which would benefit millions of illegal immigrants and said the anti-immigrants law in Arizona which includes racial profiling is a “model for the country”.

During the presidential debates he often talked to President Obama in a negative tone and has repeatedly said on the campaign trial that the President does not understand America and has foreign views. Romney made a joke while campaigning that “no one has ever asked to see [his] birth certificate” and days after addressing the NAACP Romney went on to tell his supporters that the NAACP, a historic African American Civil Rights group, “wanted more free stuff from the government”.  Here is the quote:

“When I mentioned I am going to get rid of Obamacare they weren’t happy, I didn’t get the same response. That’s ok, I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine. But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy-more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.”

Romney needs to raise racial tension because he needs to attract a large amount of Caucasian anti-Obama voters. I am not saying all anti-Obama are racist, I believe many of those disappointed with President Obama has to do with the slow economic recovery, but it is obvious from Romney and the Republican Party’s strategy that they are depending on stoking negative racial attitudes to churn out anti-Obama voters. Romney needs to win by large margins among Caucasian voters since he has written off African American and Latino voters. Romney needs to receive a little over 60% of the Caucasian vote in order to have a shot at winning since he is losing minority voters to President Obama 80% to 20%. The welfare ad and other statements by Republicans serve the purpose of appealing to negative racial attitudes among Caucasian working class voters who have struggled during the recession. Romney should be ashamed of the type of racial campaign he has chosen to run.

During the last presidential debate President Obama said Romney promotes the “foreign policy of the 80s, social policies of the 50s, and economic policies of the 20s”. I would add that Romney promotes the racial policies of the 60s. Race relations, the original sin of America, will continue to be a problem until the nation can have a conversation on the issue. In order to have this conversation we need politicians who will talk honestly about race instead of feeding into racial stereotypes like Sarah Palin, John Sununu, Newt Gingrinch, and Mitt Romney have decided to do.  Kanye West famously declared President George Bush “does not care about black people” because of his response to Hurricane Katrina. Well I am going to declare that Mitt Romney does not care about the issues facing African Americans or Latinos because of the campaign he has decided to run.

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