Sunday, June 15, 2008
Color-Blind, or Just Blind? AOL today hilited a story, "Historians Make Their Prediction", in which a number of historians pronounce on the likely outcome in November:
One week into the general election, the polls show a dead heat. But many presidential scholars doubt that John McCain stands much of a chance, if any.The words "race" and "black" DO NOT OCCUR in that story. These historians are looking at this 'race' as being the same as any other, in the past, between white men, and pretending that race could not possibly matter in the ultimate outcome. Are they fools? Or liars? Wishful thinking does not become self-fulfilling prophecy unless people believe it. And Americans don't for an instant really believe that in 2008 we are going to elect a black man, President.
The reader polls that accompany that silly article on AOL are more in line with reality. After 292,975 votes, the tallies show that 49% planned to vote for McCain, and only 42% for Obama. Even correcting for lack of Internet access by some people in the lower socioeconomic classes, that suggests that these 'experts' on the history of presidential elections don't know what they're talking about. In that the poor don't vote at the rates of the middle class and rich, an Internet poll of this type may be more representative of actual, general-election outcomes than Internet polls on various other topics that do not involve an election.
The color-blind are not by that virtue alone completely blind. They can still see outlines. They can still see the truth.
This election is not business-as-usual. Economic or political conditions in past elections that seem on their 'face' comparable to the present will NOT have the same impact in a 'race' between a white man and a black man in the United States of 2008. If Barack Obama were wholly white, instead of half-white (but Obama is perceived as black and self-identified as black), yes, we could expect McCain to lose. That is not the case here. "All things being equal" does not apply when race is thrown into the mix.
We may lament the fact that large parts of this country, and not just the South, have deeply felt animosities toward blacks. Is it possible for anyone to win the Presidency without winning at least much of the South? Perhaps it is statistically possible. But as a practical matter, no. If the South goes solidly one way, there is not enuf solidarity the other way in the rest of the country to outweigh the South in the electoral college. Especially is this true as regards the role of race in the white suburbs of formerly white-majority major cities.
Take my city, Newark, NJ, as a case in point. There is a passion for what this city (supposedly) used to be among people who fled in the wake of the infamous Riots of 1967. The white-fliters are livid, 40 years later, that they had to leave a city they LOVED. They will NEVER FORGIVE. They will NEVER FORGET. And they will NEVER vote for a black man for President. What is true of white-fliters from Newark is true of white-fliters from Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Saint Louis, Cleveland, and every other major city of this country that was once preponderantly white but is now largely black. And it doesn't matter if they are in the South, North, East, West. White people in this country are ANGRY. They're angry at crime. They're angry at the loss of their cities. They're angry that they're afraid even to visit the "old neighborhood". They're angry at blacks on welfare and "baby daddies" who abandon their kids (an issue Obama addressed today, Father's Day, as if for the first time) and leave society to raise them — then incarcerate them when they become habitual criminals. White people are angry at 2.3 million people in prison costing taxpayers $60 billion a year (ABC News, 6/6/08). And who, exactly, is in prison?
Overall, black men were incarcerated at 6.5 times the rate of white men. The incarceration rate for black men was highest among black men age 25 to 29. About 11.7% of black males in this age group were incarcerated on June 30, 2006. Across age groups black men were between 5.7 and 8.5 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated.White rage against black welfare dependency, assaults on society, and the endless fears and costs to whites of protecting against black crime is not simpleminded prejudice, tho there's plenty of that to go around too. What matters in the current context, however, is that a very significant proportion of the American white population — and Asian, and Hispanic — will not vote for a black man, period. In a society in which Republicans and Democrats divide the vote narrowly at the best of times, one moderate white man against another, the suggestion that a black man will trounce a white man in this day and age is LUDICROUS. (The only way it could happen is if McCain chose as running mate someone even more unpalatable than a black man, and I don't think the carefully stage-managed Republican Party is going to let that happen.)
Race matters. Tho we might wish it didn't, it does. To borrow from a famous exchange in the classic Hollywood melodrama, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?:
"Blanche Hudson" (the actress Joan Crawford): Jane, I'm just trying to explain to you how things really are. You wouldn't be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this [wheel]chair.
"Jane Hudson" (Bette Davis): But you are, Blanche, you are in that chair!
(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,099 — for Israel.)
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