Racism and Accusations of Racism

Button that reads "Once you VOTE BLACK you NEVER go back - OBAMA 2012I hate political crap during election years.  You hear from party loyalists on both sides about how great their candidate is and how the other guy is the spawn of Satan (both Presidential candidates, literally, have been called the anti-Christ).

But the racism allegations were too much for me to pass on by. (note that this post is US-centric, since that’s the political system I know something about)

The botton shown next to this article, “Once you vote black you never go back – Obama 2012” was sold to attendees at the 2012 by an enterprising guy that runs a storefront selling a variety of similar merchandise.

While that button is decidedly off-message for a Presidential candidate (google “once you go black you never go back” if you don’t believe me), and has caused the right to stir up allegations of racism…well, it’s not quite so simple.  Sure, many people would love a society in which any reference to race was simply irrelevant.  But a humorous button is hardly the same thing as the systematic racism that has affected blacks since the founding of the nation (and well before).

For instance, here’s some historical differences between blacks and whites:

  • Blacks were slaves.  Whites were slave masters.
  • Black marriages were “until death or distance do you part.” White marriages were “until death do you part.”  (the reason for this was that slaves could be sold, and they might be useful to the new owner for breeding)
  • Blacks often had to sit at the back of the bus.  Whites could still decide to sit at the back of the bus, making a black stand.
  • It took the Voting Rights Act in 1964 to make good progress towards equal access to polls for blacks.  White men could vote since the founding of the country, white women could vote in 1920.
  • In 2009, the average net worth of a black household was $5,677.  The average net worth of  a white household was $113,149.
  • We’ve had 1 black president.  We’ve had 43 white presidents.

That’s a bit of difference here.  Certainly, slavery is gone, but sadly many of the problems of slavery remain.  Yet many right-wing (and nearly always white) people in my social circles are insisting that race shouldn’t matter in the election, and bringing up race is just trying to bring up racism.

But, first, the buttons.  It’s clear that whites don’t have much to seriously fear about a bunch of buttons telling us that we won’t go back to voting for white people after voting for a black one.  I suspect us white people will still have a reasonable chance of getting elected.  So, white people: grow up and get some humor.  But if the button was reversed, “once you vote white, you won’t go back,” not only would it not roll off the tongue quite as nicely, but that would be racist.  The difference is that blacks are disenfranchised at the polls and far fewer blacks are in office than one would expect based on the share they represent in the general population.  In other words, blacks already find it much more difficult than a white to get elected.  So, no, the button is not racist.

As for bringing up race, it sure sounds like we haven’t moved past that as a country.  When Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  It should be noted that segregated schools are still constitutionally mandated in Alabama – a constitutional amendment that would have removed that hate from the state’s constitution failed in 2004.  (note that the segregated school requirement of the constitution is unenforceable due to Brown v Board of Education, but would become enforceable immediately should Brown ever be overturned – a hope some apparently have)  They are going to try again this year to remove some bigotry from their constitution.  Let’s hope they’ve changed a bit.

And, to answer some of my Republican friends, No, it’s not reasonable to claim Martin Luther King Jr. as a Republican.  But I’m not getting into that now.

Meanwhile, we have both Democrats and Republicans comparing things they don’t like to Nazi symbols and acts.

For instance, who could have known you could offend both Germans and Jews in about a paragraph?

Not that it’s not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans. But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other… . The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope.

That was a “charming” statement, both equating people with German heritage as potential mass murderers (only if student loans are given by government!) and completely missing the point about the nature of the Holocaust and it’s effect on Jews and others, has been walked back a bit.  Representative Bartlett (Republican, not that it matters) has sort of apologized.

There’s real racism, and real reason for outrage.  But it’s not a bunch of off-message buttons at the Democratic convention.

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