Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Race and Politics -- Part I

Lately I've been reading some blogs and having interesting conversations about race and politics. So I thought I'd start a series of posts about this topic, although I'm not sure I'll make it beyond two (although who knows, maybe this will be rich enough to carry me through the Iowa Caucus).

At any rate, my prompt for this post is about racist Republicans, or rather this highly provocative question:

Are all Republicans racist?

Let me explain. Christmas Eve was spent with friends and amongst folks who were both non-academics and white Southeners who had ties to Southern politics, especially the yellow dog Democrats in the South. One of these gentlemen, a person who had been a teenager during the Civil Rights movement, who was born and raised in an ex-confederacy state, and who had worked for various Democratic campaigns, and who, I should note, is a white Southern man, made this emphatic statement:

All Republicans are racist.

I actually laughed when he said that, because I mean, it's what liberal-progressive Democrats like to say but truthfully, we don't really believe that every-single last voting member of the Republican party is we? Sometimes I find non-people of color (my ultra-pc way of saying "white" folk) making very bold and somewhat over-the-top statements to show how progressive they are about race. But this wasn't the case. I can't quite explain why--but I didn't get the feeling the person was pandering to me or talking to me in that way of trying to make me feel more comfortable by saying the thing that I might agree with.

This person, lets call him Southern Dem, had a lot of experience with campaigns and seeing the way various Republicans have used racism to their advantage in campaigns--and he has heard a lot of racist stuff--and he truly believes that white Republicans are racist and listen to racist dogma. And in fact he contends that it was Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign that swept through the South and converted the racist Democrats into Republicans, which is why the South has changed from blue to red in the last few decades.

Now, as much as I'm a bleeding heart leftist-liberal-wanna-be-radical-queer-friendly-feminist-of-color, I actually don't believe all Republicans are racist. And I'm not just going to point to the obvious Republicans of Color to show how this might be problematic. I just don't think we can make sweeping generalizations like that. It's like saying that all Democrats are non-racist, and that's just NOT true.

But I also believe that Southern Dem's point, that he had heard and seen A LOT OF RACIST STUFF that white Southeners have said and continue to say (among other things, he told me that he knew some guys who wanted to go to the U.S.-Mexico border and sit on a telephone pole and shoot at anyone trying to cross the border into the U.S. because they believed there was no value to Mexican life and all immigrants were illegal and needed to be summarily deported), is an important one to think about. Because I tend not to have really racist stuff said to me by other people. It's probably a combination of my obvious non-whiteness/people-of-colorness or more particularly because people know I do research on issues of race and racism and work on Asian American literature. And most of it probably has to do with the fact that I am surrounded by like-minded people, at Southern U., in my small college town, in my profession and my personal life.

But Southern Dem, who works in the world of commerce and business, who has been around Southern politics, who is a white Southern man who has a strong Southern accent, I'm sure he hears a lot of things that would have my jaw dropped in a permanent state if I were invisibly standing next to him. So his experiences have taught him that in the South, if you're a Republican you are racist.

I'll explain how we got on this subject in tomrrow's post, but I'll just end by asking the following to anyone who is game:

1) First of all, how do you define how someone is racist? What does it mean to be racist?

2) Can it be possible for the entire Republican party to be racist?

3) If #2 isn't possible, does it seem as if one party is more open to an anti-racist praxis than the other party--and why is this the case?

4) Is it possible to be a racist Democrat and still vote for Obama?

Feel free to answer just one of the above or all, depending on how nimble your fingers are feeling!


Tami said...

Great post, Jennifer! Let me try to tackle your questions:

To me, a racist is a person with a hatred and/or intolerance for one of more racial groups, generally coupled with a belief that the person’s race is superior. I make a distinction between a racist and a person with prejudices (i.e. a person who assigns attributes to others based on race, sexuality, nationality, gender, etc.) can I don’t think anyone, including people of color, can grow up in this country without some prejudices.

It is ridiculous to think everyone in the Republican party is racist. I know a few white Republicans that I, a black woman, call friends. They are not racists.

Now, I do believe the Republican party harbors more racists than the Democratic party. I think the Republican platform that protects the conservative and the status quo, celebrates corporations and power, demonizes the less fortunate, and depends on “us” against “them,” lends itself to racism, jingoism and a host of other “isms.” The Democratic platform lends itself to anti-racist praxis, though I acknowledge that liberal Dems pay lip service to equality, while often falling short of equal practice. And liberal Dems can be ultimately non-racist, while suffering from amazing prejudice. Unfortunately, often white liberals lack the self-awareness to recognize their own prejudices, seeing prejudice as the realm of Republicans.

Based on my definition of a racist, I can’t imagine a racist Dem voting for Obama.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for answering the questions! I appreciate your perspective and tend to agree with your assessment of the Republican party, and I, too, know not only white Republicans who are progressive as far as race (but fiscally conservative), but also Log Cabin (for anyone unfamiliar with the term, it refers to queer Republicans), African American and Asian American Republicans.

Although I have to be honest and say, I'm not close to many Republicans--as in, my closest, nearest and dearest friends tend to be on the same political spectrum as me.

This, I think, is part of the problem, and the reason I wanted to start the blog--that I don't think we're having much civilized conversation between camps about topics of race (let alone gender, sexuality, class, religion). I suppose because it gets so heated. But the truth is, if it matters at all, it matters in the arena of politics. Maybe I should say all this in the next post and not just in the comments...

dance said...

quick thoughts....I think it depends on the version/definition of racism. I think having black friends is not a warranty of not being racist. I also think Obama could get votes under the same "some of my best friends are black" exemption--he's not like the hoods in the ghetto or the aliens coming over the border.