Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday talk radio update

Racism reared its head in one expected place and one unexpected one.

A caller complained to Dave Rye that he had received a push poll call that contained the question: Do you think your community is ready to vote for a black candidate? I may not be quoting him exactly, and he may not have been quoting the survey exactly, but it was something close to that.

He thought the question was racist, and Rye agreed. I don't see it. Asking someone to assess the level of racism in one's community is not in itself racism. Perhaps there was some racist intent, but I suspect the question related to surveys that show only about 5 percent of voters say they would refuse to vote for a black presidential candidate, but about 20 percent think their neighbors would not (sorry, can't remember where I saw these numbers and don't have time to track them down). It's a way of trying to get a handle on people who don't have the guts to tell a pollster they won't vote for a black but who, nevertheless, won't vote for a black. Sounds legit to me.

The other mention was by Sean Hannity, who raised the argument that if it is racist to vote for a candidate because he is white then it is racist to vote for a candidate because he is black. Hannity has pushed this theme a lot, and it seems so obviously wrong to me that I don't think I have mentioned it before for fear of insulting the intelligence of my dozens of readers. But perhaps it is worth spelling out in case a Hannity fan wanders by.

Here's the deal: Is there a non-racist reason to vote only for white candidates? I've kicked the idea around in my head for a while and can't come up with any. Perhaps somebody can suggest one.

Is there a non-racist reason to favor a black candidate? Of course. It's a way of telling ourselves, and the world, that America has, once and for all, put racism to rest. It's a way of guaranteeing black citizens that the dream of equality is no longer just a dream. It's payback, in a way, for all those good black citizens who never got a chance to hold public office because they lived in a racist society.

You don't have to like those reasons, and you could certainly argue that they are an inadequate basis for electing a president. And you might be right. But I don't see how you can argue that those reasons are racist.

UPDATE: Two other points: First, Hannity, Limbaugh and Glenn Beck all seemed upset about Russia attacking Georgia, and they wanted us to do something. But it never became clear to me exactly what. Maybe I missed it.

Second point: I tried to listen to Limbaugh a bit as a matter of public service, but I didn't get far. Almost immediately, he said that the reason America's reputation has declined overseas not because of anything Bush has done but because of -- hang onto your hat -- Michael Moore. Yes, Michael Moore has more influence over America's international image than the president of the United States does. Talk about making Bush look small.

UPDATE: Here's a source for the claim above about how many people wouldn't vote for a black candidate.


Dave said...

If it was racist for white people to enact 'Jim Crow' laws, then it would seem self-evident that it would be equally racist for black people to enact laws that worked in the opposite direction (i.e. a black majority dictating that white riders had to take seats in the back of the bus -- I'm tempted to call them 'Bob Ghost' laws :-)).
I wouldn't have any problems with voting for white candidates for elected offices IF, for example, all the black candidates had banded together with the goal of establishing a race-related agenda that they would implement -- say, something along the lines of a Nation of Islam political party. In that example, the reason isn't racist, but rather, ANTI-racist.
I would submit that a certain segment of the voting public IS racist: those persons that plan to vote for Barack Obama simply because he's black.

David said...

Jim Crow laws, no matter which race they disadvantage, certainly are racist. The hypothetical doesn't work for me because in such a case white people wouldn't be voting for other whites because they are white but because they oppose racism.

I try to define racism pretty narrowly: the belief that people of a particular race are inherently inferior and entitled to less than fair and equal treatment. I am suggesting that people might support a black candidate over an equally qualified white candidate for reasons that aren't racist. I still can't think of a real-world situation in which the opposite is true. And I can't see that you have made a case that I am wrong.

Dave said...

I think that the last paragraph of my comment makes the case for me. The voting segment that plans to vote for Barack Obama simply because he IS black is racist: any qualifications of Obamas opponent are summarily dismissed simply because he isn't.
I consider 'racism' to be the special treatment of another person based solely upon their race, whether for positive or negative.

My Merriam-Webster paperback (2004 edition) defines racism as "a belief that some races are by nature superior to others; also: discrimination based on such belief"

David said...

So since the dictionary definition won't make your case, you simply make up your own definition. Handy.

Dave said...

Actually, I think the dictionary definition correlates fairly well with my own (working) definition: the dictionary simply states "... some races are by nature superior to others ..."; I don't see that as being in any way contrary to my own "... the special treatment of another person based solely upon their race ...".

In any event, I still maintain that voting for someone solely based on their race is racism -- the opposite side of the same coin, as it were. If the statement was simply "I'm voting for|against Barack Obama solely because he's black", I'd be interested in knowing why both options aren't equally racist.

David said...

Hmmm. I see a substantial difference. The dictionary refers to discrimination ("special treatment") based on a belief that one race is superior to another. By definition, then, special treatment for other reasons isn't racist. So if I endow a scholarship, say, that can go only to black students in an effort to redress historical mistreatment, then that may be discriminatory but it isn't racist.