Tuesday, November 27, 2012

From Segregation to Integration to Balkanization to...

This morning, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Most-Racial America: Anti-white bigotry goes mainstream.”  It stimulated my interest when I was browsing the site because of its relevance to our class discussion of Not Even Past and the not so post-racial America Sugrue describes in the book, as well as its relation to the diagram that Professor McKinney drew in class yesterday (11/26) that portrays the way some approach issues of race in American society, according to McWhorter.  Here’s a link to the article I read. 

The article discusses the recent controversy over President Obama’s potential nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state.  What initially sparked the debate was the choice of words the Nov. 19 letter to President Obama, written by Rep. John Duncan (a South Carolina Republican) and signed by ninety seven other House Republicans, used to express Representatives’ concerns with the potential nomination and to convey their opposition to it.  The letter states, “Ambassador Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter.”  Rep. Jim Clyburn (a South Carolina Democrat) responded to this statement by “claiming that ‘incompetent’ was the latest code word for ‘black.’ ” Further, the Post stated:

Could it be, as members of the Congressional Black Caucus are charging, that the signatories of the letter are targeting Ms. Rice because she is an African American woman? The signatories deny that, and we can't know their hearts. What we do know is that more than 80 of the signatories are white males, and nearly half are from states of the former Confederacy.

The WSJ article then raises the question of how, despite acknowledging that “[one] can’t know their hearts,” the Post can find (a prima facie) reason to suspect them (House Republicans) of invidious motives.  Though the Washington Post accuses House Republicans of racism for the letter, the Post is “casting aspersions on Duncan and his colleagues based explicitly on the color of their skin,” according to Taranto.

Next, the article brings readers’ attention to another item related to race and politics: Jesse Jackson’s resignation.  To describe the reaction to the vacancy, the WSJ article quotes the Chicago Tribune: “Some Democrats quickly offered to broker a nominee to avoid several African-American contenders splitting the vote in the heavily Democratic and majority black 2nd Congressional District, which could allow a white candidate to win.”  With this, Taranto begs consideration of the lack of “editorial comment” or a “disapproving quote.”  It questions whether the absence of one of these reactions would be drawn if “a group of pols offered ‘to broker a nominee’ with the goal of preventing a black candidate from winning a white-majority district.”

Last, the article mentions the Obama campaign surveys that ask constituency groups to identify themselves.  Some are ideological (e.g. Environmentalist), occupational (e.g. Educator), or regional (e.g. “Rural Americans”).  More importantly, there are ethnic categories like “African American,” or “Jewish American.” What’s missing is a “white” or “European-American” category, the WSJ states.  The article argues that the reason for this is that “white identity politics is all but nonexistent in America today.”

The problem with this and the reason the Taranto wrote the article is that “a diverse coalition based on ethnic or racial identity” that promotes solidarity within each group may tend to “produce conflicts among the groups.”  The author writes that there are two ways to hold a disparate coalition: “delivering prosperity” or “identifying a common adversary.” 

This type of politics might have long-term costs for both the political parties and the country, as a whole.  As Taranto states, “a racially polarized electorate will produce a hostile, balkanized culture.” Although it is important to realize and appreciate differences among citizens, groups, etc., do you think that this type of identity politics has gone too far?  Does it create oversensitivity to differences that lead one to assume dispositional factors are at play when they are not? How can identity politics be helpful/harmful?  How should we approach issues of race in American society today?


1 comment:

  1. In American politics today the issue of race is a complicated matter. As you point out, and the article talks about, it is a double edged sword. On the one hand the discussion of race and how it effects policy decisions and voting is largely ignored and is especially lacking in the type of deep thoughtful debate needed. On the other hand I feel like the issue of race is often brought up at politically opportunistic moments when it is not always justified. This is not to say the case surrounding Ms. Rice is not related to race. It very well could be, but without the evidence accusations of racism can often be viewed unfavorably and as cheap attacks. Too often these attacks bring the issue of race thinking to the front page but only for a short time and perhaps that is the problem. Even when the discussion of race comes to the forefront, the debate is often abandoned because it is no longer politically favorable. It is here where voters and journalist must really press for answers, or the issue of race will remain some unnecessarily taboo topic that people would rather just not talk about.