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I dunno, is it? Race and the race

August 8, 2006

Sean at Nashville for the 21st Century asks a question that sounds like stuff I used to hear from College Republicans.

“Just out of curiosity, would it be racist for white voters to chose a candidate based on the color of their skin? If so, why would it not be equally racist for Black voters to do the same?”

Funny you mentioned that, Sean. It is a question that African Americans asked for, oh, couple hundred years. Thanks to the Courts, civil rights protests, good ol’ liberals, structured voting districts, this is no longer an issue. At least not to me.

But it is to you and other Tennessee “progressives.”**

Steve Cohen only received 31% of the votes in that district. 69% of the people who voted did NOT chose him as their representative. Way back when I was working over at War Memorial, when rumors of Ford Sr.’s time was at an end came, the topic of a Cohen run for Congress would come up. In one of the cases where conventional wisdom was correct, to a person, everyone agreed that his primary contest would be tough unless the race was flooded with African American candidates, viable candidates, none with clear endorsements from any of the power brokers in the county. When Ford Jr. ran the first time, of course no such candidate was going to step up. Cohen got blasted.

It is a sorry reflection on history, but when ethnic candidates run for office in this country race will always be a question. Why? It is something, an impulse almost, that many white people only empathize with when Steve Nash is on the point; the desire to see someone like yourself succeed in a venue where they most often have not. It is a desire to be represented by someone like yourself.

Of course the analogy is not quite on point. Basketball is not politics, there’s a little more than the rooting interest of your team at stake. People want to be assured that, especially in these few post Civil Rights decades, in a time when people still challenge the Voting Rights Act, someone is in a position of power who at least looks a little like they do.

What is ironic in this is that the only place self-styled progressive candidates like Cohen can win in Tennessee is in districts with relatively large minority populations. He would have an easier time (and not have to hope for a split vote every time) if he was running in the 5th instead of the 9th. Anyway, progressives want to think these races can be won in some magical colorblind wonderland. If they are going to run in these districts, expect race to be a factor EVERY time.

And for some reason many progressives seem to think that minorities are always going to be in lock step with progressive ideas. Many ethnic minorities are socially conservative, the highly (too highly) religious African American community might not be so square on issues like abortion.

Presently, this is not a candidate problem, someone like Cohen knows this stuff well. This is an activist problem. Some progressive activists are naive about race, evinced by the question Sean proposes. He, like the conservatives who used to ask that question, meant it as having rhetorical weight. However, there is an actual answer and it isn’t always so simple.

**People are tagging Cohen with the “progressive” label (and you know that term, something that was invented by centrist Democrats to prevent themselves from being labeled as liberals) and I suppose it fits, however he’s always struck me as an old school leftist.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2006 4:30 pm

    I’m not going to deny that Myself and Cohen are liberals, it is a fact I am proud of.

    As for the bit about what I said being similar to college republicans…I had the same concern when I wrote the post. I’d like to think that if I were faced with a good black candidate, and a bad white candidate, I’d choose the black candidate first. Of course, that combo has never come up in my life, so any posturing on my part, is just that, posturing.

    Having said that, if a man like Jake Ford, who has no legislative experience, gets elected on the basis of his name and race, it will be a sad reflection on Memphis politics. I don’t think people should deny that race exists (ie Stacey Campfield), but running solely on the color of one’s skin is the antithesis to what Martin Luther King dreamed of.

  2. August 8, 2006 4:56 pm

    but running solely on the color of one’s skin is the antithesis to what Martin Luther King dreamed of.

    I now propose something similar to Godwin’s Law, let us call it Mantooth’s Edict.

    Thou shalt not invoke the name of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr or “The Dream” or portend to know what Martin Luther King Would Have Wanted If He Were Still Alive when discussing race (on the Internet or anywhere else).

    King was more complex than those three lines in the dream speech, and so were his politics and goals. He was as much for self-determination as anyone else.

    Practical matter: I doubt Jake Ford is going to get elected. I think that Cohen is on his own as far as the local power base is concerned.

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