Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Flocking to the polls.

(DISCLAIMER: I'm writing this "in one take," from Vegas, no less, so I apologize for any errors in computing or manipulating numbers that the reader may find herein. Please feel free to point them out. Broad-brush, however, I do believe that my case is sound.)

I must be either the dumbest or—giving myself the benefit of the doubt—the most naive person in America. I say that because I was actually shocked by the results of a poll question on AOL today that sought to take the temperature of public sentiment on race's role in the forthcoming election. The poll had four questions. One asked whether the nation was ready for a black president, and I'm not sure we can deduce any meaningful insights from the dispiriting results; a "no" answer could simply be a sign of fatalism from a well-meaning person who whiffs a good deal of closet racism in the air. I'd even imagine that quite a few who support Obama answered "no" to that question.

But the next query was direct, and telling: "Are you personally ready for a black president?" This was the stunner, to me: 47 percent of the roughly 200,000 respondents (at this writing) answered "no."

In a subsequent question that plumbed the racial breakdown of poll participants, 77 percent self-identified as white and only 9 percent as black. Making the reasonable (though not ironclad) assumption that the same demographics hold for the responses to all questions*, one must conclude that at least 36 percent of the whites (i.e., 77 percent of the 47 percent who answered "no," they weren't ready) are confessing that they wouldn't vote for a black candidate. Now, AOL polls hardly can be said to carry scientific weight. But I'm floored nonetheless. Truly, and sadly. (I'm also left wondering: Who are the rest of the 47 percent? Did all the Hispanics and Asians say they wouldn't "vote black"? I know, I know: I'm assuming that almost no blacks weren't ready for a black president. Read on.)

At the same time, I'm troubled by the conventional wisdom on what such stats "tell us about today's America." The springboard for the AOL poll was in fact a New York Times piece on a similar (and more scientific) survey, which found a similar racial divide. But again, in its calculus of American bigotry, the Times had no particular comment on the 83 percent of blacks who said they lean towards Obama. Eighty-three percent. You're telling me that's just coincidence? Seems to me that that level of approval rating has to have racial underpinnings, too. (Nowadays it's hard enough to get 83 percent of any given constituency to agree on the spelling of the word agree.) Put another way: Many black voters probably like the guy because he's black and he's viable, and/or they figure he'll support "black causes." This, by the way, echoes the findings in exit polls from primaries, especially as the spring wore on and Obama's viability was certified. So I return to another question that I've asked a half-dozen times on this blog:

Why is the fact that four of five black voters favor Obama somehow more benign (and/or better news for race relations) than the fact that at least a third of whites reject him? Is not bigotry—pro or con—still bigotry?

* Not all respondents answered all questions. The question on demographics garnered the lowest number of total responses.

17 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

"Is not bigotry—pro or con—still bigotry?"

The short answer is "yes," Steve. An only slightly longer answer is that a significant number of the respondents probably would have answered differently in a less anonymous setting.

I honestly think that the driving factor in many of the responses is an either/or: the expectation of entitlement due to race or the *fear* of entitlement due to race. I've seen too many instances where a person of a given ethnicity expects - even demands - special treatment from another person of the same ethnic group who happens to be in a position of authority. "C'mon... Help a brother out."

On the other hand, I've a feeling that a significant number of Caucasians fear that, once in a position of authority, a person will tend to honor the demands made by others in his or her ethnic group, and they will allow that fear to override any other factors upon which they might judge the individual.

While it would be ludicrous to state that there is no evidence to support those expectations or that fear, it is still based in an ignorant, broad-stroke assessment. We're quite a piece of work, aren't we? :-)

BTW - Be careful around the keno tables. They can be lucrative or ruinous, all within a few minutes. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Keno tables? Keno tables? I think I've said this before, but I budget about $20 per trip for my "gambling exploits," and I lose it all in approximately 80 consecutive yanks on the handle of some larcenous one-armed bandit (25-cent variety).

Anonymous said...

I'll say it again, Steve, one of the closet racists is the author of this post.

Steve Salerno said...

See, Anon--I assume you're the same anon who "called me on it" last time--now I'm convinced that you're looking for things, seeing demons in the closet (as it were). Did you not bother to read the first half of my post? Or did you just ignore it and focus on the part that you felt supported your critique? My point is that I am perturbed my racism in all of its forms--white on black, black on white, etc. You know, you remind me of someone I heard not long ago who argued (I can only assume seriously) that "there's no such thing as black racism." I'm sorry, but that's a load of crap. Racism is racism, regardless of the source or the supposed nobility of the intent.

Cosmic Connie said...

Sadly, I don't think this country is ready for a black president OR a woman president, for the very reason that we do make such a big deal of race and gender (pro or con). That's another sign of our immaturity as a culture, perhaps. (It's the same immaturity that makes us turn a president's under-the-desk dalliances into a national scandal and an impeachable offense. When are we going to grow up?)

Am I personally ready for a black or woman pres? Sure, if qualified (and not in the sense that Jesse Jackson is "qualified"). I supported Hillary not because she's a woman but because I thought that of the front runners she was the most qualified and experienced. I don't think Obama has the experience, and as for McCain... I used to actually like him, but that was before the Iraq debacle. As it became apparent that Hillary wasn't going to be the nominee, though, a part of me was wondering if it was too late for Ron Paul to save the election (even though I'm pro-choice and he's not, I have a great deal of respect for Paul).

So... well... I'm back to rooting for Dave Barry.

PS ~ A very belated thank you for not pulling the plug on SHAMblog.
PPS ~ Have fun in Vegas. For me, the attraction there has always been the buffet tables, not the Keno tables.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Connie; we've missed you. (I'm being royal again.)

So I guess if some enterprising casino installed a combo keno/buffet get-up, you guys'd never leave?

Steve Salerno said...

Also, to address one of Connie's in-passing points--she's exactly right: The emphasis on race (including my own emphasis here on SHAMblog) contributes to the problem by keeping the issue (and the very concept) front-and-center. How do we get around that? Even if we were to attempt to agree, universally, to stop talking about race henceforth...how would we go about making that case and achieving that consensus, without some massive discussion? (And who's going to volunteer to tell the Rev. Jackson to shut the hell up!)

Anonymous said...

"(And who's going to volunteer to tell the Rev. Jackson to shut the hell up!)"

I would and do (to my tv), but I'm a white woman.

P.S. You should read this week's New Yorker (with THE cover) about Obama.

P.S.S. Interesting

RevRon's Rants said...

(And who's going to volunteer to tell the Rev. Jackson to shut the hell up!)

I'll step up to the plate on that one, Steve. I'll even bring the beer! Better put on his invitation that there will be media personnel present, though, or he'll never show up!

Anonymous said...

"And who's going to volunteer to tell the Rev. Jackson to shut the hell up!"

Count me in, Steve!
--Carl

Steve Salerno said...

Hmmm. We seem to have hit a nerve here.

Anonymous said...

Steve, without resorting to name-calling or accusations, I do think you are guilty of failing to factor in the unique nature of the African-American experience. I think it's idealistic as well as unreasonable for you to expect that after 300 years of discrimination, which included ritual rape and murder as routine events, blacks are suddenly going to blend into the melting pot with no lingering sense of persecution and absolutely no need for a sense of validation and having "arrived" now. Why is it so unpalatable to people who think like you that we be allowed to take a few moments to savor our milestones--as black Americans and through our unique lens--before proceeding on to the color blindness you say you want?

When you've been down this long, you want to take a few moments to enjoy being up. And to begrudge us that seems unfair, and, yes, racially motivated.

A Black Reader

Anonymous said...

Steve, without resorting to name-calling or accusations, I do think you are guilty of failing to factor in the unique nature of the African-American experience. I think it's idealistic as well as unreasonable for you to expect that after 300 years of discrimination, which included ritual rape and murder as routine events, blacks are suddenly going to blend into the melting pot with no lingering sense of persecution and absolutely no need for a sense of validation and having "arrived" now. Why is it so unpalatable to people who think like you that we be allowed to take a few moments to savor our milestones--as black Americans and through our unique lens--before proceeding on to the color blindness you say you want?

When you've been down this long, you want to take a few moments to enjoy being up. And to begrudge us that seems unfair, and, yes, racially motivated.

A Black Reader

Anonymous said...

Steve, without resorting to name-calling or accusations, I do think you are guilty of failing to factor in the unique nature of the African-American experience. I think it's idealistic as well as unreasonable for you to expect that after 300 years of discrimination, which included ritual rape and murder as routine events, blacks are suddenly going to blend into the melting pot with no lingering sense of persecution and absolutely no need for a sense of validation and having "arrived" now. Why is it so unpalatable to people who think like you that we be allowed to take a few moments to savor our milestones--as black Americans and through our unique lens--before proceeding on to the color blindness you say you want?

When you've been down this long, you want to take a few moments to enjoy being up. And to begrudge us that seems unfair, and, yes, racially motivated.

A Black Reader

Steve Salerno said...

ABR, they're fair points, and they've been made many times before. I suppose this discussion too is rooted in the "filters" [see thread from previous posts] that we apply as we process our respective experience of life.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Why is it so unpalatable to people who think like you that we be allowed to take a few moments to savor our milestones--as black Americans and through our unique lens--before proceeding on to the color blindness you say you want?"

I'd have no problem with "taking a few moments" if there were a corresponding, widespread effort to move past the behaviors - on both sides - that have perpetuated divisiveness. And the "few moments" are well-deserved by those who have made genuine efforts, but (IMO) not by those who merely whine about past generations' lot in life.

True "color blindness" depends as much upon the behavior of the perceived as upon the attitudes of the observer.

rarchimedes said...

I realize this is belated, but I have stumbled into this blog from other parts. First, you might want to look at the number of blacks who have voted for the Democratic candidate in previous races, and find it almost as high. That is not to say that we all do not have some amount of xenophobia built in. It is a survival trait from our group and tribal history. There were times in our history when most places put up signs that said that no Irish need apply or pick your minority and fill in the blank. The problem for blacks and hispanics and other "colored" minorities is that they cannot ever easily blend in. They are marked by their color. I grew up a white boy in a community that had very few blacks and a lot of hispanics. I learned early to speak some Spanish, and was constantly around hispanics, so that was never much of an issue. I was around very few blacks. I actually took a summer job where my bosses were two black guys, this some 45 years ago. The first time I went with them to get a coke in an establishment that was otherwise all black, I could feel the suspicious eyes on me, and I had difficulty distinguishing faces other than the two that I knew. Think of walking into a crowd of strangers at a new school and multiply. I was afraid, and that fear would have been justified had my two friends(by that point) not vouched for me. These people did not have a good image of white folks.

There is nothing simple about racism, and I would say that it is inbuilt, but it can be overcome. That is all.