Not Afraid to Talk About Race
By CHARLES M. BLOW
New York Times
June 7, 2012
Hey, I heard that: "Oh, no, the black columnist is
writing about race, again."
Yes, I am. Deal with it. The moment we allow ourselves
to be browbeaten out of having important discussions
about issues that persist, we cease to command the
requisite conviction to wield the pen - or to peck on a
keyboard, but you get my drift.
Varying political views among racial and ethnic groups
They have always informed our politics, and no doubt
they will continue to do so. The idea, naively held by
many, that the election of the first black president
would nullify racial grievances, bridge racial
differences and erase racial animosities has quickly
faded. We find ourselves once again trying to wrestle
with the meaning and importance of race in our politics.
In fact, one could argue that examinations of racial
attitudes in politics have become more fraught as racial
motives, political objectives and accusations and
denials of racism and reverse-racism serve as a kind of
subterfuge hiding resentments and prejudices.
Either racial attitudes are naked, blatant and visible,
this thinking goes, or they're nonexistent, manufactured
by race baiters and hucksters as devices of division.
The middle ground, sprinkled with land mines made up of
racial labels, is now a place where fair-minded people
dare not tread.
That's a shame.
But it's not going to stop me. Strap on your lead boots
and let's go for a stroll.
A Pew Research Center American values survey released
this week offers fascinating insights into how racially
divergent values and the changing racial compositions of
political parties influence our politics.
[moderator: the Pew values survey may be found here -
Let's look at the racial makeup of the two major
parties: from 2000 to 2012 the percentage of Republicans
who are white has remained relatively steady, about 87
percent. On the other hand, the percentage of Democrats
who are white has dropped nine percentage points, from
64 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2012. If current
trends persist, in a few years the Democratic Party will
be a majority minority party. But the largest drop in
the white percentage has been among Independents: they
were 79 percent white in 2000, but they are only 67
percent white now.
The racial diversity among Democrats and the lack of it
among Republicans means that the two bases bring
differing sets of concerns to the national debate.
For instance, blacks and Hispanics are far more likely
to believe that poverty is a result of circumstances
beyond a person's control than a result of lack of
Blacks and Hispanics also look far more favorably on the
role of government, particularly as it relates to
guarding against poverty and evening a playing field
that they feel is tilted. Seventy-eight percent of both
blacks and Hispanics believed that government should
guarantee everyone enough to eat and a place to sleep,
while only 52 percent of whites agreed with that idea.
This is not to say that minorities who favor a stronger
government want more government handouts. There was very
little difference in the percentage of blacks, Hispanics
and whites who believed that poor people have become too
dependent on government assistance programs (it's pretty
high for all three groups, at 70, 69 and 72 percent,
They seem to want a chance, not a check.
To wit, 62 percent of blacks and 59 percent of Hispanics
say that we should make every possible effort to improve
the position of blacks and other minorities, even if it
means giving them preferential treatment. Not
surprisingly, only 22 percent of whites agreed with this
idea. Only 12 percent of Republicans - almost all of
whom are white - agreed. This percentage has been
decreasing since 2007, while the percentage of white
Democrats who agree has been increasing.
Now what does that mean for the presidential race?
A staggering 90 percent of Romney supporters are white.
Only 4 percent are Hispanic, less than 1 percent are
black and another 4 percent are another race.
Of Obama's supporters, 57 percent are white, 23 percent
are black, 12 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are
And what of the all-important swing voters (those who
are undecided, who lean toward a candidate, or who say
that they could change their mind)? Nearly three out of
four are white. The rest are roughly 8 percent each
blacks, Hispanics and another race.
That might explain why the Pew poll found that the swing
voters lean more toward Obama voters on issues like
civil liberties and the role of labor unions, but are
closer to Romney voters on the role of social safety
nets, immigration and minority-preference programs.
Put another way, Romney voters and swing voters - who
are both overwhelming white - agree on the more racially
Pointing out these correlations is not only valid, it is
instructive and helpful. In large part this election
will be about the role of government in our lives, and
different racial and ethnic groups view that particular
issue very differently.
The economy always looms large, but for those who feel
left behind by the economy even when it's roaring, but
especially when it sputters, social safety nets and
governmental activism can also have tremendous weight.
The trick will be to have a conversation about the
direction of the country that takes that into account
but lifts the language to a level where common goals can
be seen from differing racial vantage points - to show a
way to be merciful to those struggling while providing a
path to financial independence and social equality.
Contrary to what many Americans think, most people do in
fact want a hand up and not a handout.
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