On Voter Intimidation, The Myth of Voter Fraud and Why Touch Screens Should Scare You.
Archive for October, 2012
When the president said, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy!” after moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney during a crucial moment in their second debate, sending the audience into laughter, I heard black barbershop dozens signifying. Or asphalt basketball court trash talking. Obama has not been shy about bringing black cultural signifiers with him onto the national stage — from fist bumping his wife in the 2008 campaign to refusing change from a fast food cashier by saying “Nah we straight.” An insightful new book, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. by professors H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman, catalogs Obama’s particular linguistic manner and the ease with which he verbally communicates blackness. It is these moments that begin to explain why the question of whether blacks vote for Obama just because he’s black is so dumb.
The question has become an Internet meme over the last week, fueled mostly by people like author Kevin Jackson, author of The Big Black Lie, who told Fox News, “Racists that they are, [blacks] voted for [Obama] because he’s black, not because he’s qualified.” Conservative author Ron Christie echoed him saying blacks voted for Obama because of “straitjacket solidarity.”
Jay-Z, Obama and hip-hop’s crossover
In Praise of the new King of Skydivers
Why we still need affirmative action.
Right now the Supreme Court holds the fate of affirmative action in its hands, and things don’t look good. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin pits a school that believes affirmative action and diversity are key to its mission against a young white woman who failed to get into the university and blames that on the school’s use of race as a factor in the admissions process. Experienced court watchers are certain that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor will side with the university and that Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts will side with Fisher. Once again, Justice Anthony Kennedy is the swing vote, and this time he appears to be leaning toward the conservatives. (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she worked on the case as solicitor general.)
The end of affirmative action would have profound implications for higher education, leaving the U.S.’s top universities and graduate schools whiter. Because intergenerational mobility is tied to college attendance and joining America’s leadership is linked to admission to the top selective universities and graduate programs, the removal of affirmative action would only increase the already overwhelming whiteness of the upper echelon of American society. A study by Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger found that graduating from selective universities does not increase the earnings likelihood for middle-class whites but does significantly increase the earnings likelihood for black and Hispanic students and those from less affluent backgrounds, so affirmative action has a direct impact on the economic future of America. I have seen this at work in my own family.
I do not think I am any smarter or harder-working than my father, but I have outearned and outachieved him because he grew up during segregation while I grew up in the 1970s, during the early wave of diversity admissions at private schools that had not previously been open to black and Hispanic students. The greater educational and professional opportunities I had because of affirmative action multiplied my chances of success and gave my life a very different shape than my dad’s. Affirmative action provided us with a slight counterbalance to the powerful force called white privilege. Doing away with racial consideration would reduce the black and brown presence at selective schools and limit intergenerational class mobility even further. The problem is not that students who don’t belong are being admitted; it’s not that they can’t earn a place; it’s that blacks and Hispanics are losing the lifelong battle against the constantly accumulating benefits of white privilege. The places I studied and worked did not have a quota system but had an understanding that a diverse body is inherently better than a monolithic one for all involved. Affirmative action is not merely a corrective for past imbalance but also a way of ensuring that the American Dream is available to all.
Removing race from the admissions equation forces schools to be blind to one of the key factors in people’s lives. Quota systems became unconstitutional years ago, so we are not talking about a mechanical relationship to race in admissions. There are no black slots in a class, nor should there be. At the University of Texas, as at many schools, race is one of a dozen or more factors considered in a holistic review of a student.
I cannot be seen through a color-blind lens and do not wish to be. Race is an important factor of who I am and how I am perceived, which is the case for all human beings, at least in America. And pretending not to see race doesn’t mean you don’t see it. The deans of Harvard and Yale’s law schools recently wrote a joint editorial saying, “We do not understand how a rule forbidding all consideration of race could possibly be enforced.” If an applicant mentions race, or if his or her race becomes clear during the application process, which often includes face-to-face meetings, then what charade should follow? It sounds like a sort of intellectual Prohibition would result, and as we all know, people drank during Prohibition; they just did it secretly.
Pushing race into the shadows is not the answer. Despite several decades of affirmative action, the black unemployment rate remains double the white unemployment rate, over 13% vs. under 7%. Blacks are, studies show, half as likely to get a job offer as whites presenting identical qualifications, and blacks with a clean record do no better in searching for low-wage work than whites with a felony conviction. Blacks remain severely underrepresented on campuses and in occupations requiring a degree. Yet in spite of all that, many white people have somehow come to view their race as the object of discrimination. Aquestion Chief Justice Roberts asked repeatedly at the hearing in the Fisher case was, “When will we reach critical mass?” Meaning, how many black and Hispanic students will it take to satisfy the goal of diversity? Or, to put it more broadly, when will affirmative action no longer be needed? The question cannot be answered by any precise metric, but we are nowhere near that point.
Toure talks Vice Presidential Debate History
The Cycle talks to the author of Articulate While Black about Obama’s language.
John Geer talks to Toure about campaigning versus governing.
If President Obama had to run against Senator Obama of 2008, he’d probably be crushed. Back then, Obama seemed superhuman; today he is merely mortal. His victory in 2008 was historic, breaking the race barrier in the nation’s highest office. But an Obama victory in 2012 would say something even more profound about how far our country has come.
Granted, Obama’s election (or not) is merely one of many factors that will tell us where we are on race in America. But it is a big one. In 2008, Obama had to overcome racial bias that a recent study by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate in economics, suggests may have cost him as many as 3 to 5 percentage points in the election.
Obama had to be extraordinary, which reminds me of something my mother told me when I was a boy: that being black meant I had to be twice as good to get ahead. Obama more than just good; in many ways, he was the embodiment of that staple of film and literature, the magical Negro.
The magical Negro is a character full of knowledge and wisdom, sometimes with supernatural powers, whose job is to help a white protagonist reach his full potential. Jim in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is the classic example. More recently, there were Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile and Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix, who offers Keanu Reeves’ Neo a red pill that will change his life.
In 2008, Obama was Morpheus and America was Neo, a nation of great potential that had lost its mojo and did not understand reality. Obama offered America the red pill — the chance to vote for him — and we swallowed it. In The Matrix, the red pill took effect immediately, and it wasn’t long before Neo revealed himself to be the One — the Jesus-like figure Morpheus had thought he was. In the real world, change happens much more slowly. When Obama took office, it felt as if the sky were falling and we were close to a depression. We avoided that fate. But it has been a rough few years marked by problems (not all of his making) that include a historic recession, Washington gridlock, the passage of controversial health care legislation, the failure to close the Guantánamo prison, the Middle East explosion and the rhetorical blunder of “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” by which the great orator handed the GOP a gift it could mangle into a slogan. After all that, it’s impossible to view Obama as a superhuman magical-Negro figure anymore.
Obama has been brought down to earth, and he now admits, as he said in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, invoking the words of Abraham Lincoln, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.” Yet despite his failings and mortal humility, Obama remains the favorite to win: he leads 48% to 45% in the latest Gallup poll and 48.9% to 44.9% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
All incumbents have natural advantages, but for Obama, incumbency is a double-edged sword. Given the super-human expectations placed on him when he took office, it’s not surprising that he has disappointed some of his followers.
So those poll numbers suggest something very interesting about this country in terms of racial progress. They show American voters embracing a non-magical black man. The magical Negro concept arose from a need to rectify supposed black inferiority with the undeniability of black wisdom by suggesting that wisdom is so alien that its origins cannot be explained by normal scientific methods.
While some may think it complimentary to be considered “magical,” it is infantilizing and offensive because it suggests black excellence is so shocking it can only come from a source that is supernatural. To accept a black leader who is extraordinary yet so human that he cannot be magical is an entirely different prospect than electing a black superhero. Anyone would vote for a superhero who lived up to my mom’s standard of having to be twice as good. But for it to embrace a nonmagical black person who cannot promise anything but hope, intelligence, sweat and experience, now that comes closer to equality. Equality is freedom from having to be twice as good to get ahead.