Post Election Musings
Since the federal election last Tuesday, I have been scratching my head and trying to understand how 332 electoral college votes and 50.5% of the popular vote is now not a mandate (according to all persuasions of reporters) when in 2004 Bush garnered 286 electoral college votes and 50.7% and it was. Is the 0.2% difference that significant? What changed over the last 8 years? It will be interesting to see how these figures shift once the Florida votes are finally counted and certified. Hmmmm…
We did not hear, very often and certainly not in the national campaigns of either party, the words “race” or “racism.” For one party, they know little of what it means to have genuine diversity and for the other, it weighed the cost of naming the obvious and decided to let image speak rather than calling forth the dangers and violence as well as the joys and triumphs we find in darker skinned peoples in this country.
So it seemed that race had disappeared in this election season. I find it remarkable that a nation so full of the presence of darker-skinned peoples of varying hues that these people remain national enigmas. And to varying degrees we all commit these acts of ignorance. Race has become more complex as we become more diverse because the numbers of peoples from different racial ethnic groups are growing—Latino/a and Asian in particular. For example, in my home town of Durham, NC—far from the southern border of this country—the city and state government signs on buildings and direction markers are in English and Spanish.
Neither party named racism (or race) directly but it was and is there in the coding of words that are symbols of centuries-long hatreds and discriminations. They are more powerful as symbols because they tap into our imaginations, or what I often call the fantastic hegemonic imagination. This imagination traffics in peoples’ lives through gross caricatures so that we can control the world in our own image. This imagination conjures social structures that are based on the ordinariness of evil and we then proclaim this normal or acceptable or natural.
I don’t think there is anything normal or natural about the way we continue to countenance this evil pigswill as acceptable. Although racism may be harder to detect by some these days, for others it continues to stand front and center. We now see it in such acts as voter suppression and the subtext in discussions of immigration reform, reference to “the poor” and “47%.”
We heard no references to the poor from either party because they did a statistical calculation and figured that the 2012 electorate is likely to be 72% White (down from 75% in 2008). In this statistical world, Republicans needed to get at least 62% of that White vote to win and Democrats needed to get 38% or more of the White vote. Somewhat lost in this calculus for some was the rising tide of racial ethnic voters and/or women voters—with some pundits focusing on the declining number of White voters instead. As the numbers continue to be sifted, it appears that Romney garnered about 59% of the White vote—the best a GOP nominee has done among Whites since 1988. It ironic that although Obama won 93% of the African American vote, 71% of the Latino/a, and 73% of the Asian vote, he has become mute on advocacy for truly disadvantaged Blacks and rarely speaks out forthrightly on racial issues for fear of alienating more conservative White voters who may quickly turn into a Republican direction if he does. Many of us who are Black can appreciate his dilemma and voted for him regardless of his silence. It is a deeply racist society that creates this kind of conundrum with a fantastic hegemonic imagination as its drum major.
The election is over and governing must begin again. It remains for us to insist that our elected officials turn to a sense of the common good in shaping public policy and conducting international relations. We must do so not by ignoring race and racism, sexism, classism, militarism, ageism, heterosexism, and the rest of a long and persistent laundry list of “isms,” but by facing this front and center and working to eradicate them. As my mother used to say, “if we can put a man on the moon, we can do much better than we currently do here on earth.”