Saturday, October 08, 2011

How The Left, And America, Loses

A few weeks back, Tulane University political science professor Melissa Harris-Perry wrote a piece in The Nation, for whom she writes on a monthly basis, that became the focus of much controversy on the Left.
The 2008 general election was another referendum on old-fashioned electoral racism—this time among Democratic voters. The long primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Obama had the important effect of registering hundreds of thousands of Democrats. By October 2008, it was clear that Obama could lose the general election only if a substantial portion of registered Democrats in key states failed to turn out or chose to cross party lines. For Democrats to abandon their nominee after eight years of Bush could be interpreted only as an act of electoral racism.


The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.


In 1996 President Clinton was re-elected with a coalition more robust and a general election result more favorable than his first win. His vote share among women increased from 46 to 53 percent, among blacks from 83 to 84 percent, among independents from 38 to 42 percent, and among whites from 39 to 43 percent.

President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation.(italics added)
The piece makes a number of claims of fact that Harris-Perry does not support with any evidence. Furthermore, the claim in the last, highlighted, sentence, is among the most absurd things I have read in quite a while. Finally, Harris-Perry does not marshal a single piece of evidence, say, a bunch of white liberal bloggers who are writing off Pres. Obama next year, and reading in to their reasons any kind of double standard. Instead, a refusal to vote again for Pres. Obama is, for her, prima facie evidence of "a more subtle form of racism," which, to be honest is a clunky way of phrasing what she really means. That white folks on the Left who are criticizing the President are doing so because they are racists.

I feel no need to respond to silliness like this. Others have, including Gene Lyons in Salon.
See, certain academics are prone to an odd fundamentalism of the subject of race. Because President Obama is black, under the stern gaze of professor Harris-Perry, nothing else about him matters. Not killing Osama bin Laden, not 9 percent unemployment, only blackness.

Furthermore, unless you’re black, you can’t possibly understand. Yada, yada, yada. This unfortunate obsession increasingly resembles a photo negative of KKK racial thought. It’s useful for intimidating tenure committees staffed by Ph.D.s trained to find racist symbols in the passing clouds. Otherwise, Harris-Perry’s becoming a left-wing Michele Bachmann, an attractive woman seeking fame and fortune by saying silly things on cable TV.
Race is difficult to talk about under the best of circumstances. We aren't living in the best of circumstances, and the insistence that white liberals own up to their racism because Obama hasn't been salvific becomes yet another hurdle over which people need to leap.

If they so choose.

Now, criticism of Harris-Perry has, at times, been ugly. That's kind of the way things go on the Internet, and in the country at large. A few, like Bob Somerby, have managed to keep their focus pretty clearly on the dubiousness of her factual claims, the dearth of evidence to support them, and the sheer audacity involved in writing that oft-mentioned, and highlighted here, sentence. She has responded, and has not exactly covered herself in glory.

Along comes this article, which quotes a Harris-Perry piece from April in which she argued that the pauperization of the mostly white middle class is introducing them to the long-standing disparities in access to power under which African-Americans have lived throughout most of our history. She has a big, important point here, but it isn't anything original.

The argument that there is something we can call "racist capitalism", as distinct from "capitalism", is ludicrous. Obviously capitalism is racist to the core. It is also patriarchal. It reinforces heterosexism. Any and all forms of narrow normative power structures that limit access and economic justice and equality are supported by capitalism. To argue that only now, with the re-enactment of Gilded Age economic policies are whites suddenly aware of their own marginalization in the face of immense power is factually inaccurate and historically ignorant. Forty years ago the links between racial and economic justice were clear enough.

When the public space in which we all need to talk about economic justice, racial justice and equality, becomes muddied by nonsense, we all lose. When legitimate criticism of Pres. Obama and his record gets lumped in with birthers and bigots, we all lose. When academics cannot even muster evidence for their arguments, then insist that they don't have to because any criticism of black academics is the same as dismissive racist attacks, we all lose.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More