“You Voted for Him Because He’s Black” and Why That’s Okay

Yo, White dudes were PISSED last week!

After all, they took a pretty good shellacking in the election, but man, was this really necessary?  I guess it’s not surprising when this, this, and this were happening before the election, but White men are acting like they suddenly don’t control congress, pretty much every state legislature, business, the banks, and every major media outlet.  Take a breath, grab yourselves some casserole, and chill out!

The reality is, though, that demographics are changing, and they’re not changing in favor of the Republican Party, the Whitest major party around.  Mixed race, Latino, and Asian-American populations are the fastest growing demographics, and all of these groups vote staunchly Democrat.  Plus, women, particularly single women, aren’t exactly flocking to the Right side of the aisle.

I mean, just look at how things broke down in this year’s race for the presidency:

Percentage of Important Demographics that Voted for Obama in 2012
93% of African Americans
73% of Asian Americans
71% of Latinos
67% of single women
55% of women
Sources: Latinos Post and The Guardian

Now, considering that those numbers likely reflect a lot of Democratic voting down ballot as well, there are two things we can assume about these numbers:

  1. Of the two major parties in the U.S., one is more responsive to the needs of women and people of Color; OR
  2. “The next time someone tells me that the Black voters are not bigoted, stick it in the trash can because Black voters are bigoted — 93 percent (of the Black vote went) for Obama, 6 percent for (Mitt) Romney — you’re bigots.” – St. Louis radio personality Kevin Slaten

I cannot tell you how many White folks I have heard in the last week freaking out to much the same tune as our buddy Kevin.  “Latino voters are racist.”  “Black voters are racist.”  “Women don’t vote for real issues like the economy or foreign policy. They only vote with their vaginas.”

Well, I hate to say it, but if that’s how we’re going to interpret these results, then White men, you might want to flip over that coin and look at the other side:

What the Electoral Map would have looked like if only White Men could vote:

Here’s the reality: A majority of White people voted for a White presidential candidate, and a majority of people of Color voted for a Black presidential candidate.

The infuriating response on the part of the Right, though, seems to be that, rather than assuming their platform is not responsive to the changing needs of a changing demographic, all the people who vote for Democrats generally and Barack Obama specifically are just welfare-dependent free loaders:

But go on, Republicans.  Keep making comments like this and this:

Because it ensures that you will only continue to be marginalized in every election going forward.

The reality, though, is that Obama carried the votes of those who experience oppression and marginalization in our system for two reasons.  The first reason likely weighs significantly more heavily than the second, but they both are true.

  1. Obama and his party are, on the whole, more responsive to the needs of the marginalized and oppressed.
  2. Obama is Black, and many of the Democratic candidates running were Women; candidates of Color; and Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual.

The first is the most obvious: people generally vote for candidates that are most likely to reflect their values and views on how the country should be run.  If one party’s platform is anti-immigrant, proposes budgets that would devastate services for the middle class and poor, categorizes rape into “legitimate” and non-legitimate rape, opposes expanded access to birth control, opposes abortion in every possible case, advocates restricting voting rights, opposes equal rights for LGBTQ people, and wants to privatize safety nets like medicaid, medicare, and social security, that party is not likely to garner many votes from people who see themselves, their livelihood, their rights, and their values wrapped up in those issues.

The second, though, gets a bit tricky to talk about.  Most White people will adamantly claim that to even consider the race of a candidate that you are voting for is racist, and I will hear the occasional person of Color agree with them.  In some cases, that is true.  If a White person is voting for a candidate because that person is White, that is, in fact, racist.  If a person of Color weighs the race of a candidate of Color in their overall decision, that’s not racism.  That is a response to racism.

You see, to have this conversation, we need to understand what racism is.

When White people vote for a White candidate because of his or her race (as plenty of White folks did, even if they don’t want to admit it), they are voting to further entrench and cement a system of racial privilege and power, whereby White folks are in control and can make policy and ensure White privilege and dominance are extended.

When people of Color vote for a candidate because he or she is Black, Latino, Hmong, Arab, or Native, they are voting for someone who, by the very nature of their situation in our country where an ideology of White Supremacy thrives, understands better than any White person could what it means to be a person of Color in the United States and, as such, is significantly more likely to be able to serve their needs and understand their concerns.

Now, am I saying that all people of Color are going to be responsive to and reflective of the needs of most people of Color? Clearly no:

But what I am saying is that privilege  and the system that upholds that privilege conceals itself from those who possess it.  While any person who ascends to high public office benefits from some level of privilege (most commonly class privilege), this does not presume all people in public office understand privilege the same way.  Frankly put, White candidates cannot and will not ever fully understand the ways in which our system was built by White men for White men and functions to oppress people of Color.

That being said, it would be ill advised for ANY person to vote for a candidate SOLELY because of their race.  But someone’s race is, in part, a good indication of their experience in this world, and a person’s policies and voting record are, at least ideally, a reflection of their lived experience.  We should not pretend, then, that someone’s race is irrelevant to how they will govern.  We can and should hope that candidates will take into account the understanding of the world that their identity gives them when governing.

Thus, in addition to a person’s policy positions, when considering who to vote for, we can, should, and must consider a person’s identity, their race, religion, wealth, ability, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship experience, and more.  Then, on the other side of that consideration, those who wish to preserve a system of privilege and oppression can vote for the candidates whose identities and policy positions are most likely to entrench that system.  The rest of us can vote for the identities and policy positions that will continue the long arc of history that ever-bends toward freedom.

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