Black Voters Still Taken for Granted

As the first serious black candidate for the presidency, the entire nation scrutinizes Obama’s every move. No one knew how he would approach his candidacy; many whites feared that he would approach running as “The Stereotypical Black Candidate,” while many blacks, including Jesse Jackson, hoped he would be a candidate to seriously take on black issues. He is clearly not running on this ticket, in fact his recent comments strongly point to this fact. The Economist’s recent article entitled Of race and the race,” had this to say about Obama’s unique stance:

Mr. Obama, though, is in a lucky position regarding black voters. Their early skepticism has given way to massive support. He is in the enviable position of being able to lob the occasional criticism at black pathologies to win white votes. Sensing this, and thus his own declining ability to wield grievance to win concessions, Mr. Jackson had some reason to be annoyed.

Obama is downplaying his blackness while simultaneously using his advantage as a black man to criticize using the white racial frame, thus gain votes from white Americans, particularly conservatives. Unfortunately, this Democratic attitude of knowing inherently that the black vote is guaranteed to be blue allows candidates to toss aside black issues. The same article from The Economist goes on to suggest this reason for Obama’s apathetic attitude towards black voters:

Blacks, for their part, tend to be inconveniently located either in deep-south states that Mr Obama cannot win, or in places that he is already likely to take. In any case, a few critical comments are unlikely to stop their backing him. Mr Jackson should not be surprised to see Mr Obama courting swing groups that he needs.

All the energy that Obama would put towards black voters if their vote for him was not inherent has been going toward the largest minority in the United States: Latinos. The Economist article says this:

If black communal influence has waned, it seems that of Latinos is rising. Both candidates wooed them this week with speeches to LULAC (a Latino equivalent to the NAACP). Over the weekend both will speak to a more strident group, La Raza. Latinos are now America’s largest minority. George Bush courted them, with pidgin Spanish, a promised focus on Latin America, and reforms that would offer many illegal immigrants a path to become legal. He won more of their votes than the typical Republican. But immigration reform failed, Mr Bush neglected Latin America and the Republicans’ anti-immigration stance, which sometimes carries a whiff of racism, are all driving Latinos to Mr. Obama.

The consequence of Obama’s push to gain white and Latino votes is his taking the black vote for granted.  It is hard to say whether this is intentional or not, but either way it is interesting that in vying for one voting demographic, another is necessarily slighted. Not surprising when one looks at the historical data of unmet campaign promises geared towards gaining black votes. The Economist’s article gives this example:

Republicans promised freed slaves “40 acres and a mule” after the civil war, but they failed to deliver, so blacks decided to “ride this donkey”–the Democratic symbol–“as far as it would take us”. With the introduction of civil-rights legislation in the 1960s black voters swung behind the Democrats in earnest. But some complain that Democrats now take their votes without delivering, or even that white Democrats take advantage of the all-but-guaranteed black support.

Since blacks were granted the right to vote, their vote has been taken for granted.

~ Amanda & Hannah

Amanda and Hannah are advanced undergraduate students at Texas A&M University doing a major research project on the numerous racial aspects of the current U.S. presidential campaign–with a special focus on the unique reality and impacts of having the first Black candidate for a major political party in the campaign. They will be guest blogging with us on their research findings over the next few months. ~ Joe


  1. mgs

    Specifically, how has Obama criticized blacks using the white racial frame? I know that he has criticized the poor record of black fathers, but the fact that black fathers are disproportionately absent needs no framing.

  2. Hannah

    Here is a quote from Systemic Racism by Joe Feagin.

    “Indeed, since the 1970s and 1980s, the white racial frame has reasserted its ancient blaming of black individuals, communities, values, and culture for the society’s racial problems. Such a strong accent on the old framing has helped most whites to feel better about the continuing, and massive, racial inequalities in society. Operating in the antiblack tradition going back to the seventeenth century, this racially conservative language has interpreted white-black issues mostly as problems of black culture and community, accenting such terms as the “black underclass, “black family pathology,” and “black gangs and drugs.” From its earliest days, this blame-the-victim discourse has operated to disguise the underlying reality of systemic racism and to prevent a society-wide understanding of the central role of systemic racism in everyday problems of black Americans,” (Feagin, 2006; 228-229).

    I interpreted Obama’s criticism of black fathers as playing into the white racial framing of society by blaming the victims and by reifying the common stereotype of the inferior “black family pathology,” which consists of ideas such as: black families are only single parent households, and black fathers are always absent, etc. and that this is what creates problems for blacks in society, not unequal access to education, housing, or employment.

  3. mgs

    I’m not sure that “blaming the victim” is relevant here. To call the absentee father the victim requires a rather long and tenuous chain of causality.The incentives poor families face are skewed but the choices they make are their own.

    Anyway, I made a stronger point in comments on your previous post on the issue: Obama’s criticisms are entirely in keeping with the spirit of self determination and personal accountability espoused by Obama’s previous church.

  4. Seattle in Texas

    mgs—please treat yourself to a good metaphysics course before you discuss personal choice in the light as done above. Even the finest philosophers have not been able to “prove” we have freewill/personal choice and the best of today that are trying unite so far the logical impossibility of compatiblism, have been unsuccessful (last I heard). The strength of good sociology is it addresses social and personal issues through a determinist framework and the strengths of good psychology address the same not through “personal choices” but “responses” to the environment based on existing and prior conditions—and what occurs today necessarily influences our future and those around us in various ways …we are where we’re at today because of the “decisions” (if you will) we made yesterday or years ago, etc. (there is a fundamental distinction between “choice” and “decisions” and the theoretical and pragmatic implications and consaquences that follow) The mere concept of “choice” is extremely complex. And you are correct here: “To call the absentee father the victim requires a rather long and tenuous chain of causality”—which is where the claim that Obama was blaming the victim comes from…. While I personally am still grappling with the nature of the framework Obama was operating out of when he made his statements…I do see, respect, and can understand the perspectives and claims made about him operating out of the white racial frame. From that standpoint, they are absolutely correct in saying he was “blaming the victim.”

  5. mgs

    I agree that philosophers, specifically ethicists, are not in agreement regarding free will. Luckily I have Aristotle on my side.

    But follow me on this thought experiment: Lets say that husbands in the US have their incentives suddenly realigned so that we get some utility worth, lets say, $50 out of punching our wives. Domestic abuse would undoubtedly go up due to the recently introduced systematic bias, but each individual husband would have to make his own decision.

    The increase in abuse would be due to the husbands at the margin who were previously only slightly disinclined to beat their wives. Are they the victim?

  6. Seattle in Texas

    Hehe, nice attempted touché and a person to carry on scholarly conversation with? 😀 Nice. Well, I do not recall Aristotle explicitly suggesting we have freewill? I would like to see the passage in full context that makes this claim with absolute certainty. But supposing you could present such passage, even the soft determinist would shred it to bits based on the fact that all prior circumstances (including socialization in sociological language) and immediate conditions present in the surroundings impact how people respond to their environment.

    But you present an excellent thought experiment actually. Where philosophers are now in terms of dealing with the dilemma is with the concept of moral responsibility (and what constitutes moral responsibility is a whole different discussion, of which again, ties back to issues related to determinism). (Not to condone punching women—back home, if something like that were to happen an increased number of men would have broken noses and serious groin issues…so I’m not so sure the men would find it worthwhile for a mere $50…then they would have to deal with the men who would not do it for $50, which would present more issues and it would just be all the more costly and not worth it…so there are many other factors to also consider with this example). First, I think the closest we could get to assuming the male (I will discuss in the hetereosexist language because that how the example is presented and to save space) had even a decision in the matter was if he were financially well off—which I think addresses the systematic bias you correctly mention. We know spousal/partner abuse occurs in all social stratums—in the higher social classes it is just better hidden.

    So socialization, circumstances, and context (at minimum) are important. There are some who would not do it for any amount of money—regardless of circumstances. There are some who would not need the $50, but might do it. And naturally those who do not need an incentive to hit his spouse. Okay, I would argue those who do not need the money, but do it anyway “for $50” are not victims (in fact these are the folks who have the moral duty to prevent such policies from coming into place and would be responsible for getting such policies overturned). It is a decision on their part? Perhaps the closest we could get to such a notion. (and if I remember correctly—there was a point in time where men were expected to “discipline” their wives regularly and if they did not, they could face penalties, etc.—many risked penalties over “disciplining” their wives, was this a decision on their part? And if they were penalized financially, physically, etc. for not disciplining their wives, were they victims? And why or why not?) For those who are poor—I’m not talking working class, but poor who otherwise have not or would not hit a woman—yes; they would be a victim in my opinion—just as anybody who is poor that steals or robs out of desperation is a victim. In a different sense, it could be argued yes, that all men who would hit their wives for $50 regardless of SES are victims—which require more boring lines to justify….

    But let me leave you with something a little bit more contemporary (a small bit of what Free Will advocates have to face and why their arguments fail…plus, Aristotle is a bit outdated anyway…) by Peter van Inwagen: “If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what when on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us” in “An Essay on Free Will” (1983). However, this is exactly why concepts of moral responsibility (which vary greatly) and how we socialize our children today is so important—their future, reality, and how they will respond to good and bad in many respects is in our hands right now….

    Interesting mgs and always enjoy thought experiments. So, there is a far longer than necessary post to your short, but thought provoking response.

  7. Seattle in Texas

    Though mgs—…while very little work survived, as far as I know among the Greek thinkers the Stoics were the earliest recorded to wrestle with problems related to compatibalism as we understand it today. While they did not have the solutions, they are still important in the same sense as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. If interested, check them out too, if you already have not.

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