Racism and Urban “Unrest”

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a terrific post over at “Making Light,” in which she dissects current reports that police are concerned about urban “unrest” if Obama loses the election (hat tip to Paul at Brainstorms).  Nielsen Hayden (last name corrected, thanks to Tom W.) refers to this article at The HIll, the leading newspaper of Congress and Capitol Hill, and here’s the relevant bit from that article:

Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations. Others based the need for enhanced patrols on past riots in urban areas (following professional sports events) and also on Internet rumors.

Good grief.  I study, read and write about racism all the time and yet sometimes, I’m still shocked by it, as I was by this nasty turn of events.  Nielsen Hayden, for her part, is spot on and calls the report (and the police preparation) out for what it is:

This is setting up a fraudulent racist narrative: that any unrest on Election Day will consist of inner-city blacks rioting because the black candidate didn’t win. Some of the things that narrative fails to take into account:

—The most notable recent instance of rioting while an election was in progress did not involve a local urban black population. It was in Florida in 2000, and the rioters were known Republican campaign operatives brought into the state on the national Republican Party’s nickel.

She makes an excellent point.   And, when I read about the police preparation for “urban unrest,” I don’t think it’s meant to conjure the image of all those RNC staffers in their causal-Friday-Gap-wear (erroneously dubbed the “Brooks Brothers Riot,” but they just weren’t that well dressed).  Nielsen Hayden goes on in the rest of her post to detail other parts of this “fraudulent racist narrative,” and if you’re following the election closely I highly recommend reading her post in full.


  1. Will i open myself up for attack if i posit a differing point of view? If Obama were to lose in the fashion described above, i think riots would be completely warranted. Perhaps even needed. This is not a call for violence but if Obama gets jobbed out of the presidency there are going to be 10s of millions of people who believe he got screwed. It might take riots to get to the bottom of things and cause change to an incredibly corrupt and mysterious voting process. In absence of any (meaningful and persistent) protest after the 2000 FL debacle standing by with our thumbs up our asses might not be the best course of action.
    I haven’t yet read the linked to article. I probably should have done before posting.

  2. Jessie Author

    Hey Mordy ~ I don’t know that I disagree with you. I mean, I don’t think there should be riots so much as protests in the streets if there’s (another) stolen election, but then that’s not really the point of the article. The point is that there will be “riots” by one particular group of people – blacks in urban areas. That’s the issue I was trying to highlight here.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    I think if something were to go wrong, citizens across the United States should shut the nation down. No work, no school, absolutely no movement until it’s corrected (protests as exceptions). Yes, each individual might lose short-term wages, and other things, but the long-term gains for everybody would pay off far more in the long run. The nation cannot operate without the cooperation of its people–it can’t afford to lose collective cooperation right now. In other words, the nation should go on strike until the correction is made…. Hopefully, or ideally we won’t encounter that…. And the projected electoral votes? Lookin good!!! 🙂

  4. Pam

    A white woman at church — an Obama supporter — raised this argument with me, and I had the same reaction you (Jessie) had. Sort of a “what?” And a worry of the racial stereotyping underneath it, in someone who sees herself as pro-Black. I do think fear of riots is underneath a lot of the criminal justice policies that have led to mass incarceration and to the fear whites have of black people. So I think this is a very serious issue, and I doubt very much that that one new article is the only place this discussion is circulating. Maybe you have to be old enough to remember the riots for this to be so salient. I was 15-19 in the peak riot era and I remember them very well.

  5. Jessie Author

    Hi Seattle, Pam ~ good to see you here. I share your hope (!) that there’s no need for such action, Seattle, but it’s still a ways from election day. Pam, yes, I guess I’m not surprised (well, ok, sort of surprised) to hear this kind of thing expressed by the person-in-the-street (or, in your example, woman-at-church). I was, admittedly, gobsmacked to realize police are already putting plans in place to mobilize. I’m sure Joe would say I was just being naive. 😉

  6. Tom

    Those of you who hope that if another election is stolen, there’ll be at least some sort of concerted protest: I hope you’re right (but I hope you never have to be proven right). The thing is, as Jessie points out, the most recent form of post-election violence was by Republican activists in Florida. The fraudulent racist narrative works that way too, because we’re automatically meant to connect ‘trouble’ with black people, not those thick-necked, polo-shirt wearing thugs who tried to stop a legal vote-recount.

    Without getting into nutcase territory, I’ve read several reliable (i.e. non-fringe) posts about the US Army recently establishing a new combat unit in the US for ‘assisting local law enforcement’ in the case of civil disturbances. It seems that the Republican government has an even lower opinion of its own citizens than I thought.

  7. Seattle in Texas

    U.S. corruption…yes, and in the next several days? The nation could be preparing to halt action in the event history repeats itself? Then their time and energy of preparing to enforce Marshall Law(? if necessary) will have been completely wasted and they will be at the ultimate mercy of the masses…unless they go door to door and escort everybody to go to work, school, open business back up, etc. (which is impossible). But unrealistic a national strike could ever take place anyway.

    I do strongly agree with Mordy in that a backlash is likely to take place in the event Obama loses. At this point, if he were to lose the election, I think it would be more than plausable to assumption corruption was involved. While I don’t like the idea of riots at all–such a response? There is no other way to get their attention (a national shut down could be an alternative, but very unlikely)…. The people are doing their part right now across the nation, legitimately and peacefully, to demand change. If the system fails them? Well?

    However, being the ridiculous optmist I am…I am going to cling tightly on to hope for now, that both Obama will win and the system will be just….

  8. Again, sleazy Rovian tactics to inject fear in the American populace .

    To raise another narrative myth, it will be a perfect storm. Economy in the dumps; rising unemployment; two unpopular wars; extreme cynicism and distrust due to Rovian politicking and crony capitalism. If Obama loses and people suspect foul play, lots of people will lose faith in American government, and they will be of all colors, not just minorities as they so shamefully imply.

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