Sacrificing Their Own: Republican Abandonment of the White Poor in the Obama Era

Congressional Republicans, through their mean-spirited political agenda, are increasingly abandoning many of their loyal supporters at the time of their greatest need.

In the prolonged economic crisis that has devastated so many lives in its path, victims of policies to cut food stamps and unemployment benefits, nullify Obamacare, and shut down the federal government go beyond those who have been traditionally relegated and abandoned on the margins of society, namely folks of color.

Increasingly rank-and-file whites are being crushed by Republican miserliness. These are individuals who have long identified with the Republican party — people who have always seen themselves as the salt of the earth, people who made America what it is, people who played by the rules.

The white poor and near-poor represent collateral damage in Republican efforts to satisfy its voracious appetite to sink the Obama presidency.

Whites represent the majority of U.S. adults who stand to lose through Republican-led policies designed to gash the safety net in opposition to Obamacare in these trying times. For example, according to the 2011 American Community Survey, whites represented 53 percent of households receiving food stamps, 57 percent of adults without health insurance, 59 percent of the unemployed, and 57 percent of the adult poor. Whites also accounted for nearly two-thirds of federal workers, a group comprising a large chunk of the 800,000 workers laid off and the more than a million who will be asked to work without compensation as the federal government is now shut down.

To make matters worse, whites in red states are more likely than those in blue states to draw food stamps, to lack health insurance, to hold a federal job, and to be poor. Put simply, the white poor in red states are being hurt by the folks that they helped put in office.

It is obvious many Republicans, especially those in the House, are more interested in sabotaging the Obama presidency, making sure that Obamacare is halted, and in supporting the interests of the rich and powerful than they are in assisting needy whites — not to mention poor people in general — during a period that has put many in deep financial straits.

Just as Democrats have long ignored the interests and needs of their African-American, Latino and poor constituents, it is clear that Republicans are taking their strapped white supporters for granted.

This commentary was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News.

Myrlie Evers-Williams will give the invocation at inaugural

President Obama has selected two human rights activists to give the invocation and benediction at his upcoming presidential inaugural, according to Politico:

Myrlie Evers-Williams, former chair of the NAACP and widow of [the famous civil rights activist] Medgar Evers, will deliver the invocation, and the Rev. Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta will deliver the benediction, the inaugural committee announced Tuesday.

Evers-Williams fought for justice for 30 years after her husband, the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, was gunned down in his driveway in 1963. She authored three books about their civil rights work.

Evers-Williams is, like her husband was, one of the important activists–in the historic civil rights movement and for her, also for subsequent decades–that helped to press this country’s white elite and acolytes in the direction of implementing its hoary rhetorical “liberty and justice for all” ideals.

Rev. Giglio has worked diligently with organizations working against contemporary slavery and human trafficking.

Moving Towards a “Post-Racial” Society? Not Really.

Based upon the results from Tuesday’s election, are we in post-racial society? As Joe pointed out in his post after the election, of course not. I will take this one step further: is U.S. society coming closer (if not there yet) to being a “post-racial” society? The exit polling from the election Tuesday suggests not. In fact, a preliminary look at the numbers suggest something rather disturbing: that white Americans are beginning to consolidate their support behind the (white) Republican candidate, regardless of a variety of factors.

When interviewing white college students, a common claim I found was that U.S. society is getting more progressive due to the impending deaths of the old racist whites. However, exit polling from the election and comparing it to what happened in the previous cycle (see here), we find that all of the President’s losses were among various groups of white voters, including young white voters. As Joe pointed out earlier, President Obama lost whites aged 18-29 by a margin of 44 percent to 51 percent. This was a complete reversal of 2008, when then Senator Obama carried the same group of voters by a ten-point margin (54-44). Meanwhile, white women’s support for the white Republican candidate this time doubled its spread from 46-53 in 2008 to 42-56. Meanwhile, Independent voters also flip-flopped from supporting Senator Obama 52-44 in 2008 to Romney 45-50 (note: the first number listed is President Obama’s on the chart below).

Group 2012 2008
Whites (overall) 39-59 43-55
Whites (18-29) 44-51 54-44
Latinos (18-29) 74-23 76-19
Moderates 56-41 60-39
Independents 45-50 52-44
Suburban 48-50 NA
Democrats 92-7 89-10

This rejection of President Obama by white America was quite extensive. We must push back against the MSM to paint a distorted picture of how this man won re-election. Besides young voters and women, Catholics is another group the MSM could generalize and say “Catholics supported Obama by a 50-48 margin…” The reality is that white Catholics overwhelmingly rejected President Obama by a 40-59 margin, while white Protestants were even worse at 30-69. After a far too brief look at the exit polls, I see incredible support for the President coming from Blacks and Latinos (considering that the turnout was actually down from 2008 and 2004, see here), and his campaign did a great job of maintaining support among the Party faithful (he won Democrats 92-7) while convincing enough voters that he cared more about them than Romney did (he won those earning below $50,000 60-38).

What we race scholars should be focusing on is the disturbing gap among our young people (e.g., nearly one-third more Latinos 18-29 supported Obama than whites in the same age cohort), and the consequences of such a major gap.

A Racially Polarized Country: White Men Lose One

This is a very interesting time to live in this country, indeed. We just re-elected the first African American president, Barack Obama, yet he is a man who has for the most part carefully avoided talking about issues of US racism in order to win twice. He often provides the country with the colorblind rhetoric from the soft version of the white racial frame, even as he strengthens and expands, often quietly, much of the civil rights protection and enforcement neglected by his conservative predecessors.

I have been looking in some detail at the exit polls for the second edition of the Yes We Can? book that Adia Harvey Wingfield and I are trying to get out soon, and they are very interesting.

In the 2012 election Senator Obama won an estimated 50.8 percent of the total popular vote (when all is finally counted), compared to 52.9 percent in 2008. This resulted in a likely 332-206 electoral vote victory (including Florida, which is still counting), lower than the 365–173 figure for 2008. According to the exit polls whites made up 72 percent of total voters in this election, down a bit from 2008. Whites gave Obama a lower percentage of their votes (39 percent) than they did John McCain in 2008 (43 percent). Romney got a majority of the white vote nationally and also in all but one (New York, barely an exception at 49 percent) of the 18 major states in which exit polls were also conducted. About 89 percent of those who voted for him were white.

A close look at exit polls indicates that Obama lost all the white age and gender groups. Media discussion of his winning the youth and female vote are quite misleading, because it was the youth and women of color who provided the majorities for him, not whites. Indeed, Obama only got 44 percent of whites under 30 and 42 percent of white women. Obama lost these white age and gender groups by substantial percentages, most dramatically getting only 35 percent of white men.

It was, again as in 2008, voters of color who provided the margin of victory for Obama, and their percentage of the electorate increased from about to about 26 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012. Black voters gave him 93 percent of their votes; Latinos, 71 percent; Asian Americans, 73 percent; and others of color about 58 percent. The percentages for Latinos and Asian increased significantly from their 2008 percentages of 67 and 62 percent respectively, while the huge black percentage was down just a little from 95 percent in 2008.

So the overwhelming majority of white men and a substantial majority of white women went for the Republican Party, and lost this one rather significantly, at least in the (undemocratic) institution we call the electoral college.

I have not seen a tabulation of the new congressional figures for next year’s new Congress, but in spite of some moaning by white male commentators on the right about the “loss of the country,” white men still control Congress overwhelmingly. The current 112th Congress, like all previous congresses, is disproportionately and overwhelmingly white male. In this 2011-2013 Congress, the Senate is 96 percent white in composition, with just two Latino, two Asian American (both from Hawaii), and no black senators. Some 81 percent are white men. The House is 83 percent white in composition, with 72 percent of members being white men. In addition, the very top political leadership of the U.S. Congress and the White House has for centuries been white male–with only two rather recent exceptions (Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, both in the 2000s) since the country’s founding. Also, in the economy, whites, and mainly white men, have dominated the major institutions to the present day. About 95 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 firms are still white men. And among Forbes magazine’s 400 wealthiest Americans, those worth at least a billion dollars, 86 percent are white men. A modest loss of some political power seems to mean a “loss of the country” for many of these folks.

White Voters Overwhelmingly for Romney: No Post-Racial America

In “post-racial” America we have recently had numerous commentaries, even in mainstream media, about the whiteness of Romney and his “base.” Recently in the Washington Post, journalists Jon Cohen and Rosalind Helderman summarized this discussion, which is likely to increase in temper after the election:

The 2012 election is shaping up to be more polarized along racial lines than any presidential contest since 1988, with President Obama experiencing a steep drop in support among white voters from four years ago.

They point out that late in the 2008 campaign John McCain was only ahead of Obama by about 7 percent (with Obama eventually losing by 12 percent), but in current 2012 polls Romney is up over Obama by a huge 23 percent among white voters. Only 37 percent of white voters have said they will vote for Obama in the recent Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll. And some analysts have suggested, as of last summer, that Obama needed at least 39 percent of the white vote to win. Thus, they conclude that

The slippage among whites is something of a setback for Obama, who campaigned on bridging the racial divide in his election and has sought to minimize rifts that have arisen in his presidency.

Cohen and Helderman view this as a significant barrier still to Obama’s election, one that will require him to bring out his base in very strong numbers. They seem to think that Romney is a bit ahead in national polls, although yesterday’s polls put Obama slightly ahead nationally and generally ahead (as he has mostly been for some weeks) in the within-state polls in the so-called swing or battleground states. (See Nate Silver’s summaries)

The reasons for this mixed-state-national pattern include not only Obama administration actions benefiting certain northern white worker-voters (for example, the auto industry bailout) but very substantially the fact that voters of color are still very strongly in Obama’s political corner.

As Adia Wingfield and I have underscored (in a book whose second edition will be out in the spring), Obama succeeded in the 2008 election substantially because he got overwhelming majorities of voters of color–two thirds of the Latino vote, nearly two thirds of the Asian American vote, and more than two thirds of the Native American vote. He is polling very well among these groups in 2012 surveys as well.

The Post journalists briefly note the longterm implications of such voting patterns for what is effectively the “white party,” the Republican Party, of the United States:

Dismal support for Republicans among minorities is a long-term problem for the GOP in a rapidly diversifying nation. Fully 91 percent of Romney’s support comes from white voters.

Whatever happens Tuesday, the obvious politicized whiteness of the Republican Party will doom it eventually to permanent minority status, if the dramatic trend to whiteness is not soon curtailed.

With moderate Republicans like Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, former chair of Joint Chiefs General Colin Powell, and Powell’s right-hand man, retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson supporting Obama, the handwriting is on the proverbial wall. Wilkerson recently made this strong and barbed comment on the Ed Schultz television show:

My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people — not all of them, but most of them — who are still basing their positions on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that’s despicable.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the mainstream discussions of these white voting patterns is how seldom they even note, much less analyze, the centrality of systemic white racism in making sense of the great hostility and organized opposition of many white voters to President Obama. This white racism is not new, nor is it just about some white bigotry–for it signals much more in the way of white racial framing of the society, and of white fears and anger over racial and demographic changes currently underway in the country and likely to be more dramatic in the near future – an argument I have developed extensively in my recent book, White Party, White Government. There, too, I show how, from the beginning of U.S. political parties, that systemic racism has been central to their development, strategies, and efforts on U.S. society.

Even in this “land of the free” and well into the 21st century, there are numerous aspects of our undemocratic political-economic system that are not openly discussed and extensively analyzed in mainstream settings, especially by whites, including most in the white elite. Very revealing, itself.

Walking the Tightrope of Race: Social and Emotional Effects of Being the First

Thinking not only of the reaction to President Obama’s recent debate performances, but also of the manner in which he has been graded and depicted by political pundits, so called newscasters, and the general public on idiot blogs over the past four years, reminds me of a conversation my mother and I had when I was in the seventh grade. It occurred after I was publicly humiliated at school once my name and others were called, announcing our honor roll placement for the semester over the school PA system. I told her of my feelings associated with the backhanded compliments from unsupportive white peers and ridicule from a segment of my own racial group. I felt isolated and alone.

This especially held true because I was one of just two Blacks announced. This alone carried many issues and concerns. Nevertheless, my mother simply said, “Sometimes being a person of color is like walking a tight rope above folks waiting to see the blood spew from your fall.” She told me that on one side, non-Blacks will think you are still beneath them and cannot wait for your fall. On the other side were some of my own who hate that I was in a position they are not. For those reasons, they will at times subconsciously wish for your demise. This introduced me to the idea of division among Black America–a subject discussed at great lengths within Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America, by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson. Today, we can witness an increasing division among Blacks due to socioeconomic status.

Regardless, to me, the jeering and division seems to become louder and wider as one begins to occupy spaces that have traditionally been denied due to skin tone. When one is seen as a rarity, “the oddity,” the air of subjugation, fear, and at times hatred becomes thicker and forces the lungs to work harder in order to endure. Many times the pressure is so unbearable, that psychological stressors can occur and affect the emotional and physical statuses of individuals. It can create strife within the formation of an identity.

I have witnessed how the president has been depicted. I have seen in print and within the context of news stories within the 24-hour news cycle that have painted him as “too Black.” On the other hand, was it that he has forgotten Blacks and their plight? People who I admire, such as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, have been seen trailing this particular bandwagon. I have seen others note that the president is not aggressive enough and not acting like a “stereotypical scary black man.” During the second presidential debate, I received an automatic shock to my brain every time someone coined his approach to his political appointment as, “angry.” Whites have often deemed him as an illegal alien, monkey, Hitler, and other derogatory figures.

In the end, I feel we as a nation have for four years viciously watched in excitement a political tragedy. The essence of racism, as seen during Jackie Robinson’s rise, is still prevalent as the president continues to move along the racial tightrope. The effects on race are truly boundless. The Kool-Aid has been drunk by not only by those seen as oppressors, but also by those seen as oppressed. In fact, the thought that race within this presidential election is absent, is credulous at best.

Don’t Be Too Black, Mr. President

What does it mean to be Black in America? Many Americans caught a glimpse of it on national television during the first of three presidential debates. The President look disinterested, annoyed, preoccupied, not on his “A” game as some analyst remarked. Other pundits suggested that POTUS appeared tired looking and too nice. Obama supporters and those tough independent voters wanted more.

(Image from here.)

 

Remember, it’s been four years since the man has had a debate-he’s rusty. But amidst the fight of his political career, few have considered the enormous psychological cost of being black that the President must feel each and every time he’s on the stage. President Obama is not just another president in the long history of white presidents we’ve had in this country. He’s the first black president, and with that comes additionally burdens that only blacks and other stigmatized minority groups can truly appreciate. His overall likeability ratings are indicative of his daily performance of hyper-politeness, which is what black folk must do when working in predominately white settings. It’s in black Americans’ best interest to keep white folks happy and content as to not upset the racial applecart.

It isn’t natural, by any means, to always have to pretend to be nice to white people-not because you aren’t a genuinely nice person, but because those relationships expend too much emotional energy by feeling like you’re always on stage, teaching whites, or deflecting the many dominate white racial frames they hold in their subconscious mind about African Americans and other groups of color. President Obama must maintain his discipline and his composure or risk being perceived as “too black” and angry, even when it’s well within his purview to launch a counter offensive against Mr. Romney on several key topics like the notorious 47% remark, Bain capital, and why a guy with his stock-pile of cash only pays 14% in taxes?

Unlike Mitt Romney, however, President Obama must present himself (unfortunately) at times as stiff and professorial in efforts to put the white voter at ease over the presence of a black man in the White House, even though only 43% of Whites actually voted for Senator Obama in 2008. So the President has to play it cool and maintain his well-known calm demeanor. He cannot be portrayed as “too black” in the stereotypical sense like raising his voice and showing outward displays of emotion. Otherwise, his actions have the potential to associate him with dominant ideologies of black males who are seen as sub-human, violent, criminal, and “bad”-ideologies that are deeply rooted within U.S. society (and, hence, in our perceptions, attitudes, reactions, and language).

These rules were not established by President Obama, or other Americans of color for that matter, but are a result of a 500 year-old process of domination involving the use of language (white racial knowledge production) around black bodies inscribed in law, politics, education, medicine and every other major institution in society through a collective experience of human suffering, violence, psychological mayhem and the exploitation of labor and land theft. President Obama must work within the established and contemporary racial order or risk the perception of him as a public danger in the White House because his race is a “liability”-the elephant in the room that no ones wants to talk about.

This may be to some extent why he avoids the question of race altogether (at least publicly) so far in his administration. And though the specifics of Romney’s plan for president never materialized throughout the debate, the Romney camp looses nothing by ruffling the President’s feathers in hopes of lighting a fire under him to get him a little more animated and, hence, a little more “black” to the average white viewer. President Obama has all the ammunition to reveal the facts and expose the loopholes of his competitor’s presidential platform that currently lacks in substance.

The President can even celebrate a bit today given the national unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8%. Mortgage rates are at an all-time low as well, which suggests that the nation is moving in the right direction for many middle-class Americans. So President Obama’s task in the next debate is to maintain a course of calculated assertiveness, “attacking” his opponent’s platform with these additional talking points. But don’t be too black, Mr. President. White America has shown they can’t handle that (at least 57% of them can’t).

 

~ Follow me on twitter @DrDarronSmith or visit me at www.darronsmith.com

 

 

“Articulate While Black”: Interview

In a recent interview, Stanford Professor H. Samy Alim discussed his new book, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language and Race in the U.S. (Oxford University Press, 2012, co-authored with Geneva Smitherman). In case you missed it, here’s the short clip (about 7:00, with an ad I couldn’t remove).

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Alim and Smitherman make an interesting argument about “code switching” – that is, moving from standard ‘white’ American dialect to a ‘black’ dialect. This facility with language is both a lightening rod for figures on the far-right in the U.S., such as Rush Limbaugh, and at the same time, lends Obama legitimacy in the eyes of many because it ties him to the legacy of Dr. King.

Little Known Executive Order on Diversity & Inclusion: Obama’s Pragmatic Progressivism

Executive Order 13583 issued by President Obama in 2011 is perhaps one of the least-discussed and little known executive orders, despite its significant contribution to diversity and inclusion in the federal government. Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 issued in 1965 was undoubtedly the watershed presidential Executive Order in the field of Affirmative Action for federal contractors. Now, nearly a half century later, President Obama’s Executive Order 13583 breaks new ground by setting the stage for progress in the field of diversity and inclusion in governmental agencies.

This forward-looking Executive Order directs executive departments and agencies of the federal government “to develop and implement a more comprehensive, integrated, and strategic focus on diversity and inclusion as a key component of their human resource strategies.” The alliance of HR strategies with diversity and inclusion is specifically designed to create “high-performing organizations for the 21st century” — workplaces that attract, develop, and retain diverse and talented employees.

The government-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan issued following the Executive Order in 2011 articulates the business imperative for inclusion and has three specific goals:

1. Workforce Diversity. Recruit from a diverse, qualified group of potential applicants to secure a high-performing workforce drawn from all segments of American society.
2. Workplace Inclusion. Cultivate a culture that encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness to enable individuals to contribute to their full potential and further retention.
3. Sustainability. Develop structures and strategies to equip leaders with the ability to manage diversity, be accountable, measure results, refine approaches on the basis of such data, and institutionalize a culture of inclusion.

And the Executive Order called for federal agencies to develop a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan within a 120-day time-frame that addresses recruiting, hiring, training, developing, promoting, and retaining a diverse workforce. Veronica Villalobos, the Office of Personnel Management’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, is responsible for designing and developing strategies to promote a diverse federal workforce. As a model for organizations seeking to implement more diverse workplace practices, the governmental plan articulates clear strategies, actions, and accountability structures that promote the attainment of inclusion.

Obama’s Severe Limitations: The White-Racist Context

Atlantic magazine’s usually very sharp Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fine article this week laying out in some detail the limitations on blacks in politics, historically and today. And especially the major limits on what a black president can do in a racist society. For example,

The irony of President Barack Obama is best captured in his comments on the death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing fray. Obama has pitched his presidency as a monument to moderation. He peppers his speeches with nods to ideas originally held by conservatives. He routinely cites Ronald Reagan. He effusively praises the enduring wisdom of the American people, and believes that the height of insight lies in the town square. Despite his sloganeering for change and progress, Obama is a conservative revolutionary, and nowhere is his conservative character revealed more than in the very sphere where he holds singular gravity—race.

He adds the key point:

Part of that conservatism about race has been reflected in his reticence: for most of his term in office, Obama has declined to talk about the ways in which race complicates the American present and, in particular, his own presidency.

However President Obama occasionally transgresses his white-imposed boundaries, as when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Then President Obama ventured out of his restricted environment on racial matters and said something poignant, appropriate, and rather mild,

When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together—federal, state, and local—to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened … But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

These rather accurate, normal, and mild comments got him a very large-scale attack from white conservatives, who made very clear that a black president did not have their permission to venture out even this far on U.S. racial matters. So, it is not surprising that Obama — who wished to be effective in policymaking and re-elected — has mostly not touched racial matters over the long years of his presidency.

Coates has this sharp interpretation of the negative reactions to Obama moving outside his racial-political “limits”:

The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes. Obama’s first term has coincided with a strategy of massive resistance on the part of his Republican opposition in the House, and a record number of filibuster threats in the Senate. It would be nice if this were merely a reaction to Obama’s politics or his policies—if this resistance truly were, as it is generally described, merely one more sign of our growing “polarization” as a nation. But the greatest abiding challenge to Obama’s national political standing has always rested on the existential fact that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin. As a candidate, Barack Obama understood this.

Twice as good, and half as black. That is, whites set the conditions under which limited racial “integration” can even take place, well into the 21st century. No post-racial US here.

Sadly, too, not even the usually on target and very sharp Coates is able to name, call out, and systematically analyze the white agents here, most especially the elite whites, as the principal actors creating the severely limited political and social environment in which Obama must daily operate. In this very perceptive quote, he does not once mention the white actors as such. He certainly implies them, and elsewhere in his sharp analysis a few Republicans are named for particular nasty racial incidents, but their individual and group racialized actions specifically as whites or white elites today are not named and assessed as such, or as part of our contemporary political and social system of white racial oppression.

Almost never in the media or scholarly writings do Elite whites, named as such and as the major white decisionmaking group, appear as contemporary actors in the subject position of key sentences that get at the particular contextual limitations that Obama faces, such as from the white elites (often operating out of a white racial frame) who control the mass media and elite political organizations — although they do periodically appear in other phrasing as the dominant group in society (as in this piece by Coates).

We have gone into more detail on these whites and our political system here.