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Racial Issues in 2013

There were those Republican planned attacks on the Obama administration that I think of having been Republican inspired in that the media must have been fed this garbage by Republican operatives who think it only their due to have major networks tell their stories without the need of facts to back them up. These stories included the non-existent Benghazi scandal, the non-existent IRS scandal, and the non-existent AP scandal. You havenít heard much about that last one lately, have you? The media would have been still on the issue of whether the Justice Department could subpoena records if there was something to the story. The media dropped the story as soon as the Justice Department briefed them on it.


That was followed by a lot of carping about how the Obama Administration has no direction. Why doesnít it deal with jobs rather than health care or immigration? Jobs are what people care about, Morning Joe says over and over again, neglecting that the President is in favor of jobs and the Republicans arenít. What is the job plan of the Republicans, Mr. Scarborough? More tax cuts for the rich? That is not a job program; that is a tax cut for the rich. Renaming it does not make it otherwise, and the Republicans donít even bother to make believe they have a jobs plan.


Then there was a brief silly season of personalities, something like filling up the pages of a newspaper with the police blotter because no other action out there is likely to gain much attention. There was the death of James Gandolfini, the disgrace of Paula Deen, and the travel itinerary of Edward Snowden, none of which amount to much except to the people who know them and, in the last case, to those whose job it is to put him in jail, there being no credible reason why an upstanding whistleblower would turn over his laptops to the Chinese government. As far as I am concerned, the only crimes that deserve the death penalty are mentioned in the Constitution: treason and piracy on the high seas. If you donít think there is piracy on the high seas, think about the hijacking of planes. And Snowden should stand trial for treason, not just violating the Espionage Act.


All of those fillers for the chroniclers of the news have been suddenly replaced, though it was not unexpected, by the arrival of the Supreme Court decisions this week about marriage equality and voting rights. The Supreme Court claimed that the South had changed enough since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to dispense with the map that required pre-clearance of changes in voting procedures in mostly Southern jurisdictions. That was in spite of the fact that the Congress in reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act less than ten years ago had provided fifteen thousand pages to support the need for continuing pre-clearance procedures.


How has the Supreme Court arrived at this conclusion? It did not commission an empirical study of its own; it did not rely on other studies of the very difficult question of whether there was a cultural atmosphere that still prevailed in Southern states but also elsewhere which exhibited a reluctance to have blacks vote. Maybe Southerners now do not hate blacks the way they once did. Maybe they just donít want all those Democratic voters. But why, then, do they feel comfortable depriving black voters of such rights while not working as hard to deprive white voters in Democratic districts from voting? It is very hard to prove prejudice that is not admitted to, but that does not mean that it does not exist or does not have overt consequences that can serve as indicators of underlying prejudice. What other reason could there be to insist that many voters get deprived of the ballot because of some suspicion, never documented, that there is large scale voter fraud?  


But it is naive to think that the Supreme Court actually needs evidence to back up its assertions of fact. They assert their feeling that times have changed since the bad old days when the Voting Rights Act was passed and that is all there is to it. Never mind that the times for voting favored by Black people were times when the polls got closed, and that the various state governments did not establish mobile registration wagons so that it was easier for people to get the proper documentation so that they could vote, or that lines were much longer in black districts than in white districts last election. Never mind. The five Justices who overthrew the Voting Act provision just know in their bones what social facts are. That is what being a judge allows you to know. So whether there would be even greater black voter turnout if the vote weren't suppressed is a question that doesn't occur to them. They cite one statistic, which is that black turnout is higher than white turnout, as sufficient proof that things have changed. (Whether that one fact constitutes evidence sufficient to be considered "offering evidence", rather than being a rhetorical flourish, I will leave for lawyers to decide.) 


The real evidence that prejudice of a very deep kind still persists is available, is made palpable, by consulting those other recent events that seem too trivial to notice except for their human interest value and, as I said, as filler till some real news comes along. The evidence of everyday life tells what is really going on even if the Supreme Court takes even less notice of that than of statistical information, perhaps for the very good reason that people do not notice things in everyday life as evidence of anything at all, but just as things that occur which can amuse us or distract us but which cannot, by their nature as ordinary phenomena, convey meaning.


I suggest, however, that the reader take notice of the fact that when James Gandolfini died, there was an outpouring of sympathy for a great actor and person lost to us. No one, not even Mika Brzezinski, who is noted for coming out hard on purveyors of non-healthy food, was not so tactless as to suggest that the actorís early death at age fifty-one from a heart attack might have been hastened by his being so overweight. And yet, at the same time, the media are full of fat black people gorging themselves on Big Macs. I think this plays to racial stereotypes that are not yet dead, which is that white people have a disease called obesity and that the disease is so stigmatized that one not call attention to it, just the way a few generations ago it was improper to call attention to the Big ďCĒ of cancer, while black people have a cultural condition that leads them to overeat, and we should call attention for their own good to the immediate mechanisms for that, such as drinking supersized drinks and eating fast food, even if we leave implicit whatever are the cultural reasons for this food addiction and the unwillingness of people to lose weight. That is a strategy for self-praise easy enough to engage by people who have lost weight and want to crow over it and so deny to the world if not to themselves just how hard it is to lose weight.


Paula Deen gets castigated, now that it is open season on her, for having prepared very unhealthy cooking for many years, and then suddenly getting ďreligionĒ and preaching less unhealthy food while making money as a shill for a drug company. Well, she is only a cook, not even really a chef, and so why blame her for changing with the times? She sells what people want and is capable of rebranding herself. Would it have been better for her to have continued pushing unhealthy foods and recipes?


She also doesnít want to be thought of as a Southern bigot but nothing she can say can win over people who insist on using a cook as a symbol of a national problem. Why the need to castigate her by people who seem otherwise not mean spirited? I think it is because there is a need to put a face on contemporary and ever so smooth Southern resistance to black empowerment. We need a poster child to replace Bull Conner, and Paula Deen will do. What that tells me is just how deeply this issue persists and so people reach for straws, finding it difficult to be good humored about her ignorant characterizations of people. The politicians supporting voting restrictions on blacks are for the most part smoother and those who arenít, like the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, can be treated as outrageous, however systematic across many states are the patterns of voting restrictions.


It comes as a surprise to me too how deep-seated is the resistance to full acceptance of black people as voters and so as citizens. I had thought that this was the problem of my generation and that the present generation had moved on to issues having to do with gays and lesbians. But, no, what has happened in the last few weeks and months supports what has long been said within the black community, which is that the resistance to black equality is much deeper than is the resistance to the equality of other groups, including those, like Jews and Asians, who were also seen as a race and not an ethnic group. Hispanics do worse than blacks on most social measures such as education and poverty, but they do not carry the stigma of race. And so why are we back in this debate about black people rather than in a debate about Hispanics not assimilating quickly enough to suit the desires of white people? I donít know the answer to that one and I also do not know whether it is not time to stage another March on Washington or take up the politics of Black equality in a big way again. We did it once; we can do it again.

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Issue No. 77
December 22, 2013

"The Moonstone" as an Aesopian Novel- Part I
"The Moonstone" as an Aesopian Novel-Part II
Earlier Issues

List Articles by Topic

The Political Ticker
The Hillary Coalition
  - November 19, 2014
Obama's Win in the Ukraine
  - April 5, 2014
"House of Cards" Politics
  - February 14, 2014
Birenbaum: The Day the President Struck Out
  - January 29, 2014
The Debate Over Inequality
  - January 27, 2014
Temporary Issues: "Stop and Frisk", Climate Change, Inequality
  - January 21, 2014

Previous Political Tickers

The Administrative President
  -January 12, 2014
Three Chronic Problems
  -December 19, 2013
Obama the Transformational President
  -December 13, 2013
"Homeland", "Alpha House" and the Tea Party
  -November 27, 2013
Off Year Election Post-mortem
  -November 7, 2013
Kathleen Sibelius and the Iliad
  -October 31, 2013
Political Impasses: 2013 and 1936
  -October 7, 2013
Birenbaum on The Tea Party
  -October 6, 2013
Fifty Years Later: The Anniversary of the March on Washington
  -September 18, 2013
The Principled Obama
  -September 10, 2013
Obama Thinks About Syria Freshly
  -September 5, 2013
Syria and the Falklands
  -August 30, 2013
Public Opinion on Syria
  -August 24, 2013
Upward Mobility Through Educational Innovation
  -August 12, 2013
The Anthony Wiener Bubble
  -July 30, 2013
Racial Issues in 2013
  -June 29, 2013
The David Brinkley Era of Journalism
  -June 5, 2013
Republican Scandal Mongering
  -May 23, 2013
Benghazi and Two Other "Scandals"
  -May 14, 2013
Lackluster Politics
  -May 7, 2013

The Cultural Ticker
A Dour Cultural Week
  - February 4, 2014
Colonial Virginia
  - January 15, 2014
Birenbaum: The Joy of Middle European Posters
  - January 6, 2014
A Jewish Nipple
  - November 28, 2013
Birenbaum: My Oral Comprehensive Examination and the JFK Assassination
  - November 27, 2013
"12 Years a Slave"
  - November 12, 2013

Previous Cultural Tickers

Pinter and Shakespeare
  -November 8, 2013
Birenbaum on "I Am Divine"
  -November 3, 2013
The Hearing Impaired Student
  -August 17, 2013
Ideas and People
  -August 10, 2013
The Weekly Roundup of Morning Joe and Chris Matthews
  -August 8, 2013
The Zen of Dishwashers
  -August 5, 2013
The Profundity of the Second World War
  -August 2, 2013
The Trayvon Martin Bubble
  -July 20, 2013
Eliot Spitzer
  -July 9, 2013
The Study of Everyday Life
  -July 5, 2013
The Zimmerman Trial
  -July 3, 2013
Le Carre's "A Delicate Truth"
  -July 1, 2013
Zucker: A Madeleine (A Memoir)
  -June 23, 2013
Von Trotta's "Hannah Arendt"
  -June 7, 2013
The Armchair View of War and Disability
  -May 30, 2013
Birenbaum's Summers
  -May 24, 2013
Old Neighborhoods
  -May 21, 2013
Jackie Robinson
  -May 20, 2013
Barbara Spun's Catskill Vacations
  -May 16, 2013
An Old Friend in Her Eighties
  -May 11, 2013


A new issue of “w. end ave.: an e-journal of culture and politics” is published once every three weeks or so. It is edited, owned, and where not indicated as otherwise, written by Martin Wenglinsky. The rights to all materials published here are copyright © 2008 by Martin Wenglinsky