Points By Drew Pritt

Why is Politics still Black & White???
September 13, 2007, 3:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Race has everything to do with politics in Mississippi and the South, but it is probably the least openly discussed factor. Discussed, yes. Openly, not. It is discussed and analyzed matter-of-factly by politicians and professionals in detail.The sad bottom line is, race matters. African Americans are elected in black districts and whites elected in white districts in most cases.

Race and politics were discussed openly in Memphis recently and the raw racial politics was disturbing. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a white Jewish liberal midtown-Memphis resident, was elected to replace former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in Congress. Ford, one of the state’s most well-known and powerful black politicians, made a strong run for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee. Cohen, a well-known and popular politician, was elected in the majority-black district for a lot of complex political reasons.


Recently, Cohen met with a group of black ministers concerning his support for a hate crimes bill. Most of the ministers oppose the bill. It is a hot-button conservative issue, black and white.

The meeting turned ugly. Some of the ministers jeered him. Then one minister said flatly: “He’s not black and he can’t represent me, that’s just the bottom line.”

Ruffled feathers were smoothed somewhat with apologies and there has been an interesting coming-together dialogue in the community on race and politics. Ironically, Cohen probably has a voting record more in line with the Black Caucus than did his predecessor.

But, the assumption of representation based on race was shocking when spoken out loud. It sounds so wrong. It is wrong. It’s downright racist, and we don’t say it. But we often accept it.

Black and white politicians alike will say they have no chance to win in this or that district based on their skin color. Just political reality, they say. How sad that we accept such as “political reality.”


Brad Chism, a Democratic political consultant and pollster, says there appears to be a tipping point when race becomes a factor. For example, he said at times it is easier for an African-American candidate to be elected in areas with minimal black populations than in areas where race becomes more identifiable to a group of voters.

“Studies have shown we as humans are subconsciously reluctant to vote for people who do not look like us, yet we have to overcome it,” he said.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Dalton Conley, chairman of the department of sociology at New York University, explored those unconscious biases of voters. Polls will show whites saying they will support black candidates, then the election results show otherwise. Those being polled won’t admit it.

Of course, race or gender or whatever does not show how a candidate will vote on issues, he notes. He suggests testing yourself by actually listening to what candidates say or reading their positions without regard to race or gender.

“We shouldn’t be fooled by either our own hidden biases or by the promise of personal identity,” he wrote. “It’s the policies (and the ability to carry them out), stupid.”

Do we really believe that? I think we think we do. But we have seen some tests in state politics in recent years and so far we’ve flunked. Why? We need to talk about it, openly.

Contact Editorial Director David Hampton at (601) 961-7240 or e-mail dhampton@clarionledger.com. Read his blog at clarionledger.com/misc/blogs/dhamptonblog.html.


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