September 6, 2006

Race, Class and Voting

Race, Class and Voting

This show has been sent to the graveyard. For an explanation, see our post on Experiments in Democracy.

Yesterday’s redistricting show brought up many interesting questions with regard to race. Attorney Nina Perales described her Supreme Court victory in the Texas redistricting case that violated the Voting Rights Act by “unpacking” heavily Latino districts in the state, and introduced us to the concept of “racially polarized voting,” where whites and minorities will not vote for the same candidates. It was fascinating to consider the implications of a Latino advocacy group challenging the victory of a Latino candidate on the grounds that he was not the Latino voters’ candidate of choice.

To follow up, we’re planning a show which would combine two of the ongoing series we’ve pursued this year: Race & Class + Election Reform = Race, Class, and Voting in America. To start, we’ve enlisted Harvard Law Professor Lani Guinier, who has dedicated much of her distinguished career towards civil rights law, and was nominated by President Clinton to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in 1993.

Where’s to go from there? We know the legacy of Jim Crow persists in laws that prevent former felons from voting, or in the large numbers of African-Americans who were disenfranchised in the 2000 presidential elections. We know that voter turnout differs with regard to race, as does political representation. The nice thing about last night’s show was that it made us think about the relationship between race and voting in ways that are less obvious but just as important; we’d like to see if we can take a lesson from that and figure out a way to set up a fresh conversation on this massive subject. What are the ignored, hidden, or forgotten ways that race impacts our electoral system? And who else should we enlist to talk about them?

Related Content


  • Voting is overrated as a measure of political participation.

    Real political participation consists of all the stuff people do PRIOR to voting. The correct and important metrics are whether people make any effort to actually be informed about their government and society or to think about the issues involved.

    In a nation where only one person in 1000 can name all five rights granted in the First Amendment, where most people can’t even name who their elected officials are, or what their voting records are, where most people cannot name the top 3 or 4 items in the federal budget or describe how a bill is passed into law, where few people can find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map, it’s actually rather comforting to know that voter turnout is so low. Where is the virtue in voting if the winning candidate is Ignorance?

    Voter turnout is the least of our worries. Reading a daily newspaper or having a clue about civics or current events is what we should really be concerned with, and I’ll bet blacks, whites AND hispanics ALL have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do on that score.

  • I’m coming to the conclusion, stolen from Philip Agré here:

    http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/conservatism.html

    that the distinction between conservative and liberal thought pivots entirely on the

    notion of Democracy. Conservatives are generally against it, they don’t trust it, and

    they think they may be displaced by it. Liberals are generally for it, but perhaps

    they don’t always understand it, or can’t always predict it’s consequences.

    You see, democracy is more than voting. Iraq had elections pre-invasion, after all.

    The 2004 election was, in fact, an election, but the kind which conservatives approve

    of. Only the right people were given free access to the polling system, and the

    wrong people were shut out, if only partially shut out. The reports from today’s

    primary election in Maryland are sadly similar. The rumor is that only a small fraction of

    the voters who have shown up to vote are being allowed to vote, due to real or

    imagined Diebold voting machine failures. Democracy has to mean something

    more.

    Democracy has to mean (1) elections in which everyone is able to vote, and (2)

    a society in which everyone is allowed to participate. The first is not enough.

    Everyone should be able to participate by going to school, by reading whatever

    books they want, by worshipping or not worshipping just as they want, and then

    by voting.

  • rc21

    Sorry your man philip has no clue of what being a conservative is.

  • tbrucia

    One can tell a lot about a person by examining his/her obsessions. The same is true of groups of people… Apparently Americans feel the categories of Race and Class are ‘important.’ Despite Tiger Woods and more and more folks like him, many seem obsessed with the words White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic, as if these words said something important about a person (rather than being a flawed classification system like Tall, Short, Middle Height, or Obese, Fat, Average, and Skinny). It’s almost funny that an overwhelming number of people, when polled, describe themselves as ‘Middle Class’ — even though some make $250,000 per year, and others make $25,000 per year. Everyone’s in the middle and nobody is Poor or Rich. Interesting that we don’t distinguish between Left-Handed Voters and Right-Handed Voters, or Blonde Voters and Brunette Voters, or Plains Voters and Highland Voters…. It’s all a matter of one’s obsessions I guess… and America seems fixated on the words Race and Class. Interesting!

  • “Apparently Americans feel the categories of Race and Class are ‘important.’ ”

    They are self-evidently important. There are HUGE statistical differences between the propensity of, say, whites, blacks, and Asians to, say, go to jail, major in science and engineering, attend college, bear children out of wedlock, die in an act of violence, or end up in a particular income category.

    If you are, say, a statewide high-school administrator, and you are trying to decide how to allocate resources such as drug-treatment facilities, school science or computer labs, vocational classes versus AP classes, programs for unwed teenage mothers, the number of seats or proctors for SAT tests, metal detectors at school entrances or armed guards, etc, etc, you would be an idiot to NOT take into account the aforementioned factors.

    If you compare three communities in California – a mostly white suburb with an average family income of say, $70K (this is the approx ave fam suburban income there), a poor, mostly black and Hispanic inner-city neighborhood, and an affluent mixed white, and Asian American community of mostly professionals , you will see three VERY different profiles. So you can’t say race and class don’t matter. How they CAME to matter is a whole nother discussion.

  • tbrucia

    Instead of using simplistic categories like Race and Class, why not target the specifics: develop programs to address “the propensity to go to jail, major in science and engineering, attend college, bear children out of wedlock, die in an act of violence”, etc? Generalizing from specifics to sweeping generalization (Us vs. They) is demeaning, condescending, and empirically less effective than zeroing in on particulars. My opinion is that people need to escape from slavery to these Platonic ‘archetypes’ (Black, Asian, White, etc, etc, etc), and to treat people as individuals. We are not simply exemplars of Categories!

  • “Instead of using simplistic categories like Race and Class, why not target the specifics”

    Two reasons:

    1. We don’t KNOW how to do that. We don’t know, in a rigorous manner, why Chinese-American kids are more likely than African-American kids to major in science and engineering, stay in school, spend more hours doing homework, etc. People speculate and debate the reasons all the time, but anyone who tells you they KNOW what the reasons are or how to fix them is lying.

    2. Because the example I gave was school administration. If you’re a policy planner or administrator you have to deal with the facts AS THEY ARE – *this* school is going going to have X number of kids in AP science classes, THAT school is going to have Y number of unwed teenagers, that other school is going to Z% of droupouts.

  • tbrucia

    If a kid is having problems, help him… his race is irrelevant. If a school is underperforming, get it resources… don’t count how many faces are brown, black, white, or yellow. If lots of kids are doing well in a specific school, put them under a microscope and find out what they do that makes them so successful… and forget about how many dollars their daddy makes…. and then show less successful kids how successful kids do it … and ignore what nations their parents (or grandparents) came from… Lumping people together and judging them by their race, color, nationality, etc. is not only wrong — it’s unfair.

  • Sopper14

    As “representative” politics rocket farther and farther from being about district/state voter interests and more about corporate donor interests, I wonder when we will start to see more pandering to racial and class groups in the same non-substantive, manipulative manner that we’ve seen Republicans exploit white “moral” conservatives and Democrats exploit white organized labor. If abortion and gay marriage aren’t enough, what faux issues will Republican sponsors find to try to incite and activate Latino voters? What will be the Dem’s owners’ superficial message to appeal to Asian Americans? What will be the indicators that the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” approach is spreading to non-white demographic groups? And what hope is there that we will ever have a democracy cwhere itizen interests, parsed by race and class or not, are truly represented?

  • Samnang

    To my way of thinking, democracy is often meaningless for the minorities, be they racial, economic, political or other types of minorities. It just seems like my vote in Red Utah is useless, and sometimes it hardly seems worthwhile to go and vote.

    The minority group is always at the mercy of the majority.

    But the majority often seems to blindly follow the wealthy and powerful.

  • herbert browne

    plnelson has it right, off the top- involvement and knowledge of the issues are the involved person’s guide to citizenship. These pursuits aren’t really taught; nor are they appreciated by more than a tiny minority.

    Sopper has it right, also- that the major parties have bought into ..”non-substantive, manipulative..” methods to control elections. Both have apparently bought the “Brand-name” model of marketing, leaving little room for either practical or philosophical discourse.

    The reinforced power of control that tbrucia’s ..”Platonic archetypes” wields over our society is still strong… and is only abating at a glacial pace. But background culture that’s infused into these “types” still shows, ie Chinese culture (esp embodied in those who have emigrated) has been based upon a history of respect and admiration for civil servants, for example- and for entrepeneurial activities. Why would someone with a “black American” history have much respect for civil servants, generally, considering their treatment, as a group, by that part of the ‘body politic’? White Southerners might feel an “instinctive” twinge of hostility about certain political machinations… while maintaining their long-term respect and approbation of things military. We all carry our cultural baggage… because no one wants to go naked (in front of so many strangers…) All these “racial stereotypes” have some things in common, though… and it should be important to elevate the sense of “holding common beliefs”, and letting the “denigration by differentiation” go off to take a long snooze… Threatened people have a hard time “owning” the Golden Rule, though…

    This track needs to rise from the Dead- there’s something here… ^..^

  • Also agreed with plnelson. This is particularly true at the local level where candidates and issues receive less media attention yet have a more direct impact on your life. My political science teacher used to say that if you don’t know the issues do the world a favor and don’t vote.

    There appears to be some individuals who are willing to support, even represent political parties who’s policies are opposed to the best interests of their own class, race, sex etc. The log cabin republicans are a good example. Anyone who makes less than say $250,000 annually and votes republican is another. mr. closets