When I speak of enormous pressure to NOT talk about white folks as white folks, I mean among other things that feedback is going to be conflicted right away. And who wants to start these kinds of arguments?
A fellow Southerner writes that “it’s true that many Whites, especially down here, were manipulated and delusional on Election Day.” BUT, the writer continues: “you have no problem freely envoking the stupid, White southernor stereotype to fill the glaring holes in your utterly vacuous article.” He asks, would I sling so freely my adjectives if it were some other group in question?
A Boston correspondent gives reasons why he thinks that white voters are not the only group to favor stupid candidates. And then he adds: “Continue to look down your nose at others and you will continue to lose elections. Snobbery is bad box office. It is based upon a misapprehension of self worth in addition to a faulty evaluation of others.” He thinks Kerry and Clinton were stupid candidates, too.
“The last time I was in Tx.,” writes another, “the black central area in Dallas didn’t have paved streets (1974). The whites I talked to with blacks present…the whites treated thr blacks in such a cruel verbal way I was dumbstruck, it was chilling.” The writer wants to know, am I making things any better? Or am I just exploiting these issues for myself?
An escaped white Southerner, on the other hand, writes to say that she is ashamed of being Southern and white. She finds it “a breath of fresh air” to have the issue outed, and imagines a book about the problem bearing a title, “Dumb Like Me.”
A fellow Texan reminds me that Southerners do not all drive pick up trucks nor cling to Confederate imagery. He would have liked to see a Dean candidacy:
Much to my dismay, I saw Dean get attacked for suggesting the Democratic Party make an attempt to reach white voters in the South. Dean himself offered up the image of the white male driving the pickup truck with the Confederate sticker in the back, theeby inviting a certain amount of ire, but I’m sure they understood what Dean was suggesting and instead used his statements as an opportunity to slam him (one of these opportunists was Kerry). As I watched the other potential Demoratic nominees slam Howard Dean the image I walked away with was:
All white male voters living in the South are Confederate flag-waving narrow- minded imbeciles who do not deserve any sort of effort on our part. Let’s just ignore them.
It makes me wonder how often these people, who want to become president, have merely visited states in the South. You see plenty of Republican candidates but not too many Democrats. Despite all this, I did manage to vote for Kerry but only because Nader was not on the ballot and since Bush seems to be opposed to everything I like and hold dear; I just could not stand the thought of voting for our current president.
So election night rolls around and I watch the tallies. Knowing Texas was a safe state for Bush he would not carry my county, Denton, but he did and by wide margins. I find myself asking, “If Dean had his way and made an effort to reach white voters in the South, how wide would the margin of victory had been for Bush?’
Pity, we now have four more years of our current president. I wonder how many senators from the Northeast realize that segregation was outlawed in the South decades ago and many who reside in the South either were not born during that era or they are not from here and have no concept of the segregationist philosophy. Oh yeah, how many people of color does John Kerry and other white voters of Massachusetts live near in relation to white voters of the South? Perhaps many white males in the South, who happen to drive pickup trucks, are far more tolerant and appreciative of diversity than given credit. Perhaps they would be receptive to an alternative viewpoint if given a chance to hear one.
I thought your article was spot-on.
“Points on target,” agrees another writer. “The solution is for a real third party, a doing away with the Electoral College, and a push for run-off electioneering. Many nations use that model to have their diverse voices heard. But I won’t hold my breath on that one–even for a nanosecond.”
And “Right on target!” writes one reader. “One of my personal mantras, especially after reading Derek Bell’s At the Bottom of the Well (have I got that right? quoting from memory) is ‘never ever ever underestimate the power of racism in the US’. Yours is one of few articles I’ve read since black Tuesday to openly address the issue. I’ve calculated that if you subtract out the 11 states of the old Confederacy – even leaving in such wacko states as Utah and Idaho – Kerry would have won the election 51% to 49%, and both Senate and House would have Democratic majorities.”
Finally, one brief note asks if I’ve seen the CounterPunch Map of the Day for Nov. 24? Indeed, I have seen the map, and you’ll find it linked below.
I reply that, I was happy to see the CounterPunch map, especially since I had recently posted a few articles about “the moral equivalent of Civil War.” The day that CounterPunch posted the map, I had just finished writing an article in which I noted that the Bush movement looked to me like a cultural heir to Southern secessionism (the article is also posted below). The “White Vote” article was my attempt to “punch it up a notch” in the prose department, to make a thousand words worthy of that map.
The words stupid or white are provocative enough when used alone. Putting the two together is going to be volatile business. It scares me a little to write these words in the same sentence, but there are reasons for valuing courage. America has been stupid on questions of slavery, segregation, and Indian affairs. These cultural legacies say something about the specific personality of the American electorate as white-powered. And I think the Bush movement appropriates this legacy in palpable ways. If my “White Vote” article were the last word on these questions, it would be a shame.
So I’m thinking back to where I agree with my fellow Southerner as quoted above: “it’s true that many Whites, especially down here, were manipulated and delusional on Election Day.” And I’m arguing that if this is true, it’s only going to get worse if progressives don’t make it our business to intervene. If I were buying into the stupid white stereotype (as my correspondent alleges) why would I insist that these conditions be changed? We know that it is possible for a majority of white voters in Massachusetts to favor Kerry. My work is dedicated to the proposition that the white vote can be transformed if there is enough courage, resolve, and resource applied–yes, even in the white South.
If I’m looking down my nose, it’s at national elites who think they can be progressive and not make the white South their business, too. Why have white elites in New York, Illinois, and California, not delivered their own blocs? I think it’s because they are afraid to talk about white folks as white folks in ways that would effectively confront the problems that need to be solved. No election cycle should ever begin with calls to write off white, Southern voters.
PS: As for the allegation that I make a living in this line of work, I’ll confess that I have tried to. My correspondent will be happy to learn that it remains an elusive ambition for me.
Derek Bell. Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism