Writers, bloggers, and pundits assert that national polls, both past and present, show a large slice of the white electorate has embraced a strange brew of bigotry mixed with a healthy measure of outlandish racial and religious conspiracies. In actuality these polls may more accurately show that whites are engaged in an ideological civil war with each other — an intra-racial struggle over national identity and belonging.
Recently, writing for the Village Voice, Steven Thrasher announced in the title that “White America Has Lost Its Mind.” Thrasher succinctly argues correctly that in both poll and deed the domestic political backlash against President Obama, immigrants, and Muslims is indeed basting in a soup of racist acts and attitudes. Thrasher takes us back to the 2008 elections reminding us:
As with other forms of dementia, the signs weren’t obvious at first. After the 2008 election, when former House majority leader Tom DeLay suggested that instead of a formal inauguration, Barack Obama should “have a nice little chicken dinner, and we’ll save the $125 million,” black folks didn’t miss the implication. <SNIP> But who among us sensed that it was a harbinger that an entire nation was plunging into madness?
However it wasn’t quite “an entire nation” plunging into insanity. On election night, as Barack Obama made his election speech, it wasn’t Blacks or Latinos engaging in a “race war” on the streets of America but whites. In Chicago, while President-elect Obama prepared to take the stage in downtown, violence at the hands of law enforcement was delivered to local Black residents. All in all, 22 individuals reported beatings and other forms of harassment at the hands of local law enforcement that evening — apparent punishment for Obama’s election success.
Nor was it merely old fashion police beatings being distributed that night in America’s new post-racial society. Over in New York, Ralph Nicoletti was busy engaging in three separate incidents of assault. Nicoletti targeted African Americans who he believed had voted for Barack Obama. Nicoletti’s spree included attacking a teenager with a metal pipe, and using his car to run down a man who he mistakenly believed to be African American. This victim was comatose for nearly a month. According to the Chicago Tribune, by November 23, 2008, there had been over 200 hate incidents directed at Obama and his supporters.
In the shadow of racially-tinged violence, political analysis emerged pointing to national exit polls that showed that Barack Obama didn’t win the majority of the white vote. This was discussed online, in papers, and on television as if somehow winning the majority of the white vote granted a form of legitimacy that other votes did not. Of course much of the discussion ignored the fact that a Democratic candidate hadn’t won the majority of the white vote since LBJ and glossed over the news that Obama had garnered a higher percentage of the white voted of any non-incumbent Democratic candidate. Already new polls have started to surface to remind us once again that Obama doesn’t have the support of white voters.
Undeniably, past and present polling points to a core of white voters who consciously or unconsciously embrace a racially constructed hysteria. It shouldn’t be ignored that less than a quarter of Republicans (89 percent of the party is white) believe that Obama was actually born in the United States, and Thrasher reminds us in his article that nearly a quarter of Republicans believe that Obama is the anti-Christ and that a quarter of U.S. citizens believe he is lying when he says that he is a Christian.
However the Devil is in the details and what has yet to emerge from these discussions is the possibility that these polls point to a political rift within the white electorate itself. Two distinct groupings of white voters exist. One side is committed to an inclusive country grounded in equity and opportunity and the other is determined to establish a society based on fear, isolation, and exclusion. As David Weigel of the Washington Independent pointed out a year ago this very distinct intra-racial division of white voters can also be mapped out along geographic lines.
Weigel points out that a poll conducted for Kos shows a clear difference between the views of whites in the South and whites in the West and Midwest. In regard to whether Obama was born in the United States, Weigel says “While around 90 percent of people in the Northeast, Midwest and West know that Obama was born in United States, only 47 percent of people in the South believe this. Twenty-three percent think he was born somewhere else; 30 percent don’t know.”
While the state of race, racism, and other forms of bigotry or political lunacy should be documented and discussed, those committed to a multi-racial democracy should be careful about drawing a broad brush in regard to America’s white electorate. A large segment of the white electorate rejects the concept of a racialized country and these voters should be engaged and organized around social issues that expand opportunity for all.