Wednesday, February 18, 2009


On one of my commutes up the hill today, I passed a car with the following bumper sticker plastered across the rear window:

"It is just as racist to vote for a man because he is black as it is to vote against a man because he is black."

I firmly disagree, and here is the reasoning, in brief, behind my disagreement:

-There are two reasons why somebody's race will affect your support of their candidacy: (1) Either you are racist (defined as: you assume people have certain characteristics/qualities, whether positive or negative, simply because of their appearance and heritage), or (2) you believe that their experience of race has colored (ha ha... no.) their growth and point of view.

-I heartily concede that the sticker slogan applies to cases of (1). That is, it is equally racist to vote for a Black person on the assumption that simply being Black makes an individual better than, say, an Asian or White candidate, as it is to not vote for her on the assumption that Blackness, on its own, makes one worse than the alternatives.

-However, the sticker slogan fails in its consideration of (2): that is, that being Black grants a candidate a particular experience, for example, growing up as an ethnic minority in a very racially-charged (if not outright racist) society.

-In the case that (2) obtains, I see no reason that being Black - along with the experience of being Black in America that this brings along - is not a perfectly good (albeit yet insufficient) reason to vote for somebody. It is not racist to think that possessing the experience of being an ethnic minority in America will increase somebody's ability to serve as President.

-The opposite is not true, however. To not vote for somebody solely because of his or her status as a minority in America connotes an evaluation of the minority experience that settles on it as insufficient or detrimental to one's ability to serve as President.

Thoughts? There are arguments above that are highly undeveloped, largely due to time constraints and general laziness regarding rigorous thought post-graduation. Anyone want to push me on this?



  1. Good thoughts! though I'm not sure about the negative version of #2. I agree - voting for someone for #2 is valid. Voting against someone for #2 by itself is probably not; however, in given contexts, it is valid, I believe. If one voted for Obama based on his unique ethnic experiences, don't they designate Hilary's experience as insufficient compared to Obama's, then?

    Maybe insufficient is the wrong word; they designate Obama as better. However, any race-based decision will end up evaluating someone's ethnic experience and deeming it lacking compared to someone else.

    I think the issue here is not the race card at all, but the conclusions drawn from the race card. You can think, reason, research, and draw a good inference from a candidate's race and ethnic experiences; the trouble comes when you draw these conclusions without base or reason. Then any response is possible, including one devoid of both truth and love.

    btw, that email response is in the works. I actually really enjoyed it, and will finish it tonight. look for it soon

  2. valid point--the way I look at it though, all of our last president's were white males, and for the most part we never questioned their legitimacy when it came to running--so why question it now? C

    The whole '08 election was historical on so many levels. To me it was like a giant social experiment that exposed America's ignorance (which brings the Borat movie to mind...but that's another story). That statement alone validates the fact that racism is still alive.

  3. Yellow: hmm, I think the statement "for the most part we never questioned their legitimacy when it came to running" is a fallacy. Perhaps none of the candidates have been particularly faulted for being White males; but that is likely, I think, due to the fact that they were running against other White males. A prominent challenge against the system of choosing who runs as candidates, however, has been precisely the way in which it turns out strikingly homogeneous candidates.

  4. I disagree with your reasoning. First, your definition of "racist" is problematic. It casts far too wide a net, and in doing so, catches behaviors which are rational and not at all negative.

    More explicitly, reason (2) that you give is a subset of reason (1). Based on a candidate's appearance and heritage, you're assuming they had some particular experience and thus possess some magic increase in their ability as president. Mostly, this is just an example of your definition of "racist" being too broad. As such, this is not my main qualm with your argument, which follows:

    Suppose a person were to judge whether or not the "minority experience" increased one's ability to serve as president. Your reasoning does not afford this person the freedom to actually find out the truth of the matter. Deciding positively is allowed, while deciding negatively is racist.

    This attitude results in an enforced orthodoxy which, regardless of whether or not it's correct, is detrimental to freethought.

  5. Hmm, good thoughts; thanks, Anonymous. As I acknowledged, my thoughts were intentionally a brief sketch rather than an in-depth pursuit of the point.

    Perhaps, at some time - though likely not, given my responsibilities & constraints these days - it would be interesting to go in-depth as to how we could judge the effect of the minority experience on discharging various duties.

    Of course, I am quite comfortable claiming the premises that lead to this orthodoxy. But, yes, it is wrong to do so dogmatically (and, in point of fact, I do not - that premise is one of which I have had to be convinced); your point is well taken.

  6. I was just re-reading some of my older posts, and I wanted to note: A.Rex seems to be speaking based on the assumption that freethought is a desirable tenet. This is also a presumption that is not necessarily universally granted.