Andrew Sullivan from The Daily Beast declared that the Old Confederacy is turning to Romney over Obama and it is because they are racists. This was from "This Week With George Stephanopolus" this past Sunday on ABC.
I have heard this bandied about quite a bit recently and I imagine that if Romney happens to win the election, we will have many pundits claiming that the issue of racism is still alive and well in America and that we are not as progressive on race as we hoped we were in 2008. I expect it to be asserted rather strongly that Romney will have won the election because of the votes of racist Whites who hate Black people. In addition, I think that this accusation will be used to morally delegitimize the Romney presidency and to rally the Democratic base in opposing Romney as the equivalence of a moral crusade against the evils of racism.
If that happens, who exactly will be playing the race card? Will it be those voting for Romney or those trying to coalesce political power for their side for the next election?
Will it be true that those voting for Romney are racists who hate Obama just because he is Black or because he affirms positions that are favored by the African-American community? Can't people just have a different opinion?
These questions need to be asked and answered accurately IF the accusations begin to fly.
So, let's try to look at this objectively. In my opinion, calling people racists in America in 2012 when they hold different political or economic perspectives is a violent act of rhetorical aggression and is a power play. Unless you can see inside someone's heart or unless they prove themselves to be racists by their actual words and actions, I think it is best to leave that designation off the table. Sure, it is an argument neutralizer and it gives the one accusing a sense of moral superiority, but it accomplishes nothing. How can one battle personal racism when from their perspective, they are just trying to make good decisions?
When I was writing this, I ended up in a conversation with two men at a coffee shop, one White and one Black and both from a more liberal political persuasion. They were actually talking about some of this and I overheard and joined the conversation. We all agreed that Race was a major issue, but it was not THE major issue. The underlying issue behind Race deals with economics, personal preference, and protecting our own lives. It is about money and power and who has the money and who wields the power and what for. We fear the "other" and anyone that we think is a threat. Those are the real issues that divide us.
The truth is, people will vote along the lines of what they think benefits them and what they think is best for the country based on their own personal worldview. I am not saying that there are no racists that exist, but the vast majority of White people who are voting for Romney are not doing so because Obama is Black and they hate Black people. That is a false argument. Rather, they are voting for Romney and against Obama because they believe that Romney's policies are better for themselves and the country as a whole. And, those who vote for Obama do the same thing. The reason that this belief and resulting action falls along racial lines has to do with what we fundamentally believe about what benefits us and what we believe is best for the nation. But, it begs the question: Why is that often so different according to race?
As human beings, we act in our own self-interest or according to what we think the best course of action is for ourselves and others. This should be self-evident. For White people who are Conservative politically, it might benefit them to have lower taxes, less social programs, and an America where it is easier for them to get ahead. In voting for those who promote those things, one does not have to be racist. One only has to see life from their own point of view, which is something that we all do naturally. It takes supernatural help to consistently see life from the other's point of view. For Black people who are Liberal politically, they might think that it benefits them or their race in America to have higher taxes on the wealthy, more social programs, and an America where it is easier for them to get ahead because of past inequalities and injustices. Or, perhaps they just see the policies of the Democratic Party as what is best for the country. It does not mean that either side is racist.
At the end of the day, both the Republican and Democratic parties are acting in THEIR self-interest as well so that they can grasp and maintain power. They are not really acting in the interests of the people or the long-term good of the nation. Recent events should bear that out. Republicans are accused of acting on behalf of the rich and the Democrats and the pundit class lined up behind them make much hay over the idea that Republicans are for the wealthy class. But, radical historian Howard Zinn, a friend of Leftists everywhere, once stated, "The Democrats are part of the upper class that is more willing to make concessions to the lower class in order to maintain their power." These accusations go both ways.
The truth is that we live in a society where a majority of Whites from certain regions of the country vote one way and a majority of Blacks or Hispanics vote another way. It does not mean that they are racists. But, it does mean that a large number of people from each race has been convinced that a certain political party or candidate best benefits them and their vision of the country. We need to ask why that is and how much our racist history plays into current divisions. While we might not be active racists at this point, we do participate in a racialized society as to what we think benefits us and the nation. These differences often manifest racially. For the Christian who is interested in "other-focused" life and ministry, it behooves us to figure out why the racialized division exists, what we are doing to contribute to it, what our hopes and dreams are, and why we tend to stick together according to race, class, and economic status when we express our opinions about what is best for ourselves and our nation. Then, we need to make sure that WE are acting from a "Kingdom of God" perspective and an identity in Christ instead of an identity rooted in class, race, social status, or economics. We need to think about others and not just ourselves. That might not change anyone's vote (I am not saying it should) but it will cause us to interact with people who disagree with us more charitably so that we can be a blessing to them instead of an obstacle.
Until we move past the verbal flamethrowing and accusations and begin to explore what really benefits our nation as a whole even if it hurts my own personal position, we are going to keep alienating each other, even if we don't intend to. Christians, out of all people, should lead the way in this because we are a people who should understand the difference between acting in our self-interest and acting in the interest of others. There might be really good reasons to vote for the candidate of your choosing, but if we look around and notice that the people who look like me are voting for one candidate and the people who don't look like me are voting for the other guy, then perhaps I need to think through some of the things that I care most about and ask how those positions are influenced by my race or social position instead of God's perspective.
We should flatly reject calling people racists just because of who they vote for. But, we should also think through what we are promoting and what we are rejecting and then think about how we can live to benefit others and bring reconciliation instead of just thinking about how to improve our own situation. More dialogue and personal sacrifice and less division, please.