From Intolerance to Activism
Blacks do drugs. Women cry. White men hate everyone. Generalizations like these plague American culture incessantly. The 2008 presidential contest is no exception, as it propogates the ritual of hate.
The Democratic side of the campaign, especially, has been infused with racist and sexist undertones. There is no doubt that in an ideal world, such bigotry -- or at least subtle discrimination -- would not exist. But it is impossible to claim that the United States is a prejudice-free society. Whether it's the well-educated Dartmouth student who still crosses to the other side of the street upon seeing a group of black teenagers approaching or the politician who vehemently seeks passage of a Constitutional ban on gay marriage, intolerance is alive and well in this country.
Thus, with both a black and a female candidate vying for the Democratic nomination, race and sex will matter. It's tragic, but it's undeniable.
Can there be an upside to all of this underhanded political bigotry? Indeed, there is. Along with the exaggerations, misinformation and pettiness that go hand-in-hand with racism and sexism comes a powerful motivation to overcome intolerance. Bigotry in politics has the potential to awaken political activism among groups of Americans burdened with histories of repression and to bring them to the polls in November.
The incendiary nature of prejudice works both ways. While veiled comments like those from Bob Johnson regarding Barack Obama's past cocaine use may strike fear in the hearts of close-minded, white American voters, such biased remarks can also work to unite a community longing for genuine respect in politics.
In fact, to witness the potent and unifying effects of perceived injustice, look no further than Dartmouth's campus. If you want to spark the ire of Dartmouth women, who do deserve greater equity in social space allocation, just bring back Beta Theta Pi and push Alpha Xi Delta off campus!
Most minority groups trail whites markedly in terms of voter registration. According to the most recent census figures, the percentage of blacks registered to vote (61 percent) is 10 points lower than that of whites (71 percent), while the fraction of registered Latinos is even smaller (54 percent).
This discrepancy will diminish if discriminatory campaign banter and polarizing governmental policy debates, like the current dispute over immigration, can bring the unjustly represented demographics to the polls in larger numbers.
Twenty-three million black citizens and 16 million Hispanic citizens are eligible to vote. The potential electoral influence of greater minority participation may finally be roused if the campaigns of Obama and Clinton in particular continue to inflame issues of prejudice.
While the United States seems to be growing more comfortable with the idea of a black or female president, the country is far from a bastion of tolerance. In a recent poll conducted by CNN, 72 percent of whites and 61 percent of blacks believed the country was ready for a black president.
Similarly, 65 percent of men and 64 percent of women believed the country was prepared to accept a female commander-in-chief. Nevertheless, polls like these are inherently deceiving -- people often choose either to hide their prejudices or wholeheartedly deny them. Bigotry is real, however, and if it continues to make waves in the political landscape -- no matter if the accounts of discriminatory campaign rhetoric are legitimate or sensationalized -- the reactions of minorities within the electorate could result in unprecedented voter participation.
The ironic twist of Election 2008 is that an injection of racism and sexism into the presidential campaign may be just the catalyst needed for a country which consistently seeks to forget a tradition of intolerance. The activism of the Civil Rights movement has been relegated to history books. Yet the viable candidacies of Clinton and Obama, regardless of how much both try to downplay their respective deviations from the white, male norm, will force Americans to look at themselves in the proverbial mirror and ask, "Are we finally ready?"
As the issue of bigotry rears its ugly head throughout this campaign, it may be possible for America's most traditionally subjugated groups to propel this nation beyond the walls of discrimination that have impeded all the Hillarys and Baracks of this country for far too long.