Race & Ethnicity

Chicago Chooses Sides

Read the commentariat, or just subject yourself to the deafening consensus of enlightened opinion, and you have to believe that the beleaguered parents of Chicago’s schoolchildren are fuming at their city’s teachers' union, on strike now for a full week, and backing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to shape up the school district. Read the polls, or just the press accounts of parental support for the teachers, however, and you come away with an altogether different impression. A poll commissioned and released Thursday by Capitol Fax , an Illinois political report, of 1,344 registered Chicago voters found that fully 66 percent of parents with children in the public schools, and 55.5 percent of Chicagoans overall “approve the Chicago Teachers Union decision to go on strike.” Among African Americans, strike support stood at 63 percent; among Latinos, 65 percent. (Roughly 80 percent of Chicago’s schoolchildren are minority.) So, who disapproved of the strike? A majority (52 percent) of...

In Pennsylvania, Voting Rights on Trial—Again

(Flickr/loop_oh)
Hey—remember Pennsylvania's voter-ID law? The really strict one that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters? The controversy over the law died down in mid-August, when a commonwealth court ruled the law would stand . Since then, however, the voting rights advocates who'd filed suit appealed to the state's Supreme Court. There, on Thursday, justices heard the case. But it garnered little in the way of headlines. That's probably because Pennsylvania no longer looks up for grabs in the presidential race. The state's strict voter-ID law, which require voters to show a government-issued photo ID, disadvantages Democratic candidates, since the law disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite voters—those more likely to vote Democratic. When the presidential race was tight, the outcome in Pennsylvania seemed like it might be up for grabs, and many worried the voter-ID law would determine which candidate would receive Pennsylvania's electoral votes—or win the whole election,...

Defenders of the Vote

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)
(AP Photo/Michael Perez) Joe Michetti holds a sign to demonstrate the opposition of Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law during the NAACP voter-ID rally, Thursday, September 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear arguments over whether a new law requiring each voter to show valid photo identification poses an unnecessary threat to the right to vote. Y ou know you’re in a fledgling campaign office the moment you step off the street and into one of the plainest buildings in Germantown, a mostly black Philadelphia neighborhood that contains several Colonial landmarks. Along garish, peach-colored walls are maps of every inch of the city: council districts, wards, divisions, recreation centers. Mismatched tables sit empty, waiting for soon-to-be-installed phones that volunteers will use to call number after number. In one corner of the back office, there’s even a double megaphone ready to perch atop a van and spread the message. Rather...

Culture War Is Over

(Flickr/sushisque)
Gabriel Arana T his weekend featured a strange event on the campaign trail. With Pat Robertson seated behind him at a speech in Viginia—that's the guy who says God personally warns him about upcoming world events, believes the September 11 attacks were divine punishment for homosexuality, and thinks feminism leads to witchcraft—Mitt Romney got his culture war on. Romney recited the Pledge of Allegiance and thundered, "The pledge says 'under God.' I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart." So fear not, America: As long as Mitt Romney becomes president, your pennies and nickels will be safe from creeping atheism. This may tell us more about Romney's strategy for winning Virginia—a state divided between a conservative, rural southern part and a liberal, suburban northern part—than it does about his strategy for winning the country as a whole. But when Romney makes such an appeal, it only serves to...

Why Partisans and Election Law Shouldn't Mix: See Ohio

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Last June, Ohio’s Republican state legislators sought to pass an extremely strict voter ID law, with deeply disturbing implications for minority voters. It would have been among the strictest in the nation, requiring voters to show a government-issued ID with virtually no recourse for those lacking the necessary documents. But the opposition came from an unexpected place—Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. "I want to be perfectly clear, when I began working with the General Assembly to improve Ohio’s elections system it was never my intent to reject valid votes," he said. "I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters' ballots from counting." Husted's opposition played a big role in killing the bill. It was an exciting moment. The secretary had positioned himself as a new kind of Ohio elections official; in a state with a history of messy and unfair...

Julian Castro's Great Expectations

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro walked onstage at the Democratic National Convention, the crowd was already pumped. They'd laughed and cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland lambasted Mitt Romney—the former with righteous indignation, the latter with humor at full volume. After Castro exited, Michelle Obama, now unquestionably the most popular woman on planet Earth, took the stage with a speech that left both crowd and pundits—left and right—spellbound. Consequently, despite weeks of attention on the young Latino mayor, Castro's perfectly serviceable keynote speech isn't likely to be the one that everybody remembers. But that hardly means he failed. In fact, "perfectly serviceable" may have been the desired result. In their first day, the Democrats did a masterful job of both managing expectations and drawing specific contrasts with the GOP's convention last week. Castro shared the evening spotlight with Obama, much as New Jersey...

Pennsylvania Has a New Voter ID Option—But Serious Burdens Remain

(Flickr/amslerPIX)
There's a lot not to like about Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which requires voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Only a few types of IDs are acceptable, like driver's licenses and passports, and even public-university student IDs must have an expiration date on them. Ever since Republicans passed the law in March, critics have worried that without a comprehensive education plan, hundreds of thousands of voters would not even know about the law—those Pennsylvanians, disproportionately nonwhite and low-income, who lack the necessary ID. Most urgently, they pointed to the people could't get an ID under Pennsylvania's unusually restrictive rules, because they didn't have a birth certificate or social security card or their married name was different than the names on some documents. In a lawsuit aimed at blocking the law, plaintiff Vivienne Applewhite exemplified the problem—a longtime voter, born in South Carolina, whose Social Security card had been stolen and whose...

Did Hubris Kill Texas's Photo ID Law?

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, a panel of three federal judges knocked down the Texas voter-ID law, which would have required voters to show a form of government-issued photo identification. The state will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but the news is yet another blow to the law, which the Justice Department already determined would disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. The Department of Justice estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters would be affected. Those with Hispanic surnames were far more likely than whites to not have the requisite identification. While it's yet another rebuke to strict voter-ID laws, the court's decision also illustrates just how much the specifics of this law, and its particularly scary effects, were brought on by the arrogance of state lawmakers and (Republican) officials. Like right-wing Republicans in the many states that went whole-hog GOP in 2009 and 2010—Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alabama, Virginia, and Louisiana...

Race and the Gathering of Our Political Tribes

Watching the Republican and Democratic conventions, with the stark visual contrast in the kinds of people on those different floors, always gets me thinking about how we vote, in part, by tribe. Those people just don’t look like my people, I can’t help thinking, and I’m sure those people think the same thing about my people . Large swaths of the country trust and identify with the convention of those who are overwhelmingly white, blond, neatly suited, perfectly coiffed, and highly shaved. Others find those faces terrifying, and trust the multicolored, untucked, multi-patterned hordes, many of whom appear never to have met a razor or a hairbrush, who will gather next week. You may have read some of the psychological research into of which kinds of people head toward which political points of view, such as the most recent writings by Jonathan Haidt . Haidt emphasizes how we defend what we consider sacred . I think of it like sports teams: We want our team to win—the righteous team—not...

Mitt, Named after the Roman God of Mutual Funds

Today, The New York Times 's David Brooks offers up his semi-annual column that is supposed to clinch his reputation as a "reasonable" conservative—the one who can see both sides. It's a laugh-out-loud doozy, a putative biographical sketch of Mitt Romney that made him sound temporarily as if he were inhabited by Gail Collins , complete with the snort-your-coffee where's-Waldo reference to Seamus on the roof . Some excerpts: Mitt grew up in a modest family. His father had an auto body shop called the American Motors Corporation, and his mother owned a small piece of land, Brazil. He had several boyhood friends, many of whom owned Nascar franchises, and excelled at school, where his fourth-grade project, “Inspiring Actuaries I Have Known,” was widely admired. The Romneys had a special family tradition. The most cherished member got to spend road trips on the roof of the car. Mitt spent many happy hours up there, applying face lotion to combat windburn. ... He had a pet rock, which ran...

Seriously, There's Good News For Ohio Voters

(AP Photo/ Dayton Daily News, Bill Reinke)
For voting rights activists, the news coming out of Ohio hasn't been promising—the secretary of state has limited early voting hours and a state law stopped all voting the three days before Election Day. Both decisions have a disproportionate impact on poor and nonwhite voters, who vote in particularly heavy numbers during the early period. But Monday brought some good news for vote defenders in the Buckeye State. In 2008, around 14,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they cast provisional ballots in the wrong precinct. Often, it was a poll worker who had made the error, but it was the voter who was punished. But thanks to an injunction granted by a U.S. district judge Monday, that measure will not be in effect in the 2012 elections. The Service Employees International Union brought the suit, represented by lawyers from the Advancement Project, a voting rights group that’s been involved in several of the voter ID challenges around the country. The plaintiffs argued the...

Voter-ID Fight Gets Down to the Wire in Wisconsin

(Flickr/Bethany Weeks)
We may be months away from Election Day, but in states fighting legal battles over newly minted voter-ID laws, time is short. These laws, which require residents to show government-issued identification to vote, have been shown to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in the first place. But as I've written before, the timeframe for implementing them poses another major problem; just look at Pennsylvania, where volunteers and activists are rushing to inform residents about a voter-ID law passed in March. The fact is, comprehensive voter-education efforts can hardly be conducted in two months. It is this basic issue—whether there is enough time to properly implement voter-ID laws before November 6—that has kept voter-ID from going into effect in many states. But in Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is hoping there's still time for one last full-court press to rescue the state's strict voter-ID law. State courts in two different cases—one brought by the League of Women...

Racism Plays a Big Part in our Politics. Period.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
If you haven’t read it, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fantastic essay on Barack Obama’s relationship to race and racism in the latest issue of The Atlantic . There’s too much to quote, but this paragraph captures the thesis: In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard. The power and symbolism of Obama’s election is compromised by the extent to which his presidency has been shaped by white expectations and white racism...

Battle of the Romney Plans

(Flickr / caniswolfie)
Consider the Detroit area, including suburbs like Sterling Heights, Grosse Pointe, and Warren, whose segregation presented such challenges to George when he was governor and then housing and urban development secretary. Thirty percent of students in the Detroit area are now African American and 39 percent are “economically disadvantaged”—that is, eligible for free or subsidized lunches. In Detroit, 88 percent are African American and 85 percent lunch-eligible. Virtually all are from households with income of less than $22,000 a year for a family of four. If by the Mitt method (school choice) or the George method (residential integration), students now living in Detroit were to attend schools where concentrated disadvantage did not overwhelm school capacity, each school in the area, including those in Detroit, might have about 30 percent African American and 39 percent lunch-eligible enrollment. Of course, no policy should aim for such a mechanically even distribution; these numbers...

Romney's Race-Based Initiative

"There's a woman in Chicago," Ronald Reagan told an audience in New Hampshire while campaigning in 1976. "She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veterans benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. And she's collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000." The story—an exaggerated account of a 47-year-old black woman on the South Side of Chicago—played on racial stereotypes that struck a chord with white, suburban voters. The specter of the “welfare queen” has been with us ever since. Despite high hopes, the election of a black president has done little to quell racial resentment. If anything, Obama’s election, the recession, and the changing demographics of America have heightened the fear that “real Americans” are losing their country—and their money—to undeserving minorities. It is precisely this anxiety...

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