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    More on Obama and race politics

    by Sunny
    14th March, 2008 at 4:29 pm    

    I wrote an article for CIF yesterday arguing why its perfectly logical for African American voters to support him in huge droves. Unsurprisingly, some people started calling me racist, hilariously, but most had the intelligence to understand what I was getting at.

    Anyway, is Matt Bai of the New York Times also reading this blog? This from his latest article:

    The assumption has always been that a black candidate should perform worse among white voters in states with less racial diversity because those voters are supposedly less enlightened. In fact, the reverse has been true for Obama: in the overwhelmingly white states of Wisconsin and Vermont, for instance, he carried 54 and 60 percent of the white voters respectively, according to exit polls, while in New Jersey he won 31 percent and in Tennessee he won 26 percent. As some bloggers have shrewdly pointed out, Obama does best in areas that have either a large concentration of African-American voters or hardly any at all, but he struggles in places where the population is decidedly mixed.

    What this suggests, perhaps, is that living in close proximity to other races — sharing industries and schools and sports arenas — actually makes Americans less sanguine about racial harmony rather than more so. The growing counties an hour’s drive from Cleveland and St. Louis are filled with white voters whose parents fled the industrial cities of their youth before a wave of African-Americans and for whom social friction and economic competition, especially in an age of declining opportunity, are as much a part of daily life as traffic and mortgage payments. As Erica Goode wrote in these pages last year, Robert Putnam and other sociologists have, in fact, found that people living in more diverse areas evince less trust for others — no matter what their race. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that while white Democrats in rural states are apparently willing to accept the notion of a racially transcendent candidate, those living in the shadow of postindustrial atrophy seem to have a harder time detaching from enduring stereotypes, and they may be less optimistic that the country as a whole would actually elect a black candidate.

    There is one problem with this view. In my recent talk at an Open University event, I endorsed Robert Putnam’s view that an increasingly racially and culturally diverse society feels an initial loss of trust and ‘community’, which can be rebuilt later in a different form. To that extent, I’m optimist that a new British identity can be forged out of the current sense of panic that people feel over a loss of togetherness.

    But an academic came up to me later and said that Robert Putnam’s thesis was based on a small sample of people in Chicago. In essence, he said, don’t read too much into it. I somewhat see that point because the environment in places like Bradford / Leeds is different to that of London. So predicting how people are going to get on, without all factors being the same, is not possible.

    All this doesn’t explain why white people behave differently in different states when voting for Obama though.

                  Post to del.icio.us

    Filed in: Current affairs,United States

    11 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. Ravi Naik — on 14th March, 2008 at 5:44 pm  

      race is a factor in Barack Obama’s success, but not the only factor. If I was a black American, I would absolutely vote for Barack Obama on account of his race, because that remains the main factor determining my life-chances; the impact of class is not yet the same.”

      I have a problem with this characterisation. It is a fallacy to consider that being Black is a political asset in the US, considering that there is no historical precedence, and the bigotry that still exists in the US. And lets not forget that in the beginning of the race, Blacks were going overwhelming for Clinton. But Obama seems to have overcome all that with his hard work, intelligence, message, and charisma… and some luck, by having Clinton’s piss off Blacks.

    2. Muhamd [peace be upon me] — on 14th March, 2008 at 10:27 pm  

      Obama symbolises a nexus between a “Black” & “White” America.

      And on a more serious note, he was born in the Year of the Ox. :-)

    3. Robert Putnam — on 15th March, 2008 at 6:20 am  

      “Robert Putnam’s thesis was based on a small sample of people in Chicago.” That is laughably false. The research was based on an enormous (30k) nationwide US sample. See the article itself at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-9477.2007.00176.x

    4. douglas clark — on 15th March, 2008 at 6:57 am  

      Bloody Hell,

      It used to be that a lie was half way around the world before truth had got it’s boots on. Now the ‘laughably false’ is being pursued at the speed of light.

      Great stuff.

      So, Sunny was right to take the research at face value and the academic was, what….?

      Perhaps Mr Putnam would like to do a guest piece here? I’m pretty sure that it would be welcomed. Most of us are able to look objective reality in the eye without flinching too much. And you never know, Mr Putnam, it might prove interesting.

    5. douglas clark — on 15th March, 2008 at 7:55 am  

      Here, I think, is Mr Putnams most obvious insight:

      It is my hypothesis that a society will more easily reap the benefits of immigration, and overcome the challenges, if immigration policy focuses on the reconstruction of ethnic identities, reducing their social salience without eliminating their personal importance. In particular, it seems important to encourage permeable, syncretic, ‘hyphenated’ identities; identities that enable previously separate ethnic groups to see themselves, in part, as members of a shared group with a shared identity.

      Is that, without the erudition, what I have been trying to say?

      For no. On another, adjacent thread, I have been ignored, ’cause Sikhs are only interested in debating with other Sikhs’.

      Which is ridiculously insular.

    6. Praguetory — on 15th March, 2008 at 8:10 am  

      It would be interesting to have Putnam doing a guest post as his conclusions don’t seem to follow from his findings.

      Has social capital in my hometown of Birmingham reduced? I think so.

      Is diversity a factor in this reduction? I don’t know, but it looks like it is.

      Are the X,000 Somalians that have settled in Sparkbrook and other inner city areas currently making a positive contribution economically, socially or culturally? Not from what I hear from news reports, educational league tables, inner city teachers and policemen of my acquaintance.

      When receiving massively culturally different groups into our inner cities, where are the grounds for optimism?

    7. douglas clark — on 15th March, 2008 at 8:38 am  


      From the latter part of his analysis. Please read it all. I am not saying it is conclusive, I am just saying that it is pretty good evidence that folk like you are wrong. Which is no surprise, really.

      How is Prague these days?

      Hopefully, no Somalian is getting your goat.

    8. Praguetory — on 15th March, 2008 at 10:24 am  

      DC. I read it - Sounds like you only listen to evidence that fits with your existing views.

    9. douglas clark — on 15th March, 2008 at 11:00 am  

      Ha, ha,

      You are certainly unwilling to let anything other than your own evidence enter into a discussion. There must be a technical term for such a debating style.

    10. Svaha — on 15th March, 2008 at 3:11 pm  

      Political Preference: The Obama Factor
      The Democratic Presidential Primaries have sprung two lucky candidates — one woman, and one African-American male — against 200 years of ageing European extraction males being in the White House. The quality of media debate in the US, particularly in the Fox News and Lou Dobbs era, continues to be riveting.
      In any democratic society, you would expect that unless there were historically reinforced inequalities, candidates, and indeed election winners would reflect social demographics. Not so in the USA…and citizens do not question it either. Where in another democratic country, people might naively push for rules to encourage women and historically oppressed segments of the population to participate and win, perhaps to the detriment of individual choice, in the US, democracy is massacred with statements about lucky black men, and a focus on the possibility of Islamic contamination in a middle name…psst, psst!
      I have strong free market views and would probably make voting decisions for people on the right. Therefore, I am shocked by the implication that a Muslim or a Jew or a woman or a Hindu (are we even past Catholicism??) cannot aspire to and win high office in a democratic country.
      It is interesting that the US seeks to export and even enforce free choice and democracy to the rest of the world. Except for the enforcing part, I actually support that sentiment.
      But charity begins at home. The US must be a failed democracy if, having allowed women the right to vote in the 1920s, and citizens of African extraction the right to vote in the 1960s, cannot bring itself to allow people to run for office and be elected if they do not subscribe to the WASP norm. How different is this from the caste system in India or the suppression of Shia or Sunni sects. Israel has had a woman president; India has had a woman prime minister and an “untouchable” President, even the UK has had its Iron Lady PM.
      When will the US catch up??

    11. Sunny — on 17th March, 2008 at 5:13 pm  

      Dear Mr Putnam - thanks for clearing that up. I’m going to read more into this.

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