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February 07, 2007


Although your underlying point has some merit - that we should be, or perhaps we already are - beyond the level of tribalism or other forms of identity politics, there is a serious problem with your post.

With all due respect, you seem not to understand the meaning of the terms "racism" and "sexism". They do not refer merely to making racial or sexual distinctions, nor do they refer to the tribal instinct of voting for "one of your own". They are, rather, ideologies that put for the the notion that one race, or one sex is inherintly superior to others - thus justifying things like enslavement, or forced segregation, or the denial of the franchise.

Being a woman who will instictivly support a woman, or a black who will always choose the black candidate, irrespective of other factors, may be foolish, counterproductive, narrow minded and lots of other negative things. They are not, however, necessarily examples of sexism or racism.

With all due respect, Tano, the concept of "tribalism," as applied to racial and gender differences, makes no sense in America today unless there is also at least a hint of racism or sexism involved. Men and women in America do not live in separate "tribes," nor are America's schools or workplaces segregated by racial or gender "tribe." Thus, to indulge in the "identity politics" of putting one's own skin color first when choosing a political candidate is to deliberately place race higher in importance than all other criteria for voting for a candidate -- not just all other forms of shared identity with one's fellow Americans such as shared political views, shared interests, shared religions, shared national identity, etc., but even all other considerations such as whether the politician is experienced, qualified, etc. To put race or gender ahead of all other considerations is to give grossly inappropriate weight to race or gender.

Intolerance of persons of other races is one of the accepted definitions of racism. Discrimination based on gender is also one of the accepted definitions of sexism.

If I announced that I would only vote for a presidential candidate who had brown hair because brown hair is part of what I consider my "identity" or "tribe," you'd think I was nuts and you'd be quite right to accuse me of unfair prejudice against candidates of other hair colors.

It is certainly racist and sexist to make a conscious choice that persons of one's own race or gender are so inherently superior to all other candidates that one will vote for them primarily or exclusively on that basis. That is exactly what Schall says is the "dilemma" African-American women face: Shall they go with voting based on skin color or gender this time? Give me a break.

While I appreciate your scholarly approach and your attempt to make a distinction between identity politics and racism, I belive it's a distinction without a difference. If I refuse to give someone the time of day because of their skin color, they are hurt just as much if I do it because I think their race is inferior to mine or if I do it just because they are not "one of us." Either way, it's discrimination based on race.

I disagree with your definitions. I repeat - racism is the ideology that views one race as fundamentally superior to others. It is not the same thing as discrimination, or even bigotry, both of which may have equally negative consequences, but come from different emotional and intellectual sources.

I do think these distinctions are worth making. Over the years I have endured and contributed to so much heat (as opposed to light) and so many conversations in which people talk past eachother because they use words sloppily, that I feel it important to be precise in the charges one makes.

I could imagine, say, a black person instinctlivly choosing the black candidate, not because they think blacks are superior to whites, or because they hate whites or even dislike them, but because they feel that, as a black person, their candidate will have some deep-seated understanding of the common experiences and perspectives that many black people share. All voters, on some level or another are most attracted to candidates whom they feel understands them - their life, their experiences, and the realities of their communities. There is nothing inherintly wrong with that, unless it becomes an absolute, unless it blinds the voter to the reality that the other candidate might actually be better for them.

While racism has been defined to include the belief that one race is inherently superior to another, some dictionaries (see dictionary.com) state that among the alternate definitions of racism are "Discrimination or prejudice based on race." (American Heritage Dictionary). Thus, my use of the term "racism" to describe selecting a candidate based on skin color is not incorrect. It is one accepted usage of the term.

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