How did race play a role in the electoral swing from ’08 to ’10?: Some teachers’ ideas

How in our current teaching would we address the proposition that race played a significant role in the electoral swing from ’08 to ’10? This prompt was given on Nov. 3 to a faculty discussion group on “Who gets to use race–or stop using it–and at what cost?” (The proposition could have been one that a student makes and the teacher addresses or one that the teacher tries to flesh out.  The latter turned out to be the case. ) Participants spent 5-10 minutes making notes then took turns to present their ideas.

As will be evident, the approaches were diverse. The point of the post (and of the discussion) is not to say the ideas are right or well thought through.  What interests me in the context of the previous and next posts (on approaches to social theorizing that vary among different groupings, projects, and contexts, but are enactable) is the idea that this variety corresponds to the diversity of ways that race might play a role, varying from one person to the next and for any one person from one context to another. This contrasts with Big Claims, such as, persistent racism in the USA lies behind the opposition to Obama.  And it is not so vulnerable to quick rejection.

Participant 1, Social psychology shows infantilization by media.
P2. Figures on economic distribution. What do you feel about the election? What do you think about the election?

New Yorker article about the new Chinese head of World Bank cites, without comment, goal of the bank as to “combat poverty.”

How does fear prevent rational analysis (there are facts about what Obama admin. has done)?

Hero view of history -> disenchantment when hero doesn’t bring about change. Visuals of Tea Party.
P3. History points to a dialectic of backlash (e.g., after French revolution there were many years of conservative rule; after socialist election, explicitly racist Right won big).

What is said and not said (e.g., Don’t like Obama because he’s a socialist. Not: He’s black and I’m a racist).
P4. Foucault in Society must be Defended says discourses of communism have origins in racism. (Proudhon?)
P5. Robert Putnam (c. 2007) says greater diversity correlates with decline in civic participation and trust.

Construction of mutually exclusive interests allows cognitive non-dissonance about facts like Obama admin did cut taxes.

Groups are scapegoated (to create tangible external threat) when economy is bad and resources scarce.
P6. In a psychology course on “black american experience,” discuss “horizontal hostility” (zero-sum thinking), and for “independents” in ambiguous situations (such as who to blame for economic woes), “aversive racism.”
P7. In a course on environment, science, and society, consider the theme that examining the dynamics of inequality (in contrast to treating all units as identical, as in “population growth”) leads to a qualitative change in the analysis and its implications.  (See Bob Herbert op-ed. on economic crisis for USA being much more than global movement of capital and jobs.)  Challenge for capital in times of crisis is to undermine regulation (in a broader sense) and displace blame/responsibility, which Media and Citizens United decision makes possible (another instance of theme above).

An alternative to capital’s response is a discourse of social solidarity.  However, also from the course, there’s an emphasis in common resource management either on, on one hand, privatization vs. coercion (not desired), or, on the other, design rules (following recent Nobel economics prize winner, Elinor Ostrom).  The design rules favor ethnic homogeneity and discount the always actual heterogeneity.  Race is an easy marker of difference (lack of homogeneity).  In fact, it’s even more, it’s a marker of inequality and a sign of not being looked after, which taps into fears of not being looked after, of being left behind.  At the same time, favoring homogeneity leads to “imagined communities” by exclusion, as in “real Americans,” “patriots,” and anti-immigrant fervor.


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