Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Race Race in D.C.

With the recent mayoral scandals in D.C., I have to confess I haven't been following the details very closely.  As a political cynic, the idea of big-city corruption seems more the rule to me than the exception--something about the making of sausages and not wanting to know what goes into it.  So Mayor Vincent Gray may have used illegal campaign tactics and payoffs to beat Adrian Fenty two years ago?  I can't say I spat up my soda upon hearing that.  We've had a raging crackhead racist elected mayor of this city multiple times.  And that guy is still on the City Council.  Clearly, corruption and personal failings aren't big disqualifiers in picking our city's leaders.

What does sort of surprise me is the extent to which D.C. voters still take a person's race into account in choosing a mayor.  This article highlights the fact that large numbers of D.C. voters--white voters as well as black voters--consider it "important" or even "very important" to have a black mayor for the city.  Presumably, the reasoning behind this attitude is because a plurality of the city's residents are black.

Much as I like the idea of the color barrier being broken in American politics--first black Secretary of State in 2001, first black Supreme Court Justice in 1967, first black President in 2009, etc.--there's something unsettling about the idea that because the largest racial group in the city is of one race then that city's mayor should be of that race.  If whites became a plurality in D.C., then should the mayor be white?  If not, then why is this different?  Is it naive to think that it is the individual that matters--that a candidate of any race could lead the city effectively if they're a good politician with good ideas that could serve the city well?

This is why I find it heartening when an electorate can elect someone who represents a small minority of the overall population, such as Louisiana and South Carolina electing Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley as governors respectively, even though Indian-Americans are tiny fractions of those states, or Massachusetts can elect (twice) Deval Patrick, despite the black population of Massachusetts being very small (though Massholes are notoriously stupid and the townies there may have just heard the name and thought he was Irish and used to be that guy who played stickball with Murph and Sully). 

If nearly one in five voters in Boston said it was "very important" that that city's mayor were white, I'd find that disturbing in this day and age.   It'd be nice if D.C.'s voters could get past race as well.

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