Monday, January 24, 2011

Are we really moving past racial factors?

EMANUEL: The front-runner?
On the surface, the Chicago Tribune gave us positive news this weekend. The newspaper commissioned yet another poll related to the upcoming municipal elections, this time trying to get a sense of how much racial and ethnic factors will play in terms of how local voters pick whom they will vote for.

That poll gave numbers that are being interpreted as saying that people are not as hung up on racial factors as we were some three decades ago. The number of people who will vote for anybody but Carol Moseley-Braun would appear to be on the decline.

MOSELEY-BRAUN: The consensus?
YET I’M SKEPTICAL, and not just because of the reality of political polls that some people will say what they think they’re supposed to, but will act very differently.

In short, I wonder how many people who said they won’t take race into account when they cast their ballots will react very differently, either at an early voting center beginning next week, or at a polling place on Feb. 22.

Anybody who has read my other commentary published at this weblog knows I believe these Election Day results are going to tell us how much we truly have advanced when it comes to matters of race and electoral politics.

CHICO: The multi-ethnic candidate?
We may have elected a couple of African-American senators, a state attorney general and secretary of state, and sent one of our own African-American politicos to Washington to be president since the days of Harold Washington.

YET I STILL wonder how many local voters view those offices as being less important than those of city government, particularly that of mayor?

The reality of our city government in recent decades is that while there have been African-American and Latino people who have held citywide office, it has always been on a slate of candidates with a white guy, Richard M. Daley, at the top.

DEL VALLE: ¿El candidato tranquillo?
I wonder how many people are going to let this be an issue because it gets at their gut feelings about what they think our society should stand for. Some people have their hang-ups that no amount of rhetoric will overcome.

Which is why I plan to look at the voter breakdown from the Feb. 22 elections (and the April 5 run-offs, if they become necessary) to see how people have actually voted.

AS MUCH AS I want to believe the theme that we’re not as hung up on race in electoral politics as we were back in 1983 (I was a high school senior back when Washington got elected mayor, and can still remember the very real, and intense, resentment felt toward the idea that African-American people could comprise a voter bloc large enough to win an election), I’ll believe it when I see it with actual voter turnouts – not the results of a poll commissioned a month before the election!

For the record, 75 percent of people questioned for the poll commissioned by the Tribune said that a candidate’s race will have “little or no influence” on their vote. Another 70 percent said they do not think a mayoral candidate would show favoritism toward people of their racial or ethnic background.

WATKINS: Worthy of more attention?
That sounds nice. But all it may really mean is that racial and ethnic bias in the 21st Century is more subtle than back in the Days of Reagan. We won’t hear any stupid jokes about Moseley-Braun resembling “Weezie Jefferson” or many attempts to make us think Rahm Emanuel was once in the Israeli army – and therefore not a “real American.”

Part of the reason I am skeptical is that I acknowledge that our city is still significantly divided when it comes to race – with the downtown area often being the only place where one can find anything resembling co-existence on a regular basis.

WE ALL GO to work together during the day, 9-5, Monday through Friday. Afterward, we go back to our home neighborhoods, which may well be shifting in terms of ethnic and racial breakdowns in recent years, but still remain heavily separated.
WALLS: The perennial dreamer

That same Tribune-commissioned poll said that 57 percent of white people surveyed thought their neighborhoods were safer than the rest of the city, compared to only 42 percent of Latinos who thought that or 26 percent of African-American people – who by the way also had 70 percent say the neighborhoods they live in are NOT very diverse.

Which means that even in the new century, we have certain people living in certain sections, and certain non-Anglo individuals living in places where they’re not all that exposed to other people. It’s like they’re living in an alternate Chicago – one that other people would prefer not to have to think much about.

That is why I think some voters will have that gut feeling come Election Day, no matter what they say now or what they know on an intellectual level is the “proper” thing to do.

WE’RE NOT GOING to get the ugly bluntness of the past. But anybody who thinks we have put this factor behind us for good is being delusional.

Then again, they’re probably the same kind of people who can’t comprehend how the Chicago Cubs have gone so many years without a championship.


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