Cornell Belcher, who worked as a pollster for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, has done a deep investigation of racial and political attitudes during Obama’s presidency and he has a new book coming out: A Black Man in the White House: Barack Obama and the Triggering of America’s Racial-Aversion Crisis.
Jenée Desmond-Harris of Vox sat down with him to talk about his findings. It’s an interesting, if depressing, conversation. I found this exchange the most daunting.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Given what your research indicates, is there a world in which diversity can continue to increase and people of color can continue to make demands for inclusion and equality — in politics and elsewhere — without triggering racial aversion or animosity that in turn shapes political outcomes to favor Republicans? Is there a scenario where that could happen? Or is it that you simply wait for demographics to change and for people of color to make up a higher percentage of voters for this phenomenon to stop playing such a big role in politics?
Cornell Belcher: The point I try to make is that America is a unique democracy in that no other democracy in the world has our level of diversity and our history of racism, so we are challenged in a way that other democracies simply are not. So you have in this country, in a way you don’t have in other countries — at least in the industrialized West — a real transfer of power from one group to another.
The truth of the matter is if in fact we are a democracy, minorities here in the next 20 years are going to be the dominant political voice in our country. So there is a transfer of power that’s going to happen, and the question is, is it going to be peaceful or is it going to be one that destroys us? And look at what’s happening in our country: the [reported hate attacks] in the news every day, and how, quite frankly, we’re beginning to defy our democratic values when in North Carolina you have — this is not my opinion, the court said it — the state legislature put in laws to in keep black people from voting. Specific laws! That’s not democratic. We’re even violating our own values.
And our Congress, which has historically been a magnificent body, which has found a way to push forward and act through natural disasters, war, corruption, has been able to move and be functioning — up until the point where they elected a black man president. All of a sudden, that body is completely dysfunctional.
If this were really just about Barack Obama’s skin pigmentation, the problem would dissipate rather quickly after he leaves office on January 20th, but the real key is that transfer of power from one group to another. Elsewhere in the interview, Belcher warns “that people become more conservative or nationalistic with the increases in diversity” and “particularly [in] more diverse states, the percentage of white people voting Democrat decreases significantly as that population gets more diverse.”
I’ve called this the Southification of the North, where Northern whites begin to vote like their Southern brethren with much more race consciousness and solidarity and much less open-mindedness or commitment to pluralism.
It takes (bad, negative) leadership for this to happen. If the Republicans simply refused to exploit this natural human weakness, it wouldn’t be the kind of problem that we wouldn’t have today with a white nationalist movement taking over our country. In fairness, many parts of the Republican Party resisted this, but they had humored it and benefited from it for too long, and they made promises that will now be kept.