There Is No Neutral Stance on Racism

Twenty days after the midterm elections, they’re still counting votes in some places. Here’s the tally as of this morning:

But where those votes came from is still significant. This is what that 9 million vote advantage would look like in the electoral college.

Even so, Jonathan Martin suggests that it is Democrats who face a “conundrum.” He points to the senate runoff election taking place in Mississippi on Tuesday in an article titled: “Across South, Democrats Risk Speaking Boldly and Alienating Rural White Voters.”

In a state where politics has long been cleaved by race, Mr. Espy was reckoning with a conundrum that Democrats face across the South — from Mississippi and Alabama, which have been hostile to the party for years, to states like Florida and Georgia that are more hospitable in cities but still challenging in many predominantly white areas. Even as they made gains in the 2018 elections in the suburbs that were once Republican pillars, Democrats are seeing their already weak standing in rural America erode even further.

Now, as Democrats mount a last-minute and decidedly against-the-odds campaign to snatch a Senate seat in this most unlikely of states, they are facing the same problem that undermined some of their most-heralded candidates earlier this month…

As Democrats look toward the 2020 presidential election, this demographic chasm is alarming party strategists who fear that it could cement the G.O.P’s grip on the Senate and make it difficult to defeat President Trump.

Jamil Smith shot back on Twitter by writing, “I’m looking forward to the sequel to this article, ‘Across America, Republicans Risk Speaking Boldly and Alienating Voters of Color.'” That’s why I began with data from the recent midterm elections. If we’re going to talk about the risks of speaking boldly, on which side do they actually fall? Smith went on to tweet:

Martin’s article was reminiscent of another piece in the New York Times to which Adam Serwer responded by writing, “Just Say it’s Racist.” Martin goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid saying that Democrats face a problem when they call out racism. Instead, he refers to their issues with “rural and exurban whites,” “voters who form a ‘resistance’ of their own against the country’s cultural and demographic changes,” and finally, just simply “conservatives.”

This is a classic example of bothsiderim. By describing the reaction of those voters in neutral terms, Martin is able to paint a picture in which Democrats face the “conundrum” of attempting to find a balance between “the base of supporters that follow this Trump ideology of saying what you want, and those individuals who share a close connection to that dehumanizing history.” That is an incredibly long way around saying, “voters who are motivated by racism and those who have been the victims of racism.”

I suspect that Martin didn’t write the shortened version because that would mean taking a moral position on one side of the divide, which would be interpreted as a loss of neutrality. But from the standpoint of the victims of racism, it is anything but neutral. As Sewer wrote:

This ostensibly neutral framing is centered around a white audience more concerned with being called racist than facing racial discrimination…

An era in which Americans are supposedly exhausted with political correctness is thus defined by the acute political sensitivities and persecution complexes of white voters who object if things they do and say are described as racist, even as the bodies pile up in the background.

The fact of the matter is that Donald Trump and the Republican Party have staked their claim to power on the politics of a racist backlash. You’d be hard-pressed to find a sentient being who would deny that at this point. So when it comes to their supporters, we can borrow a line from Andrew Gillum and say, “I’m not calling Trump voters racist. I’m simply saying Trump believes they’re racist.”

That leads us to a moral question, not a conundrum on which it is possible to pull off the neutral stance of bothsiderism. We must chose to either name the racism and speak out against it, or affirm the centering of whiteness, “even as the bodies pile up in the background.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .