Tag Archives: white privilege

Privilege: Many Jill Stein Voters Have It, and Many Hillary Clinton Voters Do, Too

As an outspoken supporter of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, I often get questions akin to the one Stein was asked at the Green Town Hall on August 17: “Given the way our political system works, effectively you could help Donald Trump like Ralph Nader helped George Bush in 2000.  How could you sleep at night?”  More often than not, such questions are followed by the claim that voting for Stein in November is an act of self-indulgent privilege.  Only those with little to lose from a Donald Trump presidency can afford to risk it by adhering to a rigid set of principles that will never come to fruition, third-party critics argue; people who might suffer under Trump’s policies, on the other hand, understand the stakes involved in this election and that Hillary Clinton is the only practical alternative to Trump.

This formulation misconstrues privilege dynamics and misrepresents the identities and considerations of third-party voters and others who refuse to support Clinton, who are far less often White, affluent, heterosexual men than their detractors seem to believe.

The status quo is serving many people poorly.  Proclaiming that, because the alternative is “worse,” everyone must vote for Clinton – a politician who has championed policies that have actively harmed millions of people both here and around the world – is, at its very best, patronizing to those who are currently suffering.  It’s a promise of crumbs instead of a meal with the admonition that starving people better be thankful for crumbs, as the other candidate might take even those away.

This rationale plays on the fears of disadvantaged people and those who care about them in order to perpetuate current power dynamics.  Its use is in many ways an expression of the very privilege it critiques.

Third-Party Critics Misconstrue Privilege Dynamics

Privilege is a multi-dimensional concept, and very few people can claim to speak for the most downtrodden in society.  Individuals writing widely read articles about the privilege of third-party voters aren’t refugees from Central America who President Obama is currently deportingwith Clinton’s support, until recently.  They aren’t incarcerated for marijuana possession or sitting on death row, likely to stay locked up or sentenced to die if Clinton becomes president.  They aren’t living under Israeli occupation, or in deep poverty, or afraid of being obliterated by a drone strike, with little hope for change under the specter of a Clinton presidency.  As Morgana Visser recently noted, “many marginalized people are rightfully horrified of Hillary Clinton,” and those accusing nonvoters and third-party voters of privileged indifference to the plight of others have the privilege themselves not to be so marginalized that four, or eight, or indefinitely many more years of incremental change to the status quo is intolerable to them.

The thing is, the argument that the Democrats are the only actual alternative voters have to Trump – that the status quo cannot be radically improved and that incremental change is all that is possible – is one that many people cannot afford.  Those of us voting for Stein seek to challenge this thinking, to fight for a world in which the most marginalized people are not consigned to deportation, lifetime imprisonment, poverty, or death at the hands of Democrats who are better than Republicans but not nearly good enough.  Third-party voting and abstaining from the presidential election altogether are strategies designed to either change the Democratic Party or create an alternative in a political system that has failed disadvantaged populations for decades, as Sebastian Castro points out.

It’s perfectly fine to challenge the efficacy of that strategy, and I encourage everyone to read compelling cases for lesser-evilsism in 2016 from Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky and John Halle, Shaun King, and Adolph Reed.  I evaluate the risks of Trump relative to Clinton and a lesser-of-evils vote relative to third-party voting differently than they do, but I also have a ton of respect for where they and other social justice advocates like them are coming from.

It is wrong, however, for anyone to wield accusations of privilege as a cudgel against those with different electoral strategies, especially because this tactic ignores the voices of Michelle Alexander, Cate Carrejo, Rosa Clemente, Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, Benjamin Dixon, Eddie Glaude, Marc Lamont Hill, Jenn Jackson, Rania Khalek, Arielle Newton, Kwame Rose, Kshama Sawant, Cornel West, and numerous other members of marginalized groups who support alternatives to the Democratic Party and/or believe it’s fine not to vote at all.

Those who prioritize identity politics should also remember that prominent spokespeople for the Green Party (including Clemente and Cuéllar) tend to be less privileged than their Democratic Party counterparts, that a woman has been on the Greens’ presidential ticket every single year in which the party has launched a bid for the White House (beginning in 1996), and that the party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates this year – Stein and Ajamu Baraka – are by far the least privileged candidates running.

Third-Party Critics Misrepresent Voter Demographics

Statistics on Green Party voters in the United States are hard to find, but it’s possible to back out some rough estimates from recent polling.  The graph below uses data from four different polls to compare demographic shares among registered Clinton supporters, registered Stein supporters, and all registered voters.


The estimates debunk the notion that Stein’s base is especially privileged.  Her supporters are about as likely as Clinton’s to be women and seem to be a little less likely than Clinton voters to make over $50,000 a year or to have the privilege of a college degree.  The confidence intervals on these estimates are likely fairly large and the average differences between the candidates’ supporters in these domains, if there are any, are thus probably small, but other evidence also suggests that Green Party voters tend to have low incomes; as Carl Beijer has observed, Ralph “Nader had a stronger 2000 performance among voters making less than $15,000 a year than he had with any other income demographic.”

Beijer also makes an important point about the domain in which Stein and Clinton supporters differ most: age.  While age-based privilege is a complicated concept – both young and old people can be targets of discrimination – younger voters have to worry much more than older voters about “what happens over the span of decades if [they] keep voting for increasingly right-wing Democrats.”

Now, to be fair, Clinton voters are more likely than Stein voters to be people of color.  But Stein’s share of voters of color is similar to the share in the general population of registered voters; Stein voters are not disproportionately White.  Looking at the total population that won’t vote for Clinton, which is a larger universe than the set of registered voters who support Stein, provides an even more striking rebuttal to the those-who-oppose-Clinton-are-White-male-Bernie-Bros narrative.  As Visser shows, Reuters data actually suggests that over 40 percent of people of color do not plan to vote for Clinton in 2016.  In fact, neither do over 45 percent of the LGBTIQ community, nor the majority of women, “marginalized religious folk,” and people making less than $50,000 a year.

None of those statistics change the fact that I, along with many Clinton supporters, am privileged enough to have little to lose from a Trump presidency.  But like nearly all Clinton supporters – and unlike the millions of people who, as Visser reminds us, “do not have the privilege of feeling or being any safer under Democrats [as] opposed to Republicans” – I have even less to fear from a Clinton win.  Pundits and partisans would do well to spend less time alleging that third-party voters don’t care about the disadvantaged and more time reflecting on why large numbers of people are much more worried than they are about the status quo.


Filed under 2016 Election, Philosophy, Sports, US Political System

Intro and critique of post-racial ideology

I posted this as a facebook status a while ago, and it resonated with some people; so I figured I’d post it here as well to kick things off. It’s about “race”, so I’ll give a quick intro of my views on race.

Race will not a huge topic for me, mostly because being black (full disclosure) I’ve already thought so much about race, it’s already caused me so much pain, angst, rage, and sorrow, that I’ve essentially decided to take long, periodic breaks from thinking about race. I think it’s good for all people who have been systematically discriminated against to occasionally shut it out of their minds (if they can) and simply live. It is a pity that some people let racial ideology color all of their thought and discourse. I went through a period where I read nothing but race-related literature, and although I learned a lot, I became militant and cynical.

Don’t get me wrong: The fight against racial injustice is far from over, but in order for a “person of color” (what a vapid moniker) to grow more fully in the great personal and Emersonian[1] sense, I sincerely believe they must take a break from all race-related thinking. For me, I can’t watch a movie or read a book about “black issues” or “the state of black men” without feeling the inevitable rage or disgust frothing and foaming in my bosom. It is there, I cannot deny it; and many times, I simply laugh it off. I know it is reality, but sometimes, we should leave reality. Why? To get a better view of our own condition, just like traveling helps you get a more comprehensive view of your own country.

I have been both victim and perpetrator of racism on several occasions. Weird, huh? I know you won’t hear many people say this, but I believe most racism is unconscious because of the subtle cultural cues we ingest as we engage with our environment, so it stands to reason that I could be both, even at the same time! (Especially from the American point of view: America was racially stratified from day 1. In other words, the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal” was an utter hoax, unless one assumes that black men were not actually “men”)

Anyway, if you’re still reading, athena bless you, and here you go:

Post-race as a stupidity. There is a false ethos that says America is beyond “race” (and whoever ascribes to this ethos thinks they are so wise, progressive, and free). With the advent of political correctness and the voice of its cynical and myopic backlash, you can’t be black and discuss racism at the same time without being called a race-baiter. [2] And so now there is a whole behemoth of schmucks who believe that every time race is mentioned as one of many possible causes or the main cause, the speaker instantly loses all credibility. “Race can be neither cause nor effect. Are you still talking about this? It’s 2013. C’mon! Just get over it, will you?” No method of coping could be more dumb and useless! [3] These people have historical Alzheimer’s. They really think America can deliberately practice all types of racism for several centuries, then eradicate legal racism in 1964 – and 50 years later, all incidences of personal and communal racism will vanish into thin air. Really, I wish they were right. Laws have always changed faster, and more gracefully, than cultural attitudes. And since racism was a fact of culture for centuries, this means it was handed down like a tradition, a “just the way it is” – in the same way that Christmas is a tradition. And now what people want is a national affliction of collective amnesia – and for everyone to shake off their past oppressions like a bad dream – “All the women please stand up, and shake off all the injustices men have done to you”. Women would very well be shaking for all eternity!

[1] To give you an idea of what I’m trying to say, here is an excerpt of Emerson’s seminal essay, Self-Reliance: “Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; — and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients.” Typical Emerson, right? But perhaps Ralph Ellison put it better in The Invisible Man by realizing that a race is the collection of its individuals, and we disallow ourselves to be whole human beings if we always think through the lens of race, politics, and/or ideology.

[2] If you are not familiar with the concept of ‘race-baiting’, read up on it. It is part of the “cynical and myopic backlash” to political correctness that I mentioned earlier, which is a direct outgrowth of insidious white privilege that fancies itself so objective, honest, and “post-race”. I will admit, there are some blacks and others who use the “excuse of racism” as a crutch, but I contend this is far from the norm. Trust me, no one would be thinking about race if they didn’t have to. Why? It sucks. This is not a call for pity; this is the lived experience of actual people.

[3] Word choice is the most agonizing task for a writer. By “dumb”, I mean it is a lazy and ahistorical way to view racial issues. By “useless”, I meant it’s basically ignoring the complaints of the oppressed, because it’s saying those complaints don’t exist. The oppressed are not always right, but they should be heard.

Most of my posts will be much shorter than this diatribe, as I’m terribly fond of the aphorism. To give you an idea of what to expect, I hope to offer you a series of very rich debate openings, in a very scatterbrained fashion. The life of the mind is utterly disturbing, enigmatic, and friendly — won’t you join me?


Filed under Race and Religion