Date: 11-12-94 17:16 (Public)
From: Paul Kienitz
Subject: prejudice in politics
I was talking to a friend of mine, who grew up in the South and now lives
in Berkeley, about the recent election, and though in most ways she
doesn't appear nearly as visibly leftist or radicalized as me, she's very
aware of issues of racial and sexual prejudice, and had some interesting
observations about the elections that I hadn't noticed myself. The
important points of the conversation, paraphrased in concise form, were
something like this:
her: "That's how prejudice works in elections. A week before the
election the polls say the woman or minority candidate is ahead, but
when people get in the booth they suddenly don't want to vote for
anyone but a white male, and the minority candidate gets substantially
fewer votes than anyone predicts."
me: "I've often noticed that voters get cold feet about any kind of
change as election day draws close. In the spring they want to throw
the bums out, but in late October they change their minds and side
with the incumbent. Or with the more conservative candidate, if
there's no incumbent in the race. This is part of the same pattern
of avoiding change."
her: "And it works very strongly against women. Most male incumbents
are re-elected with little difficulty. Women incumbents have no such
me: "Ann Richards lost to a marine invertebrate, Kathleen Brown lost
badly against a distinctly unpopular incumbent, after leading by a
huge margin in the summer, and Dianne Feinstein won by the skin of
her teeth after polls had shown her with a much better lead."
her: "And look at what Feinstein is. She's sixty years old, with
twenty years experience in politics and one of the strongest records
of accomplishment ever seen in a Senate freshman, she's in the center
on most issues, and she has plenty of money. Her opponent has no
public service experience, he's twenty years younger, he's known to be
hardly a real resident of the state he's running in, he represents an
ideology popular with a much smaller part of the population..."
me: "And he committed major gaffes late in the campaign."
her: "Right. THAT IS WHAT IT TAKES for a woman to be able to win!"
her: "Did you see the results of the judicial confirmation votes?"
me: "No, I didn't even bother with that section of the ballot."
her: "I had fun with it. I voted yes for all the women and no for all
the men. (laughter)"
her: "I looked at the results, and all of the incumbents were
reconfirmed easily, with three exceptions: the two women I voted for,
and one man. I wondered why he'd done so much worse than the others,
and then I remembered: oh, he's the one who's black."
her: "In the Berkeley School Board race, two thirds of the candidates
running were black, and all of the winners were white. No wait, one
of them was a very light skinned black man. He was an engineer or
something with no school-related experience. That was true of some of
the other winners too -- less qualified than the people who lost."
me: "I've noticed myself that plenty of black men successful in
politics are light skinned. Like Lionel Wilson, who was mayor of
Oakland for twelve years."
[Lionel Wilson is not only light skinned but has straightened hair. He is
one of the UGLIEST mothafuggas you ever saw. An awful mayor, too. Oakland
has a majority black population, but not until 1990 did we elect a black
mayor who LOOKS black, or ever talks black.]
her: "Even in Berkeley, even the liberal slate for something like rent
board is typically chosen to include exactly one token minority
[This friend is, by the way, a professional computer programmer employed
by a large famous software company. She reports that, contrary to many
popular stories, she sees PLENTY of anti-woman and anti-minority bias in
her industry. In her company, white male INCOMPETENTS and DRUNKS get
promoted over women or the one black man on the premises.]
... "THAT IS WHAT IT TAKES for a woman to be able to win!"