Friday, November 5th, 2010

It’s Bigger Than Politics :: My Thoughts On The 2010 Elections

Hey fam, if you hadn’t seen it yet, Jamilah King from Colorlines interviewed me the other day for some of my thoughts on the 2010 election. The article is up here.

Here’s a teaser:

First, let’s get some historical context. What makes this political moment so potentially galvanizing for young voters of color? Aren’t we supposed to be “post-racial”?

The culture wars are back, and they have targeted a new generation. To me, Sharron Angle’s “you look Asian to me” moment was a perfect example. Pundits and bloggers focused on the stupidity of her comment, but the discussion was prompted by a Chicano student who was calling her out on her anti-immigration commercials that featured criminalized brown youths. Angle’s defense—I’m so colorblind, I can’t even tell what race you are—was not just hilarious, it was brutal in its dishonesty. The ads that the students objected to were far from colorblind.

For the right, this election proved—from Rand Paul to Jan Brewer—that racialized appeals to older white voters still mobilize, that the culture wars still work. The upside is that in Nevada, Chicano and Latino voters and young voters flipped the race for (Harry) Reid, who had been several points down in the days leading up to the election.

Young voters, particularly those of color, really rallied behind Obama in 2008. There’s been a lot of talk of how that support is quickly eroding. What needs to be done to once again strengthen that electoral base?

Obama did fairly well by youth. He passed an outstanding student loan overhaul package that will immediately help access to higher education, especially in this era of skyrocketing public school tuition. Perhaps he could have sold it better. But his communications failure was a sign of a larger failure. Going on MTV was good. Barnstorming college campuses was good. Sending a message of “Vote or Die” in 2010 was not good. What Obama failed to do for young people was what he failed to do for his base, because youths are now definitively seen as his base: offer a positive progressive vision for the next 2 years.

You’ve written about the cultural and demographic shifts that are currently changing the country’s electorate. Those shifts have already been exploited in, say, marketing. Why hasn’t that shift really been seen in politics yet?

This is what I mean about the larger failure. Obama’s 2008 election marked the culmination of a cultural shift—the arrival of a new cultural majority—that he does not yet seem to grasp.

Culture always moves before politics. Think of how Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut preceded Brown vs. Board of Education, or how Ellen Degeneres’ coming-out preceded court rulings on same-sex marriage and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Cultural change is often the dress-rehearsal for political change. Or put in another way, political change is the final manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred.

You can check the whole thing here.

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