Saturday, November 03, 2012

Same Old Tune

Jeffrey W. Robbins, chairperson and professor of religion and philosophy at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, writes, in paragraphs opening and closing his op-ed in

Don't look now, but with only a few days left until the presidential election, one of the most potentially explosive and divisive issues has not become a factor:  religion...

With all the partisan bickering and mounting challenges we face, might this be a sign that the religious tolerance enshrined in our Constitution, and fought for by our Founding Fathers for practical and principled reasons, has finally become a reality?  We'll have to wait and see- and maybe even hope and pray- but I, for one, am heartened.

Haven't we heard this before?    From many people we have and in this case, from the often wrong, always thoughtful, John McWhorter, who maintained in a column titled "Racism In America Is Over"

The question someone like me has been asked to answer several times a week since Nov. 5 has been, "Are we now in a post-racial America?"

Giving an answer requires that we know what the question really refers to: whether America is past racism. Moreover, the point is largely racism against black people, i.e., Barack Obama, i.e., the people who are America's eternal shame, and so on. We are not really thinking about racism against Arabs. Most of us have a sense that the Asian pitching in on how the question applies to her is vaguely beside the point.

So, in answer to the question, "Is America past racism against black people," I say the answer is yes.

Of course, nothing magically changed when Obama was declared president-elect. However, our proper concern is not whether racism still exists, but whether it remains a serious problem. The election of Obama proved, as nothing else could have, that it no longer does.

Nice try, John- no, really nice try, arguing merely that the election of Barack Obama demonstrated a significant decline of racism in America, rather than, as many conservatives did, that his election proved that racism had died in the nation.

However, The Guardian of the United Kingdom recently reported

Racial prejudice in America is more widespread now than when President Barack Obama became the country's first black president in a historic 2008 vote, a new survey has shown.

In a poll of racial attitudes by the Associated Press news agency, researchers found that more Americans have attitudes that are both implicit and explicitly racist than when the same survey was conducted four years ago...

When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56%, up from 49% during the last presidential election.

"As much as we'd hope the impact of race would decline over time … it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on voting is about the same as it was four years ago," said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop the survey...

The survey also found that some 79% of Republicans expressed explicit racial prejudice compared to 32% of Democrats.

The implicit test too showed that 64% of Republicans had racial prejudice compared to 55% of Democrats, while independents came in at 49%.

The explicit racism test asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about black and Hispanic people.

In addition, the surveys asked how well respondents thought certain words, such as "friendly", 'hardworking", ''violent" and "lazy" described blacks, whites and Hispanics.

The same respondents were also administered a survey designed to measure implicit racism, in which a photo of a black, Hispanic or white male flashed on the screen before a neutral image of a Chinese character.

The respondents were then asked to rate their feelings toward the Chinese character. Previous research has shown that people transfer their feelings about the photo onto the character, allowing researchers to measure racist feelings even if a respondent does not acknowledge them.  

I don't have sufficient details to determine whether the survey accurately determined racial attitudes, whose likely impact on the outcome of the presidential race is probably fairly complicated.   But let's not be overly cautious:  however precisely the survey measured racial preference (including pro-black sentiment), it found more negative attitudes of Americans toward blacks than it did four years ago.   As Jerry once (under)stated on Seinfeld, "this can't be good."

Selection (by less than 60% of actual voters) of the first black president in United States history did not prove that racial animus has ended, or even diminished, in the nation.  We didn't need a survey by a news organization to prove that, though it was helpful, especially in view of Americans eager to convince themselves in 2008-2009 that we can relax, having proven wrong all those people who had accused them of being "racist."

Now an accomplished academic hopes that the absence of discussion of religion in this campaign "is a sign that the religious tolerance enshrined in our Constitution... has finally become a reality.

It neither proves nor even suggests anything of the kind.   Each campaign is ignoring the elephant in the room for its own strategic purposes and the media is following suit, wary of raising an issue which neither side itself appears to have introduced.   Sure, Mitt Romney, demonstrating underrated political agility, during the primary campaign did tell a sympathetic audience that he believes both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are "probably inspired."   Conveniently, his supporters there and elsewhere recognized that as shorthand for "divinely inspired," while the media was unsuspecting. In the general campaign, Romney has wisely avoided repeating the contention now that he is appealing to a broader array of voters.

Mitt Romney was a leader, albeit among many, in his church.  Yet, intimidated into silence, the media has taken a pass on any consideration of the impact of the candidate's faith on his personality, character, or political ideology while leaving voters largely ignorant about the religion of the man who may be the next President.      If the importance of religious values had been acknowledged (or at least considered), victory or defeat for Mitt Romney still would not have proven tolerance.    In its absence, the outcome on Tuesday will suggest nothing at all about religion in America.  

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