Voting For You Because You Look Like Me

I was talking with a friend about the Chicago mayoral election.  He asked me what I thought about it.  I told him that my current dilemma is, after watching the whittling away of several African American candidates, paying attention to the candidates who remain. 

I told him that I’ve held my interest to see what would happen with all the Black candidates, to see what decisions they’d make, whether any would leave the competition.  Then I told him that I’m really concerned about the potential of the race as it relates to race. 

It seems to me that even as a Black man part of my decision is in 1) hearing and researching and learning about several or all of the candidates’ positions and to let that research inform and guide my vote or 2) voting with or for the person who best puts forward the agenda that closely connects with the uplift of Black folk in the city.  The two are not necessarily exclusive; they aren’t necessarily connected.

What does it mean if all the Black registered voters support and vote for a Black candidate, while all the Latino registered voters support and vote for a Latino candidate?  Are white folks to vote for a white candidate, or can white registered voters choose across the multiethnic ballot?  Is the expectation for us to vote within our cultural corners?  Does that place us in a voting climate like the 1970s and 80s?  Does that mean the political landscape in Chicago continues to be among the most racially segregated in the nation?

I think there’s something to voting for people who you can connect with you beyond policy, especially since policy is not developed on a campaign.  Newly elected officials often edit themselves when the names change on doors, checks, and stationery.  Policy happens when information, values, concerned citizens, and the other pieces to the real puzzle emerge.  That’s probably always after votes are counted and winners declared.  So as a voter, I’ve got to think beyond the words people use.  But I also need to look beyond ethnic identification when I’ve been taught to support my own.  I think it’ll be easy to say how much people should vote their interests over the next few weeks, not their racial or cultural affiliations, but I wonder how many people will do that?  I wonder whether it’s possible in a political climate like the current one for people to trust if and when they’ve had only certain kinds of interactions with, say, Black folk or Latino folk.

How are you thinking about these or related questions, particularly for you following Chicago’s mayoral politics?


4 thoughts on “Voting For You Because You Look Like Me

  1. (Full disclosure: I am white, male, educated, and relatively rich. I do not intend to offend anyone with my following statements–I ask what I do out of honest ignorance and a desire to understand. And I use “black” instead of “African-American” because the latter term is too long to type repeatedly and makes for awkward phrasing, while the former term is used within our civil discourse and media and seems to me to be PC. Correct me if I’m wrong. Thanks.)
    I’ve been bothered by the various news outlets that have repeatedly promoted/reported on this candidate or that candidate as the one who best represents “Black Politics.” (It seems the Chicago Black Caucus has settled on Carol Moseley Braun as that candidate.)

    I do not comprehend that term, or what sort of policy platform is particularly in support of black people. Is there something about *race* that makes it particularly applicable to a particular candidate, beyond common appearance (although, to be honest, with all the diversity of appearance and heritage found among people described as ‘black,’ such commonality isn’t as homogeneous as us white folk would like to imagine)? Is there a “Black Politics” that is different from “socio-economic status politics” or “neighborhood politics” (given the city’s segregation) or “education politics”?

    I cannot comprehend how this term, promoted by the various public figures and groups, can do anything but promote further racial divisions in our city. It seems that some people would like to claim a “Black Politics” that excludes other races, and promote a candidate that speaks specifically to a single race (though those candidates would, no doubt, love to appeal across racial boundaries for the sake of more votes).

    More to your original question, I think that people should examine character, past experience and performance, and policy proposals/campaign promises when deciding for whom to vote. They should not consider race (though some will, no doubt) or ability-to-fundraise (aka ‘viability’) or much else, really.

  2. Dear Josh –

    Thanks for the full disclosure. I am Black, female, educated and relatively poor (smile). Unarguably, candidates should be elected based upon principles, not race. However, the reality is that some of the principles that are central to the Black community happen to involve issues that are specific to Blacks. On that basis, there such a thing as Black politics. Here’s why: Black politics addresses issues that are central to the Black community (i.e. relatively high unemployment, youth and gun violence, poor educational systems, etc.). These are things that are pervasive in Black communities (others as well, but pervasive in Black communities nonetheless). The term is not an exclusionary term, it is in essence a quest for a political agenda that seeks to resolve these disparities (whatever the reason for them may be). It is also a quest for a candidate who can understand what it means to be Black in the city of Chicago or in America (for that matter) and will address the things that press upon Blacks as a whole. Add to that, Black politics exists because not long ago, we had no right to a political opinion, let alone the right to vote and Black politics (while some view it as a diminishing necessity) is still necessary due to the enormous gap in family wealth between Blacks and Whites, the need to advance social and economic justice and the need for Black communities that mirror the safer, more established and better policed communities of our White counterparts.

  3. I think Aja goes to the heart for me, Josh. I’ll add one assumption, an assumption of a lot of people, perhaps not all, in the Black community: It’s possible for a person who concerns himself or herself with the political needs of the Black community to, in expressing that concern, in promoting that platform, also express the political needs of non-Blacks. When I think of some of the specific concerns for Black people, like Aja mentioned, those concerns are pronounced in my racial community in ways they aren’t in others. But if and when the issues are addressed for Black folks, they are inherently addressed for all folks. For instance, it’s possible for a mayor to be concerned with business interests in Chicago. Daley was. He is adored by business people, some business people. But that concern to date, after 20 years of his administration has little influence on the hardly-existent numbers of Black-owned and Women-owned business contracts in the city. My point would be if the unfair practices concerning Blacks and women are addressed, aren’t they addressed for all people in the way you’re getting at in your comment? But it can’t necessarily be said that once you address business issues in general, you’re addressing them for all. The experience of Black citizens of Chicago don’t prove that statement correct. In liberation theology, particularly that which James Cone develops, there is language about faith work, theological work, from the underside. When I think of your question–is a candidate speaking to one race or many–I believe a person can talk and work for a diverse citizenry, if that person starts at the underside, which, unfortunately always means in our USA starting with Black folk. What do you think?

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