by Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate
I remember several years ago, when I was still a moderator at a local Asian American forum. I got into a discussion with an Asian American woman from the South, over the appropriate response when being called “Oriental” or some other antiquated (and/or derogatory) name for an Asian American. Being born and raised in Canada, and then pursuing my undergraduate degree in upstate New York, I couldn’t fathom a place(only a few thousand miles away) where old-school perceptions — and antipathy — towards concepts of race and race identity ran so rampant.
Having been in Tucson, Arizona, for three years this August, I’m starting to see where this person was coming from. Beyond being called my fair share of “Oriental”, I’m surrounded by the deeply-ingrained, institutionalized Old (White) Boys’ Network, and it’s really starting to dishearten me. I want to destroy the people responsible for the unfair treatment, the double-standards, and the blatant stereotyping; yet, the insidiousness of institutionalized racism is that no one person is at fault. There’s no single face I can bloody.
Like many people of colour, I’m faced with the iniquity of being an underprivileged minority, the knowledge that these double standards are not fair, or just, or right, and the understanding that there’s no one — no one – I can petition to change it. And so, I’m left increasingly angry and frustrated.
The local campaign I’m volunteering with (which you can read about at EphraimCruz.com) out here in Tucson is part of a seven-way race for two State House seats. Cruz is arguably the only viable candidate of colour running to represent a district that is 52% Latino.
Our coalition is diverse: we’ve had supporters of all races come to volunteer for our campaign. But it’s inescapable that the candidate, and his top two organizers (myself and electroman) are political outsiders and people of colour.
And the obstacles we’ve faced, some days, seem insurmountable.
Coming into the race, our candidate was immediately written-off. First, they said we would never be able to get through the candidacy declaration process. When we established our committee, then they said we would never get enough nominating signatures to get on the ballot. When we collected those signatures in record time, they laughed that we would never be able to get public financing. Even now that we’ve gotten our public financing before the incumbent, they continue to discount our candidacy.
It would be foolish for me to summarily conclude that this immediate doubt of our campaign’s activities and qualifications have to do with race. But, compared to our closest competitors, our campaign has had more volunteers consistently on the ground, we’ve achieved our requirements faster than convention dictates, and we’ve worked equally hard — if not harder — than every other candidate in order to get there. And yet, while the White candidates are instinctively ranked by casual observers as front-runners, the Brown candidates are immediately dismissed as inconsequential. We have to struggle just to be taken seriously.
Newspaper reporters have published flat-out wrong articles attacking my candidate, and the Democratic Party assumes that the character assassination must be real, even when we can point out the libelous nature of the reporting. We can’t say why our campaign is treated with such unbalanced disrespect, but it hasn’t escaped my attention that none of the White candidates have to worry about a reporter putting a biased spin on their coverage; none of the White candidates have had to worry about any negative press at all.
And that’s even when it’s warranted. Over the weekend, our campaign discovered that one of our White opponents — who has received taxpayer dollars in public financing – broke the rules and didn’t report a more than $200 expense on his campaign finance reports (which subjects each contribution and expenditure to rules and limits).
Chump change? I don’t have the luxury to believe that. Not only would folks all over Southern Arizona freak out with delight if our campaign had made a mistake in our campaign finances, but in order to stay competitive in what we’re seeing as an increasingly unbalanced playing field, we’ve had to make our money stretch. I don’t know how other campaigns would spend an extra $200, but for our campaign, $200 represents over 1,200 pieces of campaign literature, and the opportunity to knock on the doors of more than 1,000 additional voters.
That same Democratic opponent trolled the blogosphere — including this blog — to hype his candidacy, including spreading negative statements against other candidates. When he was challenged on this tactic, he sent his wife to adopt various pseudonyms to continue his work of spreading vicious lies about his opponents. For reasons that you and I can only guess at, they targeted most of their attention to my candidate instead of the other front-runners — who are, you guessed it, White.
Yet, why isn’t anyone in the Democratic Party upset about these repeated attacks against a fellow life-long Democrat? Why is the status quo so willing to belittle and discount a candidate of colour trying to do the right thing, when they will happily ignore a White candidate breaking the rules in their own ranks?
And the sad truth is that electroman and I, along with our candidate, want to run a clean, issue-based campaign that centers the voters square in the discussion. We truly believe that good representation is about paying attention to the voters and what they need help with in their lives, not about these politics-as-usual tactics. The sad truth is that we’ve had to put up with negative innuendo and outright lies about my candidate for months, all spread by our opponents who can’t reciprocate the same courtesy they extend to themselves — to respect my candidate’s qualifications for the job and demand an equal playing field that would allow us to win or lose on the merits of our argument.
For a long time, I’ve blogged about minority communities needing more and better political representation in politics. Asian Americans represent less than 1% of American politicians, and we need to increase those numbers significantly if we expect to achieve the civil liberties and equality we so duly deserve. In general, I believe that more people of colour should be entering into politics, to help ensure that minority communities can get proper representation.
But, I’m gaining a better grasp of how truly tough that mandate is. The Old (White) Boys’ Network simply won’t let people of colour compete on a balanced playing field. Even among Democrats, who are supposed to be the party for the little guy, you have the Hillary Clinton syndrome — Democrats are supportive of helping advance the causes of minority communities, as long as they’re not the ones who have to put their ambitions at risk to do so. The minute you threaten to actually try to do something to better your community, if you’re taking something ear-marked for someone in the Old (White) Boys’ Network, they seem do everything in their power to weigh the odds against you.
Here, Democrats talk a good game about needing more Latino faces in state government to represent a majority-Hispanic region. But none of that has translated into any institutionalized sort of support — or even faith — in a smart, talented, and principled Latino man like Ephraim Cruz who wants to run to represent his district because it’s the right thing to do.
Racism in America is no longer about chastising the man who calls you a “chink”, a “jap”, a “gook”, a “nigger”, a “spic” or a “wetback”. Racism in America is about combating the non-minority men and women who smile to your face and talk about how they really, really, really want to see better opportunities for people of colour, but who are the first to take you for granted, ignore you, or insult you, when they wouldn’t even dream of treating a White person with your credentials the same way.
On days like today, you have to wonder why you even bother involving yourself in the racism of politics. On days like today, you’re reminded just how much of a leg-up the right skin-tone can give you and how much of a disadvantage you’re at if you’re just not part of the cool clique. On days like today, you’re reminded that no one in the Old (White) Boys’ Network gives a damn about doing the right thing, just about staying in power.
And on days like today, you wonder why you — a well-meaning person of colour — try, when all they want is be entertained by yet another minority who fails.
Jenn is a volunteer for Ephraim Cruz. Clearly, [Reappropriate] is her personal blog, and none of her writings are the least bit reflective of Cruz or his campaign.