Political Confessions and Questions

by Latoya Peterson

Under the diversity banner and strategy, what you get is a lot of white organizations “reaching out” to communities of color, to get communities of color to carry out the agenda of these white organizations with all their white leadership have developed. — Rinku Sen, Facing Race Plenary Session

Dear readers, those of you who have been with us for a few years know about the long standing issues I have with the American political machine. Politics is intricately tied to movements for social justice, so it cannot be ignored completely – but it definitely feels like a shell game.

There is a post I need to write about Maria Teresa Kumar’s comments at Facing Race, particularly the part where she explains why people of color need to engage in political organization and action. (Kumar runs Voto Latino with Rosario Dawson.) There is a post I need to write about a panel at Blogging While Brown where Gina talked about how conservatives invest in their bloggers as part of their community, which is a benefit liberal bloggers do not receive.

We are long overdue for some discussions on the intersections between politics and social justice. However, I find myself declining to participate in a lot of political discourse. Part of that is just me – I grew up in Silver Spring, MD, right outside of Washington, DC and the gaps between Washington (where those with power and influence work and play) and DC (where normal folks try to live in the shadow of this power) are in my face all day, every day.

But the other reason why I generally avoid politics is best summed up with Danielle Belton’s post on Representative James Clyburn’s black blogger press junket:

In a fiery presser on Capitol Hill Thursday where he at times seemed visibly frustrated, South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn blasted members of the Democratic base who were withdrawing support, money during the Midterm elections. He said those Liberal and progressive critics who get stuck on things like the health care bill not being exactly what they wanted lose sight of the long battle.

See, this is why I’m a registered Independent voter.

Danielle was kind enough to forward me the email to the political blog party, and I debated going. Now, the last time I stuck my toe into one of these type events, and posted what I felt was a fairly neutral discussion, I got all kinds of blowback, and I think the poor friend who invited me was totally embarrassed that I didn’t play right. So I tend to leave these kinds of things alone.

And yet, comments like this tend to rub me the wrong way:

Clyburn argued that Liberals need to have the long-view.

“(President Lyndon) Johnson said a half a loaf is better than no loaf at all,” Clyburn said.

In 1964, Johnson was up for election against Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, a hardline, anti-civil rights conservative from Arizona. With the help of activists and supporters, Johnson won the campaign, Democrats took majorities in Congress. With their wins came the passage of a multitude of bills that helped the African American community and poor people — from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Great Society Plan — the latter of which that would go on to be expanded under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

I think a lot of us have been eating off these half loaves of bread for some time. And while it is generally better to have half a loaf than none at all, one has to wonder why everyone else in the breadline seems to be entitled to a full loaf. Some of us are *always* asked to take our half, in hopes that the folks who have full loaves will eventually share. And as we wait for our share, we are still supposed to be good little soldiers for the party, turning out our pockets and bringing full throated support, in order to get half-baked results.

And this is the part I can’t get behind. It isn’t about this one issue. There is a very long history of marginalized communities getting shafted by those claiming to work in their best interests. That’s why I liked Rinku’s quote at the top of the post – this kind of outreach is very one sided. There is always this onus on the people to change their behavior. Clyburn says:

“There are 41 African Americans in our caucus and you don’t get to 218 (a majority vote in Congress) without us. We’re busting out butts out there to get to 218,” he said. “We passed the black farmer’s bill five times! We passed the damn bill! But (the CBC) ain’t in the Senate. Y’all ought to be camped out at the Senate, but you keep coming around here asking what are you doing? What are you doing?”

So, say we go and camp out at the Senate. Then what? Do we get the full loaf of bread because there’s a Democratic majority? Oh wait. So we have a majority, we still can’t get what we want, and we’re supposed to…keep going? Is the ultimate goal to completely disenfranchise Republicans and to fill every seat with a Democrat? I mean, we could try that – but would anything really change? Or would we shift to blaming the lobbyists? Or the Blue Dogs?

Politics is a tool of change. It is not the end result or the end goal. And I think that’s where I keep choking. So, I have a lot more to think about and a lot more to write. And I’m still struggling with how much political content we want to keep on the blog. Racist shenanigans will always have a place, but is it time for Racialicious to actively engage with politics? (Or, more realistically, to open the floor to those like Maria Teresa who want to advocate?)

To be honest, we aren’t a bipartisan blog by any means. Most of the folks writing here are liberal, and while we have a handful of conservative commenters, the whole site swings way liberal. (And to be honest, I don’t know how y’all conservatives hang.)

However, I wouldn’t want our site to become overly political in that way. We’re already extremely polarizing, and I don’t see the need to add that particular bit to our activism stew. And we aren’t becoming a booster club for the Democrats by any means, which will piss off the party-faithful. And, to be quite honest, there is a lot of conservative thought within minority communities that we haven’t really explored. I’m not talking about Malkin-esque delusions, but the more day to day stuff.

Just looking at the comments to the article we linked to on No Wedding, No Womb reveals that we have folks who are ready to dismantle the entire hetero-patriarchal system and folks who quote the Moynihan report like it’s holy scripture.

This should not be a surprise – after all, we are not monolithic.

But as Arturo and I are reworking site and content to reflect a different type of mix, what role should politics play?