The maps above (originally from PolitiComments.com) were cut and pasted into this post from the new Changelab report, Left or Right of the Colorline? Asian Americans and the Racial Justice Movement. The first one describes the Red-Blue electoral breakdown in 2004, and the second indicates in tan and red those territories that were once open to slavery. The chilling correspondence between these two maps used to feel like our unchangeable political destiny.
Forget the political parties. Both sides have had their day as the party of white supremacy. What we should remember is that whichever side racially sensitive whites chose controlled that formerly-open-to-slavery and slave-owning swath of the U.S. and anchored our politics to a racist agenda that puts the protection of white privilege ahead of the needs of people of color. Sure, some states have gone rogue. California, for example, was all for Reagan. But those former slave states have hung in there, choosing against whichever side is perceived to be choosing against the advancement of rights for peoples of color again and again.
But in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, some cracks started showing up in that map. A Black man ran for and won the presidency in those election years (I’m guessing you know that) while taking Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, and, in 2008, North Carolina. That’s something. Who would’ve thunk it?
The fact that Colorado and Washington State legalized recreational marijuana use by popular vote, while Maryland, Maine, and Washington voters affirmatively supported same sex marriage is also significant. But nothing is as significant than that a nominally liberal Black presidential candidate from Hawai’i won Florida and Virginia two elections in a row, even if he is a neo-con on foreign policy who is proposing an austerity budget.
And why is this so significant? Demographic change. The shifting electoral map isn’t just about shifting attitudes, but about the changing racial composition of the U.S. Immigration has played the biggest role in effecting this shift, something that those on the left can feel smug about. After all, the left opposed U.S. military intervention in Latin America and Asia, especially SE Asia. The left also opposed unfair U.S. trade practices vis a vis Latin America, especially Mexico. Neo-conservative foreign policy and neo-liberal economic policy have been major drivers of immigration into the U.S. from Latin America and Asia for the last few decades.
But there’s more going on than immigration. The shift is also being driven by the aging out of the baby boom generation – the folks who came of age during the 1960s and lived the drama of the Civil Rights Movement and the backlash to racial equity measures like busing and affirmative action.
That big, overwhelmingly white slice of the electorate that also trapped us in the same vein of popular music for 30 or so years is gradually losing their share of power to a new generation of younger, browner, and less socially conservative voters. Even evangelical Christians in this new cohort are leaning away from the politics of Christian right wingers like the legitimate rape candidates of the GOP in this election season, and mega churches and televangelical ministries are losing market share. There’s a little hope and change for you; an incentive to think forward.
But don’t get it twisted. The future isn’t ours, or at least not yet. Just because the demography of the country is changing doesn’t mean that social equity is already in the oven and simply needs some time to get cooked. The 2008 and 2012 elections were mostly about what folks were against – the Iraq War, the economic crash and the arrogance of elites, bans on abortion, and overt expressions of bigotry. So far, neither the Dems nor the GOP have given us much to be for. And while the fight over racial equity has found a good enemy to organize against in the GOP, the Democratic Party is hardly our friend.
As one reader of my blog put it,
During Reagan’s terms, Dems had 2 men who voted against the 64 [Civil Rights Act] as their leaders: House Speaker Jim Wright and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd. I’m quite sure the latter was an unrepentant segregationist at the time of his ascension. I’ve never heard the former repent but that doesn’t mean he didn’t.
Nor does it mean he did. The Republican Party may have had their Southern Strategy, but so far the Dems only counter to it seems to be to follow them to the right. Remember that under a Democratic president we have not curtailed the war on drugs, nor have we taken substantive action nor even had a real discussion of poverty in general and the disproportionate representation of peoples of color among the poor in particular. A record number of immigrant detentions and deportations occurred under a Democratic president, and attacks on the treaty rights and sovereignty of Native Americans continue unabated and outside of the view of most of us in the U.S.
No, this is not time for us to rest on our laurels. In fact, the tilting demographics should be a signal that the fight is just now about to begin.