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Nov 15 2012

The black vote is the Maine problem

One common utterance you’ll hear when people go on the defensive about a racist statement or behaviour is that they couldn’t possibly be racist because they “have a black friend”. This “black friend” is sometimes a spouse, sometimes an actual friend, but just as often it’s a co-worker or someone they do business with, or maybe even someone who works for them. Whatever the person’s actual relationship with their “black friend”, they wish you to excuse a racist behaviour or attitude with the assurance that because they do not hate each individual black person on the planet, they are somehow safeguarded from having any of their behaviour identified as racist. This comes from the formulation that racism is something perpetrated by mythological creatures known as “racists”, a stance I unequivocally reject.

I have to say though, as common as the “I know and tolerate at least one black person” excuse is, this particular inversion of it is new to me:

The head of the Republican Party in Maine thinks there might have been voter fraud in his state because “nobody in town knows anyone who’s black,” but black voters came in to vote on election day. GOP state chairman Charlie Webster aims to find those who committed the alleged fraud fraud by sending thank you cards to voters, and seeing if they are returned to sender.

In an interview with an NBC affiliate, Webster said he was astounded by the “dozens, dozens of black people” who voted, and thought it was odd because he personally doesn’t know anyone who knows a black person in town:

In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day. Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in town knows anyone who’s black. How did that happen? I don’t know. We’re going to find out….

“I’m not politically correct and maybe I shouldn’t have said these voters were black, but anyone who suggests I have a bias toward any race or group, frankly, that’s sleazy.”

This one is “I’m not ‘a racist’ because I don’t know any black people”, which you have to at least admire for its boldness.

First, I have to boot-fuck this last sentence. It’s not “sleazy” that people are noticing how fucking racist this statement is. It carries with it the assumption that black voters in Maine deserve some particular scrutiny because, hey, you know how those blacks are (more on this later). It’s not a ‘dog whistle’, it’s a siren. Also, the problem here isn’t that you weren’t “politically correct”, Mr. Webster, it’s that you were not factually correct. Maine has black people. Yes, even in the “dozens”.

But let’s look at perhaps the most laughably, nakedly, obviously racist assumption at play here. Mr. Webster’s evidence for voter fraud is a combination of two things: first, that there were black people in Maine, and second, that because he personally doesn’t know any black people, they must therefore be foreign frauds.

The term “visible minority” is one that carries a great deal of ironic baggage in many areas. The obvious connotation is that you can tell, by simple visual inspection, that a person is a member of a demographic group that is not part of the majority. The irony enters into the conversation when you realize that, in many places, the existence of these people is erased or otherwise completely neglected when we think about “America”. African-Americans (and other hyphenated American groups) are often placed in positions where they are ‘technically’ citizens, but Americans for whom their race is their single most important defining feature. I talked a bit more about this in a previous post, but the take-home message is that the contributions and participation of Americans (this being true for Canadians as well) of colour is often omitted, save for those times when they are doing something specifically to advance the rights of their racial group.

The fact that the Republican party state chairman in Maine doesn’t personally know any black people is not evidence that black people don’t live in Maine. Maine is about 1.1% black, meaning there are somewhere around 14 thousand black Mainers (or, if you prefer, 1200 dozen). The fact that Charlie Webster doesn’t know any of them doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist. It’s far more likely, in my estimation, that due to a total lack of Republican outreach to the African-American community, rampant racial segregation all across the country, and the usual neglect that an overwhelming white majority has of small and therefore non-exploitable minority groups, what we’re seeing here is a simple case of confirmation bias. There’s also the possibility that black folks are just avoiding racist-ass motherufckers like Charlie Webster, but I wouldn’t presume.

What I will say is that this fits neatly with the larger Republican narrative from this last election cycle: that black people voting is suspect for fraud. That black people have to provide additional proof that they are indeed qualified to vote. In the old days, this was done through explicit policies like poll taxes and “literacy tests”. Today it’s done through barely-covert policies like “voter ID” that is designed to suppress the votes of not only black people, but pretty much anyone who would vote for a Democratic candidate. This is not a new story, and it is part of the attempt to erase people of colour from the collective consciousness, or at least to deny them (us) the possibility of equal partnership and participation. This story is not new, and it’s not just chuckle-fucks like Charlie Webster who are behind it.

Mr. Webster, however, is determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious phenomenon of black people existing. He’s going to send out postcards to everyone he suspects wasn’t a “real” voter. If I got one, I’d return it to sender as well, with a nice big ‘Fuck You’ written on it.

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37 comments

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  1. 1
    mythbri

    Crom, do you know the original source of that picture? I love the caption but I’d definitely like to know the event that inspired the photo itself.

    “I’m not racist because I don’t know anyone who’s black.”

    ….That’s definitely a new one.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    Ack, sorry no I don’t.

  3. 3
    busterggi

    Clearly these dozens of negro-folks (do they come in cartons like eggs?) crossed from some alternate dimension via Castle Rock or Derry.

  4. 4
    ZMiles

    This reminds me of a Law and Order episode with the really stupid conclusion that hinged on McCoy realizing the “fact” that there are no black people in Greenwich, Connecticut. Good grief.

  5. 5
    smrnda

    Given how segregated many cities are, and the lack of interest many (white) people have in socializing with people of other races, it’s possible for a white person (or really, any person) to live near a large population of some other demographic and have very little actual contact to the point of barely realizing that other populations exist. The fact that this guy doesn’t know any Black people tells us more about him than whether or not any actual Black people lived in his state.

  6. 6
    Lurker111

    No, no. They were bused in from South New Brunswick, which is overrun with Black Folk.

  7. 7
    John Small Berries

    Are you serious? I’m guessing at least 1,313 residents of Greenwich (if the demographics in Wikipedia are accurate) were rather surprised to hear that.

  8. 8
    khms

    http://laurbanroundtable.typepad.com/my_weblog/photo_gallery/

    Schenanigans, all right.

  9. 9
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    In his own defence to those comments he’s now gone traditional by pulling out his token black friend as proof that he’s not a racist:

    “I regret saying the word black because it wasn’t like I was singling out black,” Webster said. “The reason I said it, ‘cause I don’t know where you live, but where I come from in rural Maine, it’s a small percentage of the population. I think we’re the whitest state in the country. So if you go to the polls and see people who are black, it’s unusual. And when you see a lot of people who are black, like six or eight or ten people, you think, ‘Wow, where do they live?’ That was my point.”

    [...]

    Webster said he wasn’t racist and that he had several black friends.

    “There’s nothing about me that would be discriminatory. I know black people. I play basketball every Sunday with a black guy. He’s a great friend of mine. Nobody would ever accuse me of suggesting anything,” he said.

  10. 10
    Crommunist

    YES! Oh this quote makes me so happy.

  11. 11
    sharoncrawford

    If no one knew any of these dozens of Black people, how did they manage to get on the voting rolls? Unlike BC, you have to register to vote well before the election inh most US states.

  12. 12
    johnbaglow

    Just picked up “Racism Without Racists” by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. It ought to expand upon some of the perceptual problems about the problem that you have brought up here.

    Loved the pic, wonder if I’d dare to use it at my place? Oh, probably. :)

  13. 13
    steve84

    Pics or it didn’t happen

  14. 14
    Fern

    In the video, at 16:25, the interviewer asks, “Where did that happen?” Webster stammers, “In several… rural… Maine towns,” and then he goes back to touting his Super Cunning Postcard Caper. I really wish the interviewer had pressed him for more details — something tells me the response would have been pretty funny.

  15. 15
    freemage

    Sharoncrawford@6: Magical Vote Fraud fairies. Obama brought them back with him when he returned from the Martian Islamic Atheist Homosexual Communist Empire.

  16. 16
    ZMiles

    Yep. Season 14, episode 2, “Bounty.” It is (very, very loosely) based on the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.

  17. 17
    Fern

    Actually, Maine is one of the states that does allow election day registration. People registering less than 20 days before election day still must present a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, as well as some sort of document showing both their name and address, like a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, etc.

  18. 18
    Argle Bargle

    I play basketball every Sunday with a black guy. He’s a great friend of mine.

    After basketball we eat fried chicken and watermelon. Yo Bro!

  19. 19
    anatman

    so this ‘clever’ fellow has reinvented voter caging?

  20. 20
    Brad

    I did some reverse image searching and found http://laurbanroundtable.typepad.com/my_weblog/photo_gallery/ I guess that’s Sikivu’s dad??? Small world.

    Ian, could you indulge us with the backchannel? I found an… uuuuuuuuunnnnreliable… “source” with some story about dogfood and firefighters and ensuing lawsuit(s) costing LA 6 million, but can’t corroborate any more than LA and firefighters.

  21. 21
    Brad

    Aaand that’s what I get for opening fifty tabs at once and not refreshing before commenting. The rest stands, I guess.

  22. 22
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    This is a really impressive fellow: He apparently live in a town he doesn’t live in, since “nobody in town knows anyone who’s black,” but on the other hand he “..know[s] black people” and even ‘plays basketball every Sunday with a black guy.” How does that work, exactly, Mr Webster?

  23. 23
    crowepps

    Did the Black guy with whom he plays basketball vote?

  24. 24
    Pen

    Right on! For once I have nothing else to say. Oh well, just one thing. The ‘race and ethnicity’ bit on the census strikes me as important. It helps us to understand our communities and how they’re evolving even if our personal interactions happen to swing one way or another. The informal ‘headcount on the street’ approach that nobody does consciously anyway just isn’t good enough. I’m sad that one of my countries (France) has forbidden itself from asking this question. I understand the intention behind that but I think it promotes ignorance and discrimination.

  25. 25
    Keem

    “Martian Islamic Atheist Homosexual Communist Empire”. LOL!! Other than Islamic and communist that sounds like a pretty fun empire to be a part of

  26. 26
    kbonn

    It is even more insane because even if ZERO black people voted in Maine, Obama still carries the state.

    Obama actually won white men in a few states, Maine being one of them. It’s mind blowing. Black residents make of 1.02% of Maine’s population as of 2005, and Obama won Maine by quite a bit more than 1%.

    It really shows the bubble that a lot of people live in these days. Many republicans do not understand how they could have lost. So blame someone, because it can’t be a genuine loss. Well, let’s blame black people, after all the president is black. I’m not black, I didn’t vote for the president, I’m a real american. RE: Black and latinos aren’t real americans. They only voted for Obama because he bribed them with “stuff”.

    Then they can’t understand why the lose these two groups so badly. It really is amazing.

  27. 27
    johnradke

    Nobody would ever accuse me of suggesting anything.

    Oh, word? Cause I think like a millionty-seven people just did.

  28. 28
    Worldtraveller

    When I first saw this, I assumed it had to be a parody from The Onion.

    *sigh* Never underestimate the stupid, I guess.

  29. 29
    iainmartel

    There’s an interesting inverse correlation between the percentage of black voters in a state and the white vote for Obama. In states where “nobody knows anybody who is black”, like Maine, the white vote for Obama is quite high. But in states where blacks are a significant proportion of the population, whites overwhelmingly voted against Obama. The extreme, I think is Mississippi – over 30% black, but still went strongly to Romney because Obama only got 10% of the white vote.

  30. 30
    PatrickG

    Could you link a data source for that? I’m curious, but can’t find anything comprehensive (i.e. that does a state by state comparison).

    I’m curious to see how the vote panned out in Kentucky (i.e. who actually showed up). We’re 88.9% white / 8.0% black here according to census.gov, and iirc, we were the FIRST state to be declared by all major networks for Romney.

  31. 31
    iainmartel

    Not sure where I first saw that data, but here’s one source (reliability not clear): http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/11/10/1159759/-Percent-of-White-vote-won-by-Obama-2012-by-state. The correlation between “prop black” and “white Obama support” is -.46 – definitely not insignificant.

  32. 32
    PatrickG

    Thanks for the link.

    It’s an interesting exercise, but far too many assumptions to really do anything with (some of the data seems weird, too, or at least not matching up with the latest census figures — no data source is specified). As a BotE calculation, though, it’s quite fun. :)

  33. 33
    Brandt Hardin

    The racism of yesteryear has come full circle in our county. The entire world embraced our choice of a black President four years ago and most nations of the world still support him. The fringe elements of Republican sect have crept through into the mainstream once again with conservative mouthpieces planting the seeds of hate. The only doubt lies here at home rooting from bigotry. Watch the white hands paint Obama in Blackface at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/10/bamboozling-obama.html

  34. 34
    Crommunist

    I don’t think it’s “come full circle”, I think it never went away, we just found different words for it.

  35. 35
    ck

    Oh, so you’re a fan of the video series that blows open Obama’s secret past. Who knew that he really was the son of Hitler and a Kenyan Muslim alien Robot? Certainly not me.

  36. 36
    im

    There may actually be a side to that. I have realized that I subconsciously avoid people of some races because I am terrified of being racist in person.

    This is, of course, a completely terrible plan.

  37. 37
    Arctic Ape

    I just realized that white and brown eggs usually come in separate cartons. They might never learn to know each other!

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