I don't usually do political posts on the blog because on my high-spoons days, I'd just tell you to all go read Shakesville and on my low-spoons days, politics depresses the crap out of me and makes me start wondering if Canada is as cold as Margaret Atwood tells me it is. (It surely is. Margaret wouldn't lie to us. *sadface*) However! Today I am holed up in bed with food poisoning because god hates me , and I made the Very Big Mistake of saying so on Twitter and in doing so I noticed this hashtag: #ThingsRomneyShouldSaytotheNAACP.
So if you've always wondered if you might be racist, but you're not sure, here's a handy guide I've whipped up for you in between dealing with crushing abdominal pain.
1. A Vote For Christmas Past! If you vote based on your understanding of current events and their intersection with your personal needs, as opposed to voting on the basis of historical events that happened prior to your being born, but you expect People of Color to vote based on historical milestones that may or may not accurately reflect a current state of affairs, you might be a racist.
This one gets bandied about a lot, to my continued and utter astonishment. It's one of those logical fallacies that is so wrong that I'm not sure where to start in the dissection of it. Do we start with the fact that political parties are not controlled by a static unchanging charter set down in stone during the formation of the party, but rather they evolve over time in response to the people who compose it? Pointing out that civil rights was a platform of the Republican party in the 1900s is about as relevant in the year 2012 as pointing out that both parties overwhelmingly supported prohibition in the 1900s. (Can we really trust our vote to either party if they're just going to turn around and ban the production of beer? They've done it before, after all!)
But dabbling in the logical fallacies underpinning this argument makes it easy to miss why this is so racist as opposed to just plain Bad Logic. Because the point here really isn't about political platforms of the past or the present. The basic issue is that the White Person espousing this concept is saying that People of Color aren't capable of understanding current events and are too ignorant to be trusted to determine which party most supports their individual needs. So here comes the White Person galloping in with a carefully cherry-picked History Lesson that will teach the People of Color what they're too foolish to figure out on their own.
2. A Vote Is As Good As A Thank You! If you vote based on your understanding of current events and their intersection with your personal needs, as opposed to using your vote to express your abject gratitude to a person or persons who may not be one of the candidates or even technically alive, but you expect People of Color to treat their vote as the modern equivalent of a Hallmark card, you might be a racist.
This is a fun one, because it's a sub-set of #1 (You should vote based on past events that may not be relevant in this current election!) but it's got a nice coating of aren't you a big fucking ingrate if you don't slathered all over it. The idea being that now it's not just ignorant of People of Color to not realize the abject pertinence of things that happened decades or centuries ago, it's also ingratitude if they don't immediately, permanently, and continually turn over their vote to the corresponding parties as a thank you to the people to whom they owe their most humble thanks. Whereas I'm pretty sure that most of the White People employing this argument have never seriously considered voting Democrat as an attaboy gesture to Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson.
3. A Vote Is As Good As A Fuck You! If you vote based on your understanding of current events and their intersection with your personal needs, as opposed to using your vote to express your annoyance with or hatred of a person or persons who may not be one of the candidates or even technically alive, but you expect People of Color to treat their vote as the modern equivalent of the middle finger, you might be a racist.
This is, of course, the flip-side to #2; if you're not willing to use your vote as a gesture of gratitude, surely then you would consider using your vote to signal your irritation with a party's platform? And actually this is something that people do in real life -- it's not unusual to vote (or refuse to vote) -- based on their irritation with a party platform or with the bad behavior of persons involved. However, usually this begins and ends with people actually tangentially involved with the current party; Albert Gore, Sr. died in 1998 and Margaret Sanger died in 1966, and I think it's fair to say that people doing the post-vote analysis on a voting event that is largely binary (Republican / Democrat) probably aren't going to cotton on to the fact that the Democrats lost serious ground because of that feisty Sanger and all the people she's pissed off to this day.
(For the record, Margaret Sanger did speak at a KKK gathering, or rather she spoke to the women's auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan in order to give a lecture on birth control. By her own account, she was afraid of the group and genuinely worried that she might be harmed by the members of the KKK, especially if she dared to mention abortion. She apparently believed that giving information about birth control to women, regardless of their horrific racism, was the correct and courageous thing to do. Because, you know, an organization that is built around White Male Supremacy and the marginalization of all other groups would never also consider marginalizing the women in their community, and bringing the concept of reproductive control -- probably the single most powerful factor in women's liberation -- to these women might have the side-effect of giving them the tools to plan their own lives, break away from their oppressive families, and reconsider what they'd been trained to believe all their life... you know what? Nevermind. I digress. Fuck it. I don't know Margaret Sanger and I don't have a horse in this race. But from what little research I've done on the topic, it sounds more complicated than the Twitters would have you believe.)
By once again engaging with the specifics, it's easy to miss the inherent racism in these arguments. Because, again, the implicit understanding is that People of Color should use their votes not as they personally see fit in order to improve their lives and make the future a better place for them to live, but rather they should use their votes as a symbolic gesture that will almost certainly be lost in the election noise, because there's not an exit-poll option for "because I think Al Gore Senior was an asshat". (And even if there was, it's unclear how the Democrat party would, ah, fix that at this late stage.) And, again, I'm pretty sure that most of the White People bandying about this advice aren't planning to vote against the Republicans in the next election in order to register their extreme displeasure with -- to pick an example at random -- Sarah Palin's oldest daughter for saying that abstinence for teens isn't realistic. So once again, the advice is putting forth one set of voting guidelines for White People (vote according to your needs!) and another set of voting guidelines for People of Color (vote as a symbolic gesture!).
4. A Vote In Favor Of New Historical Milestones Is Wrong! If you simultaneously manage to hold the belief that People of Color should vote based on the historical milestones of the past -- Lincoln, Civil Rights, Al Gore's father's voting record, and so forth -- alongside the belief that People of Color should not vote in order to create new historical milestones they would like to see, you might be a racist.
This one is all kinds of fun because it manages to assume all kinds of facts not in evidence. I mean, obviously all of those People of Color who voted for Obama did so because he was also a Person of Color, whereas the White People who voted for Obama did so because his policies aligned with their own, or because the opposition party headed in a direction they weren't comfortable with, or because they'd been saving up a big thank you to Thomas Jefferson for the lovely work he did with the Declaration of Independence. Whatever. Point being, we know White People voted for Obama for reasons but People of Color voted for Obama for race. It's self-evident.
And, you know, maybe someone, somewhere, was motivated to vote for the first viable Person of Color candidate in a U.S. presidential election 'simply' because they wanted to see that cultural milestone met for the first -- and possibly only -- time in their lifetime. I can easily imagine wanting to be involved in the making of that milestone as an active participant.
But if you, White Person, cannot understand the difference between a Marginalized Group helping to elect one of their own for the first time since the formation of this nation versus a Privileged Group helping to elect one of their own for the 40+th time since the formation of this nation (also known as "every other time besides this one"), then you might be a racist. Because refusing to understand the difference between those two cases despite it being explained to you over and over and over again?
Well, that's racism.
5. I've Noticed That There Are Words I Shouldn't Say! If you, a White Person, feel that it is even remotely relevant to remark on the fact that "NAACP" has the term "colored people" in it, despite the fact that people have been telling you for years that you can't say the term "colored people" in polite company without outing yourself as a racist, you might be a racist.
I shouldn't have to goddamn explain this, but I will.
The NAACP was founded in 1909. Thanks to centuries of racism, the founders had to grapple with what, precisely, to call themselves since almost every possible term they could reach for had been sullied with centuries of bad connotations. Many of us still to this day reflexively and unthinkingly use the terms "black" and "dark" to indicate wrongness and evil because those connotations have been so deeply boiled into the terms that it seems perfectly natural to many of us to use them that way. And if you've never had to expend a moment's thought about what to call yourself that hasn't been used as a slur or derogatory term by someone somewhere, well, that's the beautiful warmth of Privilege that you're feeling.
One hundred years later, "people of color" is still the most polite term we have available to refer to the numerous groups that the NAACP strives to help in the face of systemic and ongoing marginalization in our country. And if the NAACP were being reformed today, they'd probably be called the NAAPC, with "people of color" inserted instead of "colored people". But they're not being reformed because they're a historical organization that has done a century of good work in the face of oppression and it's ridiculous to tell them that they have to rebrand everything because the term they chose in 1909 -- "colored people" -- was deliberately and intentionally ruined for us all by racist White People. Demanding that an organization for marginalized people change their name after the terms involved were deliberately ruined by privileged people?
Yup. That's racism. It's also bullying.
6. I Am A Stranger To Actual Thought! If you have never actually engaged in actual thought before, it's possible that you're not a racist but are simply in fact aggressively anti-intellectual. However, if you are using your anti-intellectual stance to promote racist agendas, then you're as close to a regular racist as makes no difference because intent is not actually in fact magic.
...and the first black president was a Democrat! So vote for me. Against him. Wait, uh, what was I saying?
Fun fact for all you history buffs out there: When slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person for purposes of determining the level of representation provided for that given state, those slaves weren't actually voting. The 3/5ths clause was deliberately superseded when slavery was abolished. Just so you know.
 Seriously. I was all set to have a Happy Night with Husband last night and deliberately met him at the door with a smile on my face and no tears for the first time in two weeks. Forty-five minutes later, I was kneeling in the bathroom trying not to heave my dinner into the toilet. Does grape juice contain salmonella by any chance at all? Because that's the *only* part of my dinner that wasn't heated to 145 degrees or higher.