OUR VIEW: White Supremacy and the 2018 Election
November 6th is not only set to be the most important election of our lifetimes, the unprecedented number of women and people of color who are running this fall has all but ensured that it will be a new high water mark for the range of life experiences represented in our country's corridors of power.
However, while we celebrate the historic diversity of the candidates we have on the ballot this November, we also refuse to silently ignore the volume and range of explicit and implicit racist attacks almost every single candidate of color has faced in this election.
While people of color running for elected office have always faced hurdles to victory defined by the strength of structural racism and our country's long-standing culture of white supremacy, 2018 has taken it to a new level.
Here are just a few examples:
- Stacey Abrams, running for Governor of Georgia, has not only faced racially tinged attacks on her personal struggle with debt while supporting her family, she has also stared down, along with her supporters, white nationalist protesters talking up "armed resistance" if she's elected.
- While the vile white nationalist robocalls and casually racist comments made by his bigoted opponent have grabbed headlines, Andrew Gillum, running for Governor of Florida, has also faced outright lies about Tallahassee's declining violent crime rates as Republicans struggled to find a racist dog-whistle that might not be so easily called out.
- On the federal level, right-wing activists have gone into overdrive to smear Michigan's Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota's Ilhan Omar, who are likely to become the first two Muslim women in Congress, with absurd charges of anti-semitism. Meanwhile, national Republicans have been silent about the desperate, race-baiting ads Ammar Campa-Najjar's federally-indicted Republican incumbent opponent has run against him in California.
At the same time, candidates of color have also been running in an environment where many of the mainstream media sources essential to our Democracy seem ill-equipped, unable, or unwilling to properly contextualize the depth, breadth, and nuance of the racism they face.
The open letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Stacey Abrams's campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo released this week underscores the more obvious examples of uneven treatment that candidates of color face in the mainstream media. More subtle are the ways in which, for example, the media's focus on Abrams's hardly atypical struggle with debt, as the Huffington Post's Emma Roller has pointed out, plays into dangerous stereotypes of race and poverty.
Even more profound is the degree to which the media's failure to adequately cover the explicit and implicit attacks candidates of color face by their right-wing opponents is its own insidious kind of bias. The Root's Jason Johnson notes that, while an anti-racist yard-sign put in a GOP supporter's lawn was covered by Georiga's local media as a hate crime, "pro-Kemp Klansmen" who have attacked Abrams received "no coverage from the Georgia press."
In 2018, candidates of color, at every level of office, are facing a level of racialized partisan vitriol that white supremacy in our culture and mainstream media is still leaving far too many unable to see and act on.
This has to change.
As a predominantly white-led, multi-issue progressive political organization, we believe that the first step in fighting back is recognizing what is happening to candidates of color, publicly calling it out, and encouraging others in the progressive movement to join us in taking action against it.
White supremacy thrives in darkness, whether in an explicit racist attack against a candidate of color or less visible in a small editorial decision made behind a desk in a noisy newsroom. It cannot if we commit to shining a light on it whenever we see it and taking action to dismantle it.
Whether they're deploying a dog whistle or a fog horn, no candidate should be able to get away with leveling explicit or implicit racist attacks without being called to account. The progressive movement's white leaders have a particularly important obligation to ensure that racist attacks aren't ignored or swept under the rug by a media and political culture that regularly ignores, gas-lights, and mocks campaigns, candidates, and supporters of color who point out the same thing.
Still, dismantling our culture of white supremacy requires more than sunlight, it also demands real and robust support for leadership on the national, state, and local level who more accurately reflect our country's range of lived experiences.
In 2015, after seeing the racial blind spots within the progressive movement's presidential debate, Democracy for America (DFA) pledged to ask every candidate we might support about their own commitment to addressing the problems of structural racism and white supremacy.
Three years later, we're not only backing a slate of candidates who are rock solid in their commitment to racial justice, but it's also the most diverse collection of candidates DFA has ever endorsed. That kind of focus doesn't come out of nowhere: It's rooted in a committment to building a reflective democracy with the candidates we recruit and invest in, the campaign staffers they hire, and the voters whose needs and values we encourage those campaigns to prioritize and center. In 2019 and 2020, we will be doubling down on that work, working to elect the New American Majority of Black, brown, and white progressive leaders, and urging other members of the progressive political community to join us.
Even before election day, there is much to celebrate about how far progressive candidates of color and the movement behind them have come in 2018. Yet, we refuse to ignore or forget the cesspool of bigotry and hate they will have had to crawl through to win. Our communities, our country, and the diverse people our leaders serve deserve better.
The change our country needs isn't going to come through the ballot box alone, the fight against the normalization of white nationalism and for racial and economic justice is bigger than one election. However, if keep our eyes open and our minds focused on the fight ahead, DFA believes that 2018 can and will be remembered as a key pivot point in our fight for a more just, reflective, and equitable democracy.