Cross-posted at MyDD

Matt Stoller recently wrote here about the State of Black America conference which takes place annually during Black History Month. Beginning in August 2006, I was invited to write a weekly summary of race and politics in the blogs with a focus on left-leaning bloggers on MyDD and cross-post on my own blog at Jack and Jill Politics. The goals of “Racial Politics This Week — A Roundup” at the time were:

  1. To increase discussion about how race impacts American politics in the progressive blogosphere
  2. To introduce MyDD readers and bloggers to new perspectives on smaller blogs and build bridges across the racial divide
  3. To strengthen unity in diversity in what is perceived as a homogenous group of politically-active internet-connected folks
  4. To build awareness and generate creative thinking among some really smart people (that’s you) around race and politics for Election 2006 with an eye to 2008

Why is this important? After all, talking about race and U.S. politics is to explore a territory dotted with painful landmines in the national psyche. Race is not easy to talk about. It’s not easy for me. I expect for all of us, no matter your ethnicity, talking or even thinking about how race and ethnicity has screwed us up and held us back as a country is difficult.

For progressives, it is essential that we do a better job understanding this dynamic than our competitors for the nation’s hearts and minds. The demographics of our country are changing rapidly. This has the potential to create a solid base of power for progressives if we tap and expand traditional alliances among minorities, liberals, labor and spiritual communities. Costly missteps such as those seen in the 2004 election cycle that will undermine this fragile connection can be avoided with greater awareness and discussion.

The stakes are high.

Crablaw described in a Racial Roundup comment the changing demographics in MD that can be seen across the country:

In Maryland, Steele was (almost) able to take advantage of conditions that will not exist again.

First, African-American, Latino and Asian-American (specifically Korean-American) communities are growing larger, and that will affect redistricting significantly. Maryland has the second largest Korean-American community in the country by proportion of population…Meanwhile, the old beat-up rural white part of the state is losing population or at least proportion. The parts that are growing are, with one exception, turning bluer.”

Or *could* turn bluer. Building a strong long term progressive base with minority support is promising, but success is not guaranteed.

I’ve been looking at the previous Racial Roundups that got over 10 comments to see what struck a nerve. Looking back the comments *really* vary. There are 2 one comment posts and several that got lots (27, 50, 60) of comments.

People tended to comment on items that they’d seen in the media or the blogs already and were eager to discuss:

— Candidates you like or hate: esp. Burns, Steele, Cardin, Webb, Donna Edwards (but not Al Wynn), Obama, Ford vs Corker, Dollar Bill Jefferson v. Karen Carter (Again more Carter, less Jefferson)
— Campaign ads: racist or not
— Republican racism in general: the concept and history and specific examples like immigration
— Affirmative action — the general concept and history but not specific examples like the so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative
— Pop culture and politics: Obama, Oprah, Borat
— Leading Democrats signifying on race: Dean’s comments after the election, the Clinton blogger lunch

The mid-term election roundup got only 10 comments, but they were all really substantive ones. I would love to see more high-level, thoughtful discussion in a similar vein. What do you think? I’ve seen more diversity of opinion on MyDD around the Racial Roundup posts and I think there has been much greater exposure of minority-written blogs to other bloggers and blog readers — some of which are run by regular MyDD and DKos diarists. This is a good thing

“Does racism still exist, to what extent and how do we know” seems to be the theme of many white comments. Not so much: “what do we do about it” as much as “that makes me mad” or some other emotional response. I know that talking about race is emotional. I don’t claim any greater right to short out my brain cells and become ahem…inarticulate over injustice and cynicism just because I am black. But we need to get beyond yelling “I am not inferior!” and “I am not a racist!” past each other when discussing race and politics — and beyond scared silence — if we are to build a united front that creates a better future for all Americans.

Yet, I find the lack of recognition of how race and racism impacts our political present (and future) troubling. I think that the blogs have an important role to play in calling attention to dynamics in action whether it’s the failure to re-build New Orleans and help Katrina victims or the real cost to our nation of a failed immigration system. To be progressive means that you are interested in social reform. It means, unlike conservatives who tend to believe that yesterday was better than today, we believe that tomorrow can be better for everyone than today.

Almost every issue facing America today has a racial component. The majority of African-Americans were against the Iraq War before it started. Few aside outside of Army recruiters appear interested in our opinion then or now however. Take health care. An estimated 40 million Americans are uninsured today. Yet you can’t own a car without insurance in most, if not all states. But you can be an American citizen and have no health insurance. There are actually people in the U.S. whose cars are better insured than their own children. How did we decide as a nation that some people’s lives are worth less than cars? How does race factor into that decision-making? Or who gets sent to Iraq? Or who gets a good education? Or who gets a job? Or who gets to be an American citizen? Or who lives near a toxic power plant? Or who gets hassled or even shot down by the police for no reason?

The digital divide has changed and now splits along economic and educational rather than racial lines. According to a recent Pew study, American bloggers are actually more diverse than the internet itself. Here’s one of my previous comments responding to what I see as common mis-perceptions in the progressive community:

…thanks for your comment. Pew Internet released a study bloggers in July that shows that bloggers are more diverse ethnically than the rest of the internet. Which is already itself pretty diverse now racially if not educationally or economically. The internet increasingly reflects the ethnic makeup of our country. The digital divide breaks along different lines these days, but people’s concept about the character of the internet has not, yet.

The demographics of the United States is changing rapidly. To believe that minorities are not online and therefore not a part of the conversation is wrong. How is the progressive blogosphere going to help embrace the opportunity this presents?

There’s a blacks-only political conversation raging online — in bestselling books, on tv, in the Wikipedia and on radio with a similar one happening with Latinos and Asian-Americans in print, on radio (especially AM radio) and online. There are different heros and villains but with shared progressive goals. In order to create a powerful, lasting movement, we’ll need to bridge the divide and figure out how to get on the same page.

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