From email@example.com Sun Oct 22 12:50:54 2000
Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 22:53:06 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Nader's Curious Lack of Black Support
Nader's Curious Lack Of Black Support
By Salim Muwakkil, in the Chicago Tribune,
Monday 16 October 2000
Ralph Nader, the presidential candidate of the Green Party, came
through Chicago last week and churned up more political excitement
than has been seen in these parts in many moons. He attracted an
intergenerational audience of about 10,000 to the UIC Pavilion
where they roared their approval of Nader's maverick campaign. The
overflow crowd's giddy enthusiasm, the involvement of veteran and
student activists and the rally's charged political atmosphere,
all gave the impression that a new social movement was in the
making. A social movement that is almost exclusively white.
This lack of racial diversity among Nader supporters is particularly
striking, given the 66-year-old candidate's progressive positions
on economic democracy and social justice. His campaign themes echo
many of the issues pushed by civil- rights leadership. In addition
to his well-known attacks on the corrupting power of corporations,
Nader also advocates universal health care, ending the destructive
drug war and treating drug addiction as a health rather than
criminal-justice problem, eliminating the death penalty and addressing
the nation's obscene incarceration epidemic.
He speaks to problems that have their most damaging effects in
African-American and Latino communities.
A Nader presidency would support the idea of reparations for slavery
and Jim Crow discrimination. He doesn't call it reparations but
what does this sound like: "It is necessary that we implement a
system of institutional `Marshall Plans' to correct what has been
taken away and is still being taken away from African-Americans
and their children in terms of economic and educational opportunity,
self confidence and overall quality of life."
That passage is a portion of Nader's reply to an article entitled
"Ralph Nader's Racial Blindspot" that appeared in the fall 2000
issue of the Oakland-based magazine ColorLines. The article, by
Vanessa Daniel takes Nader to task for seemingly downplaying the
issues of race and identity while stressing a cold, anti-corporate
orthodoxy. "To Nader, racism is apparently an addendum to `real'
social justice issues," she wrote.
Nader counters that he cares deeply about issues of race but prefers
to limit his focus to issues of economic democracy and corporate
power lest his principle message get diluted. If you resolve the
issue of class you resolve many issues of race, he argues. He
believes this "big tent"
strategy allows progressives with a wide array of concerns to
Still, his campaign has been stung by the criticism and he has been
speaking out increasingly on the need to implement a domestic
Marshall Plan. Despite Nader's support for programs of racial
compensation--a position well beyond that of other national
candidates--his campaign has attracted little support from those
black activists pushing for reparations.
For them, Nader apparently personifies a brand of colorblindness
that has long clouded relations between black and white progressives.
As Daniel wrote in her article, "Most people of color are tired of
colorblind politics that are designed to shut race out of the
conversation and keep white America comfortable."
What's more, Nader refuses to use racial symbolism as a prop for
his political positions. You'll probably never hear him trying to
imitate the oratory of Baptist preachers--in the mode of President
Clinton or Vice President Al Gore--when addressing black audiences.
He won't deploy black supporters as strategic symbols or strain to
make pop cultural references in his speeches. This may be a
shortsighted tactic; the image-conscious media are his only route
to the black voter. But part of Nader's critique is just this
tendency of media to focus on symbols rather than substance.
Despite perennial complaints about being taken for granted by
Democrats, black leadership is in the pocket of Al Gore. There's
a good reason for this; the vice president is part of an administration
that is black America's all-time favorite. Bill Clinton is beloved
by many blacks primarily because of his attention to symbolic
Gore gains from his proximity to Clinton.
Most blacks are Democrats and thus have vested interest in the fate
of the party. They see Nader's Green Party candidacy as a threat
to that fate.
Those strong partisan sentiments are likely to be reinforced by
the prospect that as many as 22 members of the Congressional Black
Caucus stand to take over the chairmanships of 22 House committees
and subcommittees if Democrats regain control of the House. That
would be an amazing reversal of congressional power. Nader's campaign
ironically furthers that effort, since those voters likely energized
by his candidacy will vote for Democratic congressional candidates.
It turns out that a vote for Nader is more than just a vote for
George W. Bush.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times magazine.
Copyright 2000 Chicago Tribune