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Unequal Outrage: As #LegitimateRape dominates, racist remarks go ignored

Updated below.

While I’m all for the well-deserved shaming of Republican Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin for his #LegitimateRape comments, I’m disturbed by the lack of coverage and outrage at the offensive remarks of another Republican official.

Last week, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted restricted early voting in all 88 Ohio counties to Monday through Friday until 7pm in the two weeks prior to the election, a move that will very likely suppress minority and low-income voter turnout. Doug Preisse, Republican party chairman of Ohio’s Franklin County who voted against weekend early voting, said the following in an email to the Columbus Dispatch:

“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, chairman of the county Republican Party and elections board member who voted against weekend hours, in an email to The Dispatch. “Let’s be fair and reasonable.”

He called claims of unfairness by Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern and others “bullshit. Quote me!”

Preisse doubled down on his remarks in an interview with Buzzfeed but somehow managed to avoid explaining his use of the phrase “urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”

According to research by the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates (NOVA), the elimination of weekend and weeknight in person early voting will indeed disproportionately affect minority voter turnout. Based on 2008 voting patterns, NOVA reached the following conclusions:

In the hours and days now eliminated by legislative and Sec. of State restrictions, an estimated 197,000 Early In-Person votes were cast, constituting about 3.4% of all votes cast statewide in 2008. This is very significant in Ohio where major elections have often been decided by a 2% margin of victory.

In 5 counties analyzed, African-Americans voted Early In-Person heavily and far out of proportion to their percentages of voters or percentages of adults in those counties. This was true also in counties (e.g. Cuyahoga, Franklin) where all voters had been sent an application for vote-by-mail. Therefore, the current substantial cuts in time available for Early In-Person voting times, such as the Sec. of State’s exclusion of weekends or HB 224 which eliminates the popular Sat-Sun-Mon before election day, have a disproportionately negative effect on African Americans.

I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the Jim Crowesque voter ID laws sweeping GOP dominated state legislatures. Still, Preisse’s comments shed light on the ease with which the GOP is openly comfortable with denying the hard fought civil rights gains of people whose views (and skin tone) don’t align with theirs.

What I find even more disturbing is the fact that this episode of frank racism has been largely ignored, showing the ease with which the media and public are willing to accept racist policies. Aside from websites that focus specifically on issues affecting people of color, Preisse’s comments have been buried or gone unreported.

Why are Todd Akin’s outrageously sexist and anti-scientific comments considered more important than Preisse’s racist outburst? Both have important policy implications for vulnerable groups of people (women & minorities), yet only one made headlines.

My intention isn’t to play the moral superiority game of “who warrants more attention, women or people of color?” Both groups should be supported, particularly when under attack. After all, their enemies are usually the same people. But as someone who identifies with both women and people of color, I can’t help but notice that policies affecting women typically garner across-the-board support, whereas policies that disproportionately affect communities of color are relegated to the margins, where only those being affected are protesting.

It would be easy to blame racism, but I think it’s far more complex than that. I think it’s more accurate to blame racial indifference. America remains a very segregated country in terms of race. Poor minority communities, particularly black neighborhoods, are so isolated (for a lot of fucked up reasons which I’ll go into another time) that understanding the injustices suffered (i.e. mass incarceration, sky-high unemployment, police brutality, drug war violence, crumbling schools, etc.) can be challenging for people outside those communities. In stark contrast, women are integrated throughout American society and by extension so are attacks against them. At least that’s my take. Still, regardless of the reasoning, racial indifference is inexcusable and, in my opinion, is the greatest obstacle to equality.

Please share your thoughts on this in the comments section. I’m interested in your take.

UPDATE: Like I said earlier, the enemies of female bodily autonomy and people of color often overlap and Rep. Todd Akin is the perfect example.

Just last week, prior to his misogynist rant about “legitimate rape”, Akin proposed overturning the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws of the 1960s. In an interview with St. Louis Fox 2, Akin insisted that it should be up to states, rather than the federal government, to determine voting procedures.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 forbids states from enacting voting measures that “discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group.” By suggesting that federal protection against disenfranchisement infringes on states’ rights, Akin is really saying that states should be free to discriminate, end of story.

These comments should be making headlines, not just because Akin said them, but because his view is representative of the broader Republican Party. For more details check out this article by Gene Demby.

  1. “What I find even more disturbing is the fact that this episode of frank racism has been largely ignored, showing the ease with which the media and public are willing to accept racist policies. Aside from websites that focus specifically on issues affecting people of color, Preisse’s comments have been buried or gone unreported.”

    I don’t think this is quite right. The vast majority of the public will never even hear about this. For me the question is why does our discourse fail to find and transmit things like Preisse’s comments with the same intensity. I think what it shows is two things. First, coverage of race is even more segregated that coverage around sex/gender- it’s entirely possible for those websites that focus specifically on issues affecting people of color to be talking about something and for it not to make it to others. Unless their audiences are the same, and sadly they aren’t, even politically active people may not hear about it or if they do, hear about it less often. There is a dynamic where the more people are talking about something the more will continue to talk about it, and this just reinforces this difference.

    Second, outrageous statements trump policy and clear motives trump statements that are more ambiguous. Preisse’s statement could be read as driven by partisan concerns, rather than outright racism. (And a lot of people want to explain away racism, because confronting it is uncomfortable.) Akin’s don’t leave as much to interpretation. But beyond that reproductive rights and voting rights have been under assault for some time, yet we seem more likely to get riled about it when people say things. FWIW, I’d rather spend more time on policy (which isn’t to say that confronting hateful statements isn’t worthwhile too) and I don’t think motives matter. Preisse is uninterested in barriers to voting that disproportionately impact African Americans. That’s wrong, regardless of his reasons.

    I also think your point about indifference is exactly correct. In part, it’s easier to ignore vast racial injustice than see it and know you aren’t doing anything about it. Easier as well, when it does come up, to imagine that people deserve their fate, regardless of the facts. Building a sense of solidarity would be the way to challenge that, but how to make that happen isn’t obvious, at least to me.

    Great post.

    August 21, 2012
    • Very insightful analysis David. I couldn’t agree more.

      August 25, 2012
  2. Great post

    August 22, 2012

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