Race: January 2009 Archives

X-Men and Philosophy

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X-Men and Philosophy: Astonishing Insight and Uncanny Argument in the Mutant X-Verse will be published in about two months, at the end of March. You can see the table of contents to see the range of topics covered (and here is the Amazon entry). My chapter, "Mutants and the Metaphysics of Race", will be my first publication besides a book review on the InterVarsity four views volume on God and time, so I'm looking forward to getting a copy to hold in my hands rather than having to look at it in PDF form.

The chapter on destiny and prophecy I wrote for the forthcoming volume in the same series on Harry Potter will not be surfacing anywhere near as quickly. The publisher decided they wanted it to come out at the same time as the final movie. Since they haven't released movie six yet, and there will be eight movies, we'll have a while to wait. The current expectation for the second Deathly Hallows movie is May 2011. The book is pretty much done, but they're going to sit on it for two and a half years rather than releasing it with the sixth movie and then allowing themselves the opportunity to do a second one with the final film.

Barack Obama resigned from the U.S. Senate on November 16. Roland Burris was sworn in as his replacement yesterday. In the intervening time, there were no black U.S. Senators.There have been relatively few black Senators at all. The first was Hiram Rhodes Revels, elected by the Reconstruction-era Mississippi legislature (state legislatures chose U.S. Senators at that time) in 1870. He resigned to become a college president before serving a full term, but not long afterward Blanche Bruce became the second black senator in Mississippi's other U.S. Senate seat.

After the Reconstruction period until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, there were no blacks in Congress at all. The black population in the South was de facto disenfranchised because of literacy requirements, poll taxes, and other legal measures that in practice kept black voters from voting. Once the Voting Rights Act took effect, majority-black districts began electing black members to the U.S. House of Representatives, but until 1992 these were mostly from only nine cities. After the 1990 census, a lot more majority-black districts were gerrymandered to allow for majority-black populations, often from several disconnected communities, to elect black representatives in the House.

Four Senators since Reconstruction have been black. Edward Brooke, a Rockefeller Republican, was elected as the third black senator in U.S. history, this time from Massachusetts during the Civil Rights era. He served two terms, leaving office in 1979 when he was beaten by Paul Tsongas. Carol Mosely Braun served one term from Illinois from 199-1999. She was a moderate liberal on economic issues but very liberal on social issues. She was beaten by Peter Fitzgerald, a rare Republican win in that state. Barack Obama was elected, also from Illinois, in a bad year for Republicans given several GOP scandals in that state, when he had no serious contender as an opponent. Roland Burris was just appointed to replace him, with no electoral process at all. It's fair to say that even the few black Senators in the modern period have largely not gotten there with hard electoral victories and have had a hard time remaining there.

The vast majority of blacks in the House of Representatives have come from majority-black districts, which seems to reflect a general fact that black legislators can't seem to get elected easily from majority-white populations. There have also been few black governors. In 1972, P.B.S. Pinchback served as governor of Louisiana for 35 days at the end of a gubernatorial term that had been vacated due to corruption charges. In the modern period, Douglas Wilder was elected in the 1980s to only one term in Virginia as a moderate and libertarian-leaning Democrat who promised to implement policies contrary to union dogma. Deval Patrick is in his first term in Massachusetss. He ran as a business-friendly Democrat. David Paterson is filling out the remainder of Eliot Spitzer's term as governor of New York. He's governing as a fiscal conservative but is very socially liberal, and many political experts think he's going to have a hard time maintaining his governorship, probably losing in a primary contest to Andrew Cuomo if Cuomo doesn't take Hillary Clinton's Senate spot or possibly losing to someone Rudy Giuliani if he runs for governor. Those are the only four black governors. Only two of them managed to get elected, and both ran as moderates in typically liberal states.

What's the explanation for this, and why is it still true in an age when the nation can elect Barack Obama to the officer of President of the U.S. and Colin Powell can have such high bi-partisan popularity ratings among white voters, even after his association with the Bush Administration and the argument for a very unpopular war (even if he later has distanced himself from that process)? Does Obama's victory not show what so many people think it shows? Does it mean Obama is more the exception and that white people just don't want to elect black people to public office but will occasionally do so if they want to replace an unpopular party and don't want to do so by setting up a Democratic legacy for the Clintons? Is there something about Obama himself that explains why he's different, something that must be true in some sense for these other exceptions? Or is there a different explanation for why so few black politicians can manage to get elected by a mainstream voting public? I think the correct answer to all of the above questions is actually a qualified "yes", but the qualifications are pretty important.

Diversity in the Cabinet

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Since President George W. Bush has, by some measures, had the most diverse cabinet in U.S. history, I thought it would be interesting to compare President-elect Obama's picks for the cabinet to see how they compare just on this one measure. I'm not talking ideological diversity here. I intend to reflect on that at some point. I'm simply talking about the standard kinds of diversity usually intended when people use the word, and the only ones I've ever heard people discuss with the cabinet are race/ethnicity and sex/gender. I'll go position by position. I'm only including full appointments with Senate confirmation, not acting secretaries. I'm also only counting cabinet secretaries, since the precise list of which other positions are in the cabinet varies with each president.

Madeleine Albright was the first woman to hold the position of Secretary of State, under President Clinton. Colin Powell replaced her and was the first black in the office. His replacement, Condoleeza Rice, was the first black woman. Obama chose not to go with a new first here, appointing Hillary Clinton, another woman.

As far as I can tell, there has never been anyone but a white man to hold the office of Secretary of the Treasury. That will not change under President Obama, at least not at the start of his term. Timothy Geithner certainly has a diversity of experience, but he's another white man. Diversity isn't the only consideration Obama should have factored in, but it's fair to say that he did miss an opportunity here to appoint the first person to this office who isn't a white man. If he appoints another person to this officer later, that might be a strong consideration.

The same goes for Secretary of Defense. The difference here is that Obama is just continuing the current occupant of that position in the interest of smoother transition in time of war.

Bill Clinton appointed Janet Reno as the first woman Attorney General. George W. Bush appointed Alberto Gonzales as the first Hispanic Attorney General. Obama has nominated Eric Holder to be the first black Attorney General. In his case, I have slightly more doubt that he'll be confirmed when compared with most of Obama's picks, because even if you ignore ideology there are excellent reasons not to confirm him given his leading role in Clinton's most unconscionable pardons (not just Marc Rich but a group of domestic terrorists who should never have been considered, never mind approved, for pardon) and his defense of pointing guns at small children by calling it respectful (in the Elian Gonzalez affair). Either is sufficient grounds to wonder if he's qualified to be the nation's chief law enforcement officer. But the Senate will probably roll over for Obama and confirm him anyway.

George W. Bush appointed the first woman Interior Secretary, Gale Norton. I'm not 100% sure of this, but I believe Obama's nomination of Ken Salazar would make him the first Hispanic Interior Secretary.

Mike Espy, Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture, was the first black person in that position. Ann Veneman, under George W. Bush, was the first woman to hold the office. Obama's nominee is a white man.

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