Date:    11-12-94 17:16 (Public)
 From:    Paul Kienitz
 To:      All
 Subject: prejudice in politics

I was talking to a friend of mine, who grew up in the South and now lives
in Berkeley, about the recent election, and though in most ways she
doesn't appear nearly as visibly leftist or radicalized as me, she's very
aware of issues of racial and sexual prejudice, and had some interesting
observations about the elections that I hadn't noticed myself.  The
important points of the conversation, paraphrased in concise form, were
something like this:

    her: "That's how prejudice works in elections.  A week before the
    election the polls say the woman or minority candidate is ahead, but
    when people get in the booth they suddenly don't want to vote for
    anyone but a white male, and the minority candidate gets substantially
    fewer votes than anyone predicts."

    me: "I've often noticed that voters get cold feet about any kind of
    change as election day draws close.  In the spring they want to throw
    the bums out, but in late October they change their minds and side
    with the incumbent.  Or with the more conservative candidate, if
    there's no incumbent in the race.  This is part of the same pattern
    of avoiding change."

    her: "And it works very strongly against women.  Most male incumbents
    are re-elected with little difficulty.  Women incumbents have no such

    me: "Ann Richards lost to a marine invertebrate, Kathleen Brown lost
    badly against a distinctly unpopular incumbent, after leading by a
    huge margin in the summer, and Dianne Feinstein won by the skin of
    her teeth after polls had shown her with a much better lead."

    her: "And look at what Feinstein is.  She's sixty years old, with
    twenty years experience in politics and one of the strongest records
    of accomplishment ever seen in a Senate freshman, she's in the center
    on most issues, and she has plenty of money.  Her opponent has no
    public service experience, he's twenty years younger, he's known to be
    hardly a real resident of the state he's running in, he represents an
    ideology popular with a much smaller part of the population..."

    me: "And he committed major gaffes late in the campaign."

    her: "Right.  THAT IS WHAT IT TAKES for a woman to be able to win!"


    her: "Did you see the results of the judicial confirmation votes?"

    me: "No, I didn't even bother with that section of the ballot."

    her: "I had fun with it.  I voted yes for all the women and no for all
    the men. (laughter)"

    me: "(snort)"

    her: "I looked at the results, and all of the incumbents were
    reconfirmed easily, with three exceptions: the two women I voted for,
    and one man.  I wondered why he'd done so much worse than the others,
    and then I remembered: oh, he's the one who's black."


    her: "In the Berkeley School Board race, two thirds of the candidates
    running were black, and all of the winners were white.  No wait, one
    of them was a very light skinned black man.  He was an engineer or
    something with no school-related experience.  That was true of some of
    the other winners too -- less qualified than the people who lost."

    me: "I've noticed myself that plenty of black men successful in
    politics are light skinned.  Like Lionel Wilson, who was mayor of
    Oakland for twelve years."

[Lionel Wilson is not only light skinned but has straightened hair.  He is
one of the UGLIEST mothafuggas you ever saw.  An awful mayor, too.  Oakland
has a majority black population, but not until 1990 did we elect a black
mayor who LOOKS black, or ever talks black.]


    her: "Even in Berkeley, even the liberal slate for something like rent
    board is typically chosen to include exactly one token minority

[This friend is, by the way, a professional computer programmer employed
by a large famous software company.  She reports that, contrary to many
popular stories, she sees PLENTY of anti-woman and anti-minority bias in
her industry.  In her company, white male INCOMPETENTS and DRUNKS get
promoted over women or the one black man on the premises.]

... "THAT IS WHAT IT TAKES for a woman to be able to win!"