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Friday, March 29, 2013

Racist institution hampered by institutional racism


As the Republican Party gears up to launch a concerted, well-funded outreach effort aimed at attracting elusive minority voters, it’s not just battling dismal poll numbers and tough demographic trends — it’s working to overcome its own overwhelming whiteness.

There is not a single racial minority among the 20 most senior officials who run the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, and National Republican Senatorial Committee — the three wings of the GOP apparatus charged with promoting candidates and winning elections. And a range of former Republican staffers told BuzzFeed that this lack of diversity has paralyzed the party’s ability to connect with minority communities.

“If you’re trying to court African-American voters, it’s much better to have an African-American in the room talking about how these outreach policies are going to be implemented,” said former RNC chair Michael Steele, the first African-American to hold that position. “They have an appreciation and understanding of what the issues are, how the language is being interpreted, and what takeaway they will get from your visit.”

As they exist now, Steele said, “these institutions are old, they’re stale, and they’re crumbling. We can either shore them up with faces that look a lot like mine, like Marco Rubio’s, like Susana Martinez’s, or they can crumble and go to dust.”

Steele doesn’t quite get it right. It’s not the faces, it’s the policies. And it’s the attitudes of rank and file Republicans.

One former RNC field staffer, who is Hispanic, described a culture of cynicism among his predominantly white colleagues when it came to minority outreach. He said that in his office, whenever they were notified of a new Republican outreach effort, they would pass around a Beanie Baby — which they had dubbed the “pander bear” — and make fun of the “tokenism.”

“Any kind of racially specific campaign activity was often treated with skepticism by white staffers,” he said.

And that’s what institutional racism looks like. Addressing the concerns of non-white voters is “pandering,” while addressing concerns of white voters is not. If you want a clear look at the racism in this mindset, there you go. White people are the “default” voters, minorities are voters plus some sort of alien extra thing.

In which case, the idea that they’re pandering is absolutely correct. You’re not engaging these voters, you’re trying to trick them into thinking you give a damn. Until they get staffers who know the difference and understand its importance, this whole effort is going nowhere.

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