Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sir Charles, Spike, the Bradley Effect and the Politics of Race

Charles Barkley on CNN with Campbell Brown.

Spike Lee on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning.

It seems that as the election draws near several media outlets have been trying to get all types of political views from a variety of folk both in and outside of politics. Some of the most disturbing to me came from musical artist, Sheryl Crow and actor Dean Cain from "Lois and Clark" fame. The reason I find the views of such A (and B-list) celebrities appalling or at the very least unpalatable is because honestly who really cares what celebrities think about politics? In my view it just seems to reinforce the American obsession with celebrity and fame. Have news outlets run out of pundits to get comments from, and if that is so is this a last ditch effort for ratings? I don't know. However, I must admit that I have my own "favorite" famous folk who I actually like to hear from. So am I just as guilty as the people I am critiquing? Possibly.

The best "celebrity viewpoint" for me came from actor Matt Damon who had one of the most brilliant and brutally honest takes on Sarah Palin back in September. His thoughts on the pick of Palin as a running mate for McCain was like watching a "really bad Disney Movie."

Since Damon's comments aired on CBS almost two months ago, two of my favorite famous people have weighed in on the election and specifically the notorious "Bradley Effect" and whether or not it will be an issue for Senator Obama. The term "Bradley Effect" was coined after former Los Angeles Mayor, Tom Bradley ran for governor of California and lost the election even though early polls showed him as a clear winner going into the election in 1982. A similar situation occurred in with L. Douglas Wilder in Virginia during his victory in the 1989 Virginia gubernatorial election which was narrower than predicted by pre-election and exit polls that had given Wilder a sizable advantage.

Political scientists and other academics refer specifically to the "Bradley Effect" as social desirability bias. Simply put, it is when whitefolk say that they will support an African American candidate, but when they get behind the voting both they just can't seem to pull the lever for those of African descent. Scholars at the intersection of psychology and law, such as Gregory S. Parks and Jeffrey Rachlinski, attribute such actions to "unconscious race bias". I tend to think that it is not so "unconscious" but a continued "conscious" efforts to invest in the psychological wage of whiteness.

Both Spike Lee and Charles Barkley speak about the "Bradley Effect" and think about it differently. Lee sees it as something of the past that will not have the negative impact that some political experts believe that it will, while Barkley believes that many are underestimating the "Bradley Effect." Both men are Obama supporters but view the election and the impact of race differently. Lee sees the polls as inaccurate because they do not tap into young white voters who have grown up on Hip-Hop. Thus, his argument is that this new generation of young whites are more socially accepting of the notion of a black president, where as Barkley finds political polls ineffective because they don't (or can't) take into consideration the secretly held racist attitudes.

So what to think? Barkley and Lee approach this issue from different viewpoints from their various life experiences as well as their career paths, but provide some insightful and I think real commentary about this election. I still find it interesting that those persons who rise to the status of celebrity can get air time to have their political views held whether it is Spike Lee, Charles Barkley, or even Donald Trump. There seems to be some kind of authenticity behind them for some reason. It is almost like getting a celebrity to endorse a product. The common notion is that if famous person "Mr. X" uses it, it must be good. Of course I could be wrong.

Ultimately, the question is whether or not Obama will fall victim to the same racist practices that murdered the Bradley campaign and almost killed off Wilder's political aspirations. Spike Lee believes that Americans have moved past a place where the "Bradley Effect" is not even a salient issue for discussion. So do many others. I hope they are right.

As a Missouri native, I tend to agree with Sir Charles who thinks, "the polls are absolutely useless," in the grander scheme of things. One can never discount the issue of race and the impact that it continues to have in this nation. As an always important swing state, my home city and state (St. Louis, Missouri) will figure prominently in deciding who will occupy the oval office. St. Louis is likely one of the most segregated cities in the nation with a history of racial antagonisms going back to the Dred Scott Decision of 1857. It was at the courthouse in downtown St. Louis that Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that "black men have no rights the white man is bound to respect." Over 150 years later, I was glad to see that 100,000 citizens gathered to support Obama, and many of those faces were not those of African decent.

Historian Ira Berlin argues in his pivtoal text, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, that "race is not simply a social construction; it is a particular kind of social construction--a historical construction." Similar to class, race "cannot exist outside of a time and place" my prayer is that this time, at this historical moment, America can move to begin to address its demons of race and forge path that moves this nation in a direction of true progress and does not yield to the temptation of white nationalism.


angela said...

I don't think its really that deep. 'Celebrities' be it an actress, singer, model, etc. expressing their opinion on politics is no different than passer-byers on the street being asked for their opinions, you know.

the uppity negro said...

I've commented on this blog and in person more than once that in the midst of this particular political season that it irks me to no end that the news outlets get talking heads who are not qualified to speak on the nuances of this political season.

For instance, most of the people I see commenting on the cable news networks (not just CNN) are alleged political analysts. Well, that's okay, but still I don't see historians, to speak on the historical nature of this election; I don't see sociologists or psychologists asked for their opinion on the issue.

Personally, I think Spike Lee has missed the boat and on this one I side with Barkley as well. But I'm not convinced that either is the best spokesperson for "black thought" as it is. I learned not to believe polls when Obama went into New Hampshire after the Iowa caucus win earlier this year.

The Bradley effect aside, there is talk about the reverse-Bradley effect where some white folk may say that they are voting for McCain but once they get in the voting booth, they are going to vote for Obama, if for nothing else but the universal health care plan and his stance on the economy.

My own personal beliefs...

I still go back to April when Obama threw Wright under the bus and Obama sacrificed race relations to the unknown god of the media. I felt we had a prime opportunity to speak candidly about race, and he removed race from the table during this campaign and we're left with this cursory discourse about race in America. Not a day goes by I don't turn on CNN and hear them saying the SAME rigamarole that has been played ad nauseum concerning race in this, well, race.

I understand what the end result looks like, I daresay most white folk know what it looks like, but of course the question is how do we go about that.

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