Friday, June 29, 2018

Wash Post Article Sounds Pretty Sexist And Racist As It Attributes Ocasio-Cortez' Win To Tribalism

A Washington Post article that appeared in Thursday's Anchorage Daily News really bothered me this morning.  It seemed pretty clear to me this was written by a white male (turned out to be by two white males), who despite writing at the Post and appearing to be generally left-leaning, acted as though women and people of color winning elections were some sort of quirky desperation play by Democrats.

Let's look at some of it.  (The second half was less disturbing.)
"The newest star of the Democratic Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, launched her New York congressional campaign by declaring “women like me aren’t supposed to run for office” — a jarring embrace of her distinction as a 28-year-old Latina less than a year removed from a job tending bar."
Many people's stereotypes tend to dismiss young women (28 is young to me), even white women, as not very important.  Young men, especially if they're wearing suits, get more respect.

The idea that women like her shouldn't run, was so true that no one paid attention to the race, assuming the long-term white male incumbent would easily get reelected.  Even in a district that has 18% whites and 49% Hispanics,  The percentages come from Wikipedia. I'd note a Twitter feed pointed out that a Wikipedia moderator had taken down her Twitter page because she wasn't deemed important enough to have a page of her own. (I'd note that neither the white female (Alyse Galvin, Independent) nor the white male (Dimitri Shein, Democrat), running to unseat Rep Don Young of Alaska have Wikipedia pages either.)

The fact that she worked tending bar less than a year ago basically dismisses her.  Here's a mere bartender running for Congress.  I'd note Randy Bryce, who is running for Speaker Paul Ryan's seat, was a steel-worker a year ago.  Did the reporters bother to find out if she was more than 'just' a bar tender?  If they found out that she'd tended bar, why didn't they find out she's got an asteroid named after her too, because she did really well in a science fair project?  But apparently that didn't fit their story arc.

Our economy is such that even highly qualified people find tending bar a better option than other available jobs.  But it doesn't define who they are.
"Her campaign slogan: “It’s time for one of us.” 
That appeal to the tribal identities of class, age, gender and ethnicity turned out to be a good gamble, steering her to the nomination in a year when Democratic voters are increasingly embracing diversity as a way to realize the change they seek in the country."  (emphasis added)
Tribal identities?  First, I'm already disgusted with the sudden popularity of 'tribal' to describe America's current political scene*.  Let's take a term from anthropology where it has a fairly specific definition that most people don't understand well, and then use it as a metaphor for current US politics.  What could go wrong?

The wealthier, white, Protestant male good-old-boys have dominated American politics since we were still a colony.  No one called that tribalism.   But when a woman of color unexpectedly wins an election in a district with a strong Hispanic plurality, it's because she's appealing to tribalism?  Please.  Class, age, gender, and ethnicity used to be demographic characteristics, but now that white males are losing, they are suddenly tribal identities?!  I know that word is currently floating in the US political ether, but like all popular new terms about to become clichés, they are easy to bandy about without considering all the implications let alone the accuracy of the term.  Maybe it was 'unexpected' because people don't take young Hispanic women seriously, or they didn't pay attention to the current demographics of the district.

As I recall, it was Richard Nixon's Southern strategy that got racist Southern Democrats to switch to the Republican party by using not so subtle racist appeals.  And Trump has been much more blatant about his white-nationalist leanings.  What exactly are these two reporters trying to say?
"The tribal trend has implications for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, where a historic number of nonwhite and female candidates are considering launching campaigns, including Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.). They will likely face off against a cadre of more traditional white male candidates, including possible bids by former vice president Joe Biden and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe."
What's their point?  Nobody called it tribalism when Irish or Italian male politicians appealed to Irish and Italian voters.   Isn't increasing the number of women in Congress long overdue?  The Senate has the highest number of women ever - 23% and in the House of Representatives it's only 20%.  So having women candidates is tribal?  Maybe it's a reaction to the sexual predator in the White House.  Or the 80% of male majority in the House?  They don't trust white males to represent their interests any more.  How many women presidents have we had in 220 years?  India and Pakistan have had women heads of state already.
"Many of the key Democratic House primaries this year have been competitions over biography, with a premium given to those who break new ground or remove old barriers. House nominees in key races to unseat Republicans include a black former NFL player turned attorney, a female retired fighter pilot and a lesbian Air Force intelligence officer, all of whom defeated more conventional opponents."
Aren't most elections about biography?  Most candidates campaign on who they are more than on their policies and programs.  The people on this list sound highly qualified, with a wide array of experience not normally represented in Congress.  I'm sure these folks could represent more different Americans than 'more traditional white male candidates.'

The rest of the article gets less problematic in its language and analysis, but the beginning parts quoted here sound much more like off-the-cuff, testing of political opinion that reflects a white male bias, rather than serious, knowledgeable analysis.  And this comes from the Washington Post!  No wonder people are focused on gender and race rather than qualifications and policy.  It's where media direct our attention.

Oh yeah, the title of the article was:
 "The worst thing to be in many Democratic primaries? A white male candidate."
The reporters generally aren't responsible for the titles.  This goes to the editors.   Nothing like stoking Trump supporters fears that they are being targeted.  Why not turn it around and say 'Females and people of color trying to get more balance into our legislatures."  Not as catchy of course, but not as inflammatory either.  And more accurate.  But alarmist titles get more clicks.

Here's a link to the whole article on misusing 'tribalism'   I needed a password to see it, so it probably won't work.  But if you have a local library card, you might be able to get to it.  It's better than the abstract you can get at the link above.  ‘Tribalism’ gets a bum rap"  Guest Editorial by Lawrence Rosen, Anthropology Today, October 2016.


  1. interesting observations -- I think you're right. "Tribalism" is kind of condescending, no matter what "tribe" is being referenced; has overtones of un-modern, uneducated, unsophisticated folks just in from the jungle. Yuk.

    P.S. the words on top of a newspaper story aren't called "titles" -- they're called "headlines" -- you're right that editors, not reporters, write them.

    1. Thanks for clarifying what I was trying to say. And yes, headlines. Though I wonder if things aren't blurring when they're also posted online - and when they are different online and in print. And the dates are different.

  2. I really do not like to use labels, and I agree with kathy in KY that the term Tribalism is condescending, but I wonder how they would react if we referred to the wealthier, white, Protestant male good-old-boys winning as "Klanism" ?


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