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October 2012

Casual Racism At The Polls

Early voting opened up in Florida yesterday, so I decided to go ahead and vote. I’ve never voted on the first day of early voting before. In previous Presidential elections (2000, 2004, and 2008 for me…I wasn’t old enough prior to this), I voted early, but closer to Election Day. Yesterday, my wait was an hour. I saw only 7 other people of colour in line (because I was in a predominantly White city; other precincts fare differently). Some of the White people there reeked of alcohol. That was…weird. Anyway, two casually racist things occurred at the polls.

A random White woman singled me out among the MANY White voters in line to ask me to “watch” a parking space for her. I told her NO. (I’m often telling White women and their White privilege, NO.) The two White men next to me just shook their heads. They knew exactly what was occurring. One even said to me that he turned away as he saw her coming—but it’s not like she would’ve expected a White male to automatically be in service to her anyway. (Funny, how White men who also have White privilege could see what was occurring, but probably do not when they themselves make assumptions and demands shaped by that same privilege.) I chatted with him for a bit and then he and I returned to our smart devices. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was on a smartphone or smart device. This “plugged in” look was very different from the 2008 election and most certainly the 2004 election, when the iPhone didn’t even exist yet.

Later, as I got closer to the door, one of the poll workers (a White male) mentioned that the form we had to fill out prior to voting was in Spanish on the back. Then he giggled. Because…that’s somehow funny? He was quick to mention that he isn’t “against” Spanish-speaking people voting (and I was terrified that next he would say that he has Latino friends or is dating one as "proof" of his open-mindedness. Ugh.) Other people (all White, except for two Indian men) started chiming in about how can Spanish-speaking people understand what’s going on in the election and how did they understand the debates. Seriously. Because…you have to speak English to understand politics in a country that you live in where the decisions affect you regardless? One of the Indian men mentioned that the debates also aired on Spanish-speaking channels. The Whites looked upset. He was ruining their bigotry fun. The poll worker then said "okay, but still, the ballot is in English" despite the fact that amendments on the ballot are in both English and Spanish. I would think that a poll worker would know this. Then, I ruined all of their fun and said "But, speaking English is no guarantee that anyone understands the complexity of politics or has a clue as to what is really going on. Analytical ability is not predicated upon country or language of origin." (In other words, you all are speaking English right now and are blithering idiots; why assume anything negative about a Spanish-speaking person?)

In reply to me, some of the people who weren’t in the conversations at first (and some who were) said "yeah!" in unison. Then it was quiet for a moment. After the pause, an older White woman said "but even if the amendments are in Spanish, the names of the candidates are not translated!" Crickets. No one replied. One White guy shook his head. Was this woman suggesting that speaking Spanish means that a voter cannot recognize the names Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or Jill Stein on a ballot? That these names have to be translated into…Spanish? I recognize the name Arnold Schwarzenegger and I don’t speak German or Austro-Bavarian.

What’s amazing is she truly behaved as if she was adding a brilliant point. No one, not even the casually racist poll worker who started the conversation and her previous support conversationalists replied to her. I just shook my head and was glad that my time to enter the actual precinct had arrived. I voted and then went home. Next time, I’ll stick to precincts closer to home.

Now, I know some people will think “so what, it’s not like dogs and hoses were put on you like they were in the past, so this kind of bigotry is ‘okay.’” Um…I don’t ascribe to the "at least X didn’t happen" theory. I wrote about this before. This same White privilege (in the example relating to me) and anti-immigrant casually racist stances (in the example relating to Spanish-speaking voters) FUELS LARGER FORMS OF BIGOTRY THAT ARE PERSONALLY AND POLITICALLY PROBLEMATIC FOR MANY CITIZENS. IT FUELS THIS.

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