Monday, June 21, 2010

A.P. headline: "Indian Woman and Black Guy Win SC Runoff Races"

It isn't exactly the headline, but it's pretty darn close. And you had the audacity to think identity politics would end when President Obama was inaugurated 17 months ago. Not a chance. Not in this country, or more accurately, not with our media's compulsive obsession with the color of people's skin or the composition of their genitalia.

It is undeniable that there was some history made in yesterday's South Carolina primary runoff wins for Nikki Haley in the governor's race (or, in the vernacular of the "we're smarter than you because we can use big words" reporters, gubernatorial race) and Tim Scott in the state's 1st Congressional District. Yes, Mrs. Haley is of Sikh heritage and Mr. Scott is African-American. Sure, Haley was called a "raghead" by State Senator Jake "I was just kidding" Knotts, the same genius who prevented the legalization of tattoo parlors in South Carolina for years because the Bible told him so - seriously, that was his reason. And yes, Scott was probably called goodness-knows-what behind his back, as his primary opponents included the sons of two political legends for whom half the state's inanimate objects are named, Strom Thurmond and Carroll Campbell (Mr. Scott decimated Mr. Thurmond in yesterday's runoff). Unfortunately for both, many in the media - and a few of The People - will only define the two victors in this manner ad infinitum.

"The relevance of me being black is really, fortunately irrelevant," Mr. Scott said. "The voters voted for a guy who they felt represented their values and their issues and their philosophy."
Mr. Scott, I wish you were right, but I fear you are dead wrong, at least in the world of today's media. Today's talking-points-driven, 24-hour news-cycle media universe means that your race is, sometimes, the only thing that is relevant. You are the African-American that beat the son of the man who, after likely consuming some of his favorite raw oysters, filibustered for more than 24 hours against a civil rights bill. For far too many lazy news writers, that will be the introductory paragraph of every story about you. Not only that, but if you are elected to Congress and start to become somewhat prominent, someone on a Fox News Channel panel will say something ridiculous along the lines of "Hey, we got a black guy, too. He's the Republican Obama" and, BOOM, whether you like it or not, there will be half-a-dozen websites drafting you to run for president, complete with two-dollar t-shirts sold for $14.99 on those giant, annoying ads at the top of the Drudge Report page.

Don't believe me? It's already happening to Nikki Haley. The Hill newspaper and Lord-knows how many blogs have already mentioned her as a possible vice-presidential running mate for either Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin in two years. You can almost hear the minds of the so-called "political experts", the consultants, and some in the conservative media churning; "heh heh, we not only got ourselves a woman, we got a Indian woman! Heh heh, Pocahontas for President!! Oh, she ain't that type of Indian? Oooo, sorry 'bout that."

The victories by Mrs. Haley and Mr. Scott were significant, but now, they are just candidates and not hyphenated something-or-others, just as Obama was supposed to have been two years ago. Have the media already permanently re-named both of them? Will we always see them referred to in the news as Nikki "Hey, She's an Indian Woman, and She May Have Had an affair though it can't be substantiated...and oh by the way she's an Indian Woman" Haley and Tim "The African-American who beat two sires of white South Carolina politics, but is he really an African-American if he doesn't support Obama" Scott? I hope not, but I am not optimistic.

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