Recently, the national media has taken notice of the increasing number of viable minority candidates running for top statewide offices in Maryland , Tennessee , New Mexico , and elsewhere. In assessing the prospects of these candidates, virtually no mention has been made of one significant factor that continues to works against them. What is this factor? Unlike Black and other minority candidates, white candidates are not asked to address certain issues or answer certain questions.
Can you imagine a white candidate being asked, “Has your race given you an advantage in your campaign to be governor?” or, “In this campaign, would you be in favor of considering whiteness every time the issue of race is addressed?” When we call for a political candidate to open up about race, this usually means so-called Black issues, Hispanic issues, Native American issues, or perhaps mixed-race issues.
In spite of the changing racial and cultural landscape of the U.S. , candidates of color for statewide office are still relatively rare. And because of their perceived physical and cultural differences, candidates of color are singled out and racialized . On the other hand, white candidates are perceived to be devoid of race. They are not a particular race; rather, they represent the human race. Furthermore, they have no well-defined culture or history. These perceptions give their candidacies more power and greater reach.
In Maryland politics, whiteness is often invisible when racial issues are addressed. As an example , Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele - the likely GOP nominee for this year's Senate race, was allegedly pelted with oreo cookies at a campaign appearance. According to reports, this was done to protest his conservative political views. While we have the symbolism of an oreo (black on the outside, white on the inside) to describe black candidates who “sell out,” and an apple and a banana to describe Native Americans and Asian Americans who do the same, no such imagery exists for Whites. Clearly, this benefits white candidates.
On the campaign trail, white candidates enjoy significant privileges. White candidates with impeccable credentials and a long history of accomplishments will not be called a credit to their race. Unlike candidates of color, white candidates have more latitude in terms of addressing racial issues. For instance, white candidates can discuss the disadvantages of blackness or brownness without examining the possible advantages of whiteness. They can discuss how discrimination oppresses people of color without considering the flipside; how discrimination puts whites at an advantage. Furthermore, white candidates can choose to avoid the issue of race altogether, without voters viewing them as ignoring their white brothers and sisters.
White candidates did not earn these privileges; rather, they are simply born with them. And since they enjoy these privileges and benefit from them, they are careful to avoid bringing any attention to their unearned advantages. While candidates of all parties make a habit of publicly stating that the race of a candidate should not matter, reality shows otherwise.
Consider the questions that white candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, are never asked:
Not having to answer questions such as these is one less thing for a white candidate to worry about. It seems to me that if we are going to ask racial minority candidates to find their voices on issues that involve race, we should expect no less from white candidates. In essence, we should stop giving white politicians a carte blanche. What do you think?