When an argument comes up multiple times in comments, it’s probably worth making my response a post of its own, if only so that I can link to the response in the future rather than having to write it again. A few months ago, in “Alas” comments, Bob Hayes (who later backed down from this position, to his credit) wrote:
If you want to talk about black disenfranchisement, how about this: most black people want school choice and they want it bad, and most people on the left won’t even talk about it with them. How non-racist can a political movement be, if it won’t even address the issues that the minority group wants to address?
Earlier today, in the comments at “Family Scholars,” “GregA,” supporting his argument that I’m a racist, wrote:
Amp’s opinion on a number of other policy areas shows his total disregard for the opinions of the black community, in favor of his own ‘enlightened’ opinions. Most notable is his opposition to school vouchers, which interestingly enough the black community says they need to improve their educational opportunities, and their standing in the middle class. Maybe Amp knows better what the black community needs than the black community its self?
Taken broadly, both arguments are based on the premises that 1) It’s undeniable that most Black Americans favor school vouchers, and 2) disagreement with this position constitutes evidence of racism. I will argue that neither premise is true.
1) Well-designed polls show that most Black Americans oppose vouchers
It’s true that some polls show that most Black Americans favor vouchers – but these are usually polls in which respondents aren’t given an opportunity to choose between vouchers and other possible reforms; and in which no costs for vouchers are mentioned. (Apparently the money to pay for voucher comes from magic pixies, rather than from cutting other programs or raising taxes).
If even a hint of where the funding comes from is included in the polling question, support for vouchers plummets. Here’s one example, from a story by the St. Petersburg Times:
The same is true in which more alternatives than just vouchers or status quo are presented:
When choices are added to polling questions, voucher support shrivels. A 2001 Opinion Research poll found that 61% of blacks and 59% of Latinos would rather see more funding “go toward public schools than go to a voucher program.” The same year, Black responders to a Zogby International survey placed vouchers fifth among options they would choose to improve schools. The more choices, the less the appeal of vouchers.
And in the poll that actually counts – the voting booth – many more blacks oppose than favor vouchers. See the exit polls from California and Michigan, for example (scroll to the bottom). When it came time to vote on voucher ballot measures, black voters were two times (CA) or three times (MI) more likely to vote against than for vouchers.
2) Disagreement, in and of itself, is not racism.
I don’t think the implicit premise of these comments – that disagreement with most Black Americans on a particular policy issue necessarily indicates racism or disregard for black people – is true. (Incidentally, I doubt many conservatives would raise this argument if the subject were affirmative action or the minimum wage, rather than vouchers).
There certainly are areas in which I disagree with the majority of Black Americans – for example, polls show that Blacks are even more likely than whites to oppose same-sex marriage. However, disagreement does not have to equal disregard or disrespect. There are many people I disagree with but nonetheless hold in high regard.
The measure to use is not whether or not I disagree with the majority of blacks on a particular policy question, but if I disagree for racist reasons, or if I show a pattern of taking contrary opinions less seriously when they come from people of color.
The idea that I should always agree with the majority of Black Americans on policy matters is a racist idea, because it puts Black folks on a pedestal. Automatic agreement, without regard to merits, is condensation, not respect.
I do think that in regard to policies and issues that strongly relate to Black people’s experiences or lives, it behooves whites to listen very closely and to interrogate our own motives and logic if we find ourselves disagreeing with mainstream black opinion most or all of the time. This is because Black people, on average, know more about racism and race than white people do; and because we should acknowledge the possibility that our opinions have been warped by unquestioned racism and racist assumptions in my thinking. However, this self-questioning does not preclude disagreement with Black people; it merely means I try to make a point of questioning myself and my opinions.