By Kelly Jean Cogswell
It's not enough to worry about race and class and sexual identity this election. In New York there's also sheer and unmitigated stupidity -- the poll workers who resent it when you interrupt their early morning donuts and force them to wipe the sugar from their hands, open their ledgers and let you sign. Then there is the outdated and misleading information at voting websites and phone banks.
Last week, I called the General Election Board and asked if I could vote there because I'd be out of town. The woman said yes, so I hopped on the subway, and turned up at the office where a row of flabbergasted men told me I was nuts. "For that you have to go to the borough office. They're closing any minute. How long are you here?"
When I finally got to the next place on Varick Street, where you had to have serious ID before you could even go upstairs, there was a woman trying to change her party affiliation to Democrat. "I'm either Independent or nothing. They told me I could do it until the 15th."
The guy argued with her for ten minutes, but it became a moot point when he went back to check and she was already registered Democrat. From 2003. "I don't know why they couldn't have told me that on the phone when I asked," she complained.
I had an easy time voting, but we commiserated going down in the elevator. "It's discouraging," she said. "It's like they don't want people to vote. What if you were a new citizen? An immigrant? This would all be so off-putting."
Not for her. She spoke standard white English, was dressed to the nines, with café au lait skin. I wondered what her background was. When it comes to voting, there's a world of difference between African Americans and Latinos. I guessed first generation Dominican but couldn't bring myself to ask.
The atmosphere surrounding race is changing again in the country, and not for the better. It's a little like after the Diallo shooting when there was mutual defensiveness and hair-trigger tempers among New Yorkers. It was justified then. But the recent exchanges between the Obama and Clinton camps are almost as bad, and any truce they may have come up with doesn't hold with the rest of us.
It's not easy to deal with race in America. And I'm still worried when I hear Obama insist that skin is something more than a temporary bridge, or his campaign imply it's some kind of guarantee against racism. Which is what they must have thought when they briefly attempted to cast South Asians as economic bogeymen this summer, demonizing Indian contributors to Clinton, and invoke robber barons who "laid off American workers to hire Indian techies."
Obama apologized of course and washed his hands. That's politics. All the dirty tricks in the book. And the press is just as happy as anybody else to jump in, managing to insult almost everyone by explaining Hillary's sudden surge in New Hampshire with the fact that she cried and got the female pity vote, especially from uneducated whites with lower incomes -- in other words, all those who were too ignorant and racist and stupidly feminist anyway to vote for Obama. Another bridge burnt there like a candle to the joys of America.
Anybody'll say anything. Sometime or other a Clinton staffer actually called Obama "uppity". Clinton's remark this week that MLK needed LBJ to solidify social gains, though somewhat true, was about as graceless as what inspired it -- Obama climbing onto the pedestal and declaring himself the next Martin Luther King. What a bunch of buffoons.
A truce may help them out of the election, but the scuffle is a sign that America's still in the same old mess. And once again putting black and white folks at the center of the debate about race to the exclusion of everybody else. So much for Hispanics representing one in eight residents in 2000, and slated to be one of four by 2050.
No wonder Hispanic voters don't see Obama as a bridge to anything, partly because they don't recognize his name but also because a dark skin doesn't mean much when they're consistently left out of the equation. Clinton gets points because of her husband, but she shouldn't count her chickens either.
In general almost half see themselves as independent and vote that way. Last time it was for the family values of Bush. This time, Latino indies are leaning more toward the Democratic side, especially after the Republicans' recent immigration laws, and the Iraq War fiasco. There's no perfect choice.
Voting may be a hassle, but nothing is more off-putting in politics than politicians.