White Voters of a Different Color

The presence of my brown skin parents in the white working class voter demographic indicates how vexing it must be for pundits trying to figure out this bloc of voters.
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When I first met my mother I was a few months from being five years old. Before I could call out "mummi," and show her that I recognized her, prove to her that the son who she left behind in Haiti four years earlier was still hers, one of my aunts shouted out in Kreyol "here's the white woman." It had never occurred to me that my mother was white, but as we spent those first two weeks together in 1981 getting reacquainted before she brought me to the United States, I gradually realized her whiteness. The first sign was this pair of mocha brown sunglasses set in oversized plastic frames that she wore and which everyone ogled. She must be white if she were wearing sunglasses because everyone else I knew in Haiti simply squinted, or used their hands as a makeshift visor to shield the sun from their eyes. Another distinguishing feature of my mother's whiteness that caught my eye early on was her hair; it was longer and straighter than mine. While mine was a nappy mess inciting a daily battle between me and the aunts who dared try combing it, Mom's reached her shoulders and bounced as she made the rounds of Petion Ville saying hello to friends and family members. At every house we went to people alternated between asking me whether I remembered my mother, to complimenting mom on her hair. They delicately stroked her tresses with the same gentle coaxing that only a few short days were reserved for helping me overcome the pain of bruises obtained from falls in my grandparents' yard. Years later, when I made my first trip back to Haiti with my father, I discovered that he too is white -- which gave birth to a sneaking suspicion that I too may be white.

In the United States my parents whiteness is fleeting, quickly undone whenever a relative or family friend arriving from Haiti lays eyes on their New York apartment and discovers that they have not walked into one of the mansions featured on TV shows Dallas or Dynasty, but rather a modest abode ingeniously reconfigured to fit a family of four. These encounters have helped make my parents' whiteness more muted, which has been very helpful in my attempts at accenting my own life with shades of blackness.

Until recently my parents' whiteness had become an afterthought. But the more I read about Hillary Clinton's popularity amongst white working class voters, and how Barack Obama will eventually need to win over these voters, I gradually realized that they were talking about my parents. Like many of their white working class peers who are strong supporters of Hillary Clinton, my parents barely make over 40K, they've never purchased a latte, and neither of them went to college. They believe that Hillary Clinton has the experience to turn this country around - -a belief that is more rooted in their faith in her husband, than it is in her own talents. My parents don't trust either Hillary or Bill Clinton as far as they could throw them, which is precisely why they think the Clinton's are better equipped to be President.

The presence of my brown skin parents in the white working class voter demographic indicates how vexing it must be for pundits trying to figure out this bloc of voters. In New Mexico and Texas, white working class voters were masked as Latinos. In California, they were masked as Asian Americans and Latinos. Before Obama became black enough, the black vote doubled as the elusive white working class vote. Arguably the most peculiar incident in this Kabuki drama was how in Ohio and Pennsylvania they were presented as beer drinkers.

The Democratic Party's constituency has been racially disaggregated during this prolonged primary process, yet as this process comes to an end, the presumptive votes that matter most, are white working class votes. In his blog post from Monday, Jeff Chang writes of the impending "Asian American Problem" for this year's presidential candidates, "

One of the main reasons this presidential election has been historic is that every imaginable demographic has been in play...But Asian Americans still get no love."

Similarly, articles written featuring Latino voters after the Texas primaries are sparse, and in spite of the fact that many Latinos have been in the United States longer than most other Americans, immigration is routinely brought forth as a discussion topic. Rarely do you find Latino voters being prompted to speak on issues such as housing and job discrimination, or better yet, social security.

In spite of the fact that my father regularly enjoys a cold one, I suspect that my attempt at casting my parents as white working class voters will not get further than this post. Like many people of color, my parents were not part of the vaunted class of Reagan Democrats who shifted allegiances in 1980, in fact as permanent residents they couldn't even vote in 1980 -- therefore they can only be who they are and hopefully a candidate will emerge who can address the issues that concern them. I suspect that many of the white working class voters receiving so much attention right now have trouble believing in their own whiteness in the eyes of politicians--and by that I mean trouble believe they are really wanted -- tolerated, sure -- needed, maybe -- but not necessarily wanted. Therefore, as this primary contest draws to a close the historic campaign that was to change the world risks becoming another election year taxi dance where we all pay our dimes to dance with candidates when they roar into our towns, only to wake up alone again the next morning.

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