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June 05, 2008

Institutional Power

Reading over the post I just made below, something struck me hard. Here's what I wrote:

If Obama is going to win, not only does he have to stop making bitter white people comments, but his supporters have to stop ignoring the desires of people tainted with the racism brush, since they make up the majority of voters.

I'm not 100% behind the argument that racism only applies to whites because of their institutional power, but I'm 98% behind the definition that racism = power + prejudice. I just tend to define power more broadly than others do. Institutional power can be found in national organizations like the NAACP, for example, albeit a very limited and endlessly embattled institutional power (and therefore, a very limited and embattled sort of a racism can arise from it. See "The Tsunami Song").

But what struck me about my comment above was that, without thinking about it, I had already made Obama an institution, and associated his black supporters with that institution. I automatically assigned them the power that the institution confers: the power to notice or ignore what the constituents are saying, and to have to take the consequences of those decisions. This power--the power to notice or ignore, the power to put a particular complaint on the national agenda--is exactly the political power, or maybe just access to political power, that has made, and can break, racism.

Suddenly, accurately or not, African Americans are represented in a race for highest office. Suddenly, Obama supporters or not, African Americans are representatives by association of a presidential candidate. Suddenly, what Obama supporters are talking about is important, because it affects Obama's public image. Suddenly, just because you're an Obama supporter, you have something to say, nationally.

Power. Institutional power.

So it just hit me: Fuck all this bickering over Geraldine Ferraro. We have a black presidential candidate.

Wow.

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Wow is right.

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