The tragedy and recent social unrest in Ferguson has, among other things, re-ignited a discussion about racial tensions in our society. Serious questions have been raised – rightly so – about racism in general, abuses of authority, exclusionary practices by local municipal governments, and minority participation in politics. While the situation itself is still developing and volatile, within a couple days of the initial rioting political pundits began analyzing the short and long-term political effects of the situation in Ferguson. And a lot of the analysis comes down to colors.
Colors are important in politics. Red typically denotes the Republicans and blue is used for Democrats. With mid-term elections this November and a major presidential election in two short years, there is good reason to think that Ferguson will have widespread political implications. Whether that benefits the Republicans or Democrats is yet to be seen.
One of the most tangible early effects would be seen in additional voting registrations in and around Ferguson. Many observers were anticipating a surge in voter registrations, especially from the black population in the county, and at first it appeared that was the case when it was reported that St. Louis County had thousands of new registrations. But then the St. Louis County Election Board acknowledged they had made an error in reporting the numbers. Pundits will tell you that black people vote Democrat and white people are split or slightly Republican. So at first glance, you might think the Democrats would benefit. But not so fast.
The more dramatic effect of Ferguson may be seen once the votes are tallied on November 4th. In looking back, it is interesting to note that less than a week before the shooting of Michael Brown, incumbent county executive Charlie Dooley – who is black – lost in the Democratic primary election to county Councilman Steve Stenger – who is white – setting up a battle between Stenger and Republican state representative Rick Stream. In recent weeks, it is becoming apparent that a shift may be taking place among the black population, which is a traditionally reliable Democraticvoting bloc. Just a few weeks ago, a coalition of black Democratic leaders lined up to endorse Streamfor the county executive position. The sentiment being expressed by many in the black community is not that they’re leaving the Democratic Party per se, but that they’re ready for change. In St. Louis County in 2014, the Republicans may be poised to benefit. Will that translate on a national level? Will blue become red, or red become blue? It’s hard to say.
Colors are important in politics. The question to ask is this: should those colors even matter? Should we define ourselves by the color of our skin or the color of a party? Yes, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. The danger here is in politicizing race. White, black, brown, or polka dotted, it shouldn’t matter. No one should be automatically lumped into a group based on the color of their skin. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that a young man lost his life and, guilty or not, a police officer’s life will never be the same. Colors are important. Colors help us identify with each other. But colors can also divide us. They create artificial divides that are sometimes irreparable. Let’s work to build a world where colors are merely superficial.