Race, sex, and voting rights in American history: again, the longue durée

Memories of 2008!

Deez nuts!

Hillary Clinton, running against a white man for the Democratic nomination, loses the support of white men.  But in the end, does it really matter?  When her opponent was a black man, she won white men by a country mile.  This says more about white men’s prejudices than it does about Hillary Clinton.

In any case, I’ve been frustrated by the tendency of the political media to treat white men as though they’re the real voters, the real Americans, and the rest of us as though our votes don’t really count the same.  It’s seen as “inevitable,” somehow, that Clinton wins non-whites and women of all ethnicities, whereas it’s a real achievement for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump–two white men–to win a majority of white men’s votes.

Why does the white man insist on voting with his peen?  That’s unsanitary, as well as disgusting identity politics.

Part of this privileging of white men’s voting behavior is undoubtedly rooted in our history, because at first it was only white men who voted.*  For nearly the last two-hundred years–since 1828!–all white men regardless of wealth or property ownership have been entitled to vote in American elections by virtue of their race and sex.  Yes, being a white man meant that you were officially qualified as a voter from 1828 to 1870, and not being both white and male meant that you weren’t entitled to vote.

As most of you already know, the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, removed the racial requirement for voting rights–at least officially, as we all know that the withdrawal of Federal troops in the post-Civil War South allowed old Jim Crow to move in and use extralegal violence to ensure that only white men exercised their voting rights until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  White men in the southwest also moved to prevent Latinos from voting through intimidation and the passage of poll taxes.

Fifty years later, and nearly a century after universal white male suffrage, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 meant that voting rights could no longer be determined by sex, so women were in theory guaranteed the right to vote in the United States.  Again, old Jim Crow moved effectively to limit the rights of African American women to vote in the former Confederacy for nearly another fifty years, and of Latinas in Texas and the southwest.

Considering the long and deep history we Americans have of promoting white men’s suffrage, and of being proud of white men’s voting rights, it’s probably not so surprising that “But what do the white men think?” is a guiding question in the minds of political journalists.  On the other hand, it’s been nearly a century since Congress ratified the voting rights of women, and fifty years since race was again deemed irrelevant to voting rights.

So my question is, when will we finally bow to the longue durée of the expansion of voting rights in this country?  It seems downright un-American not to.

*Except in New Jersey, which permitted all people who met the property ownership requirement to vote, including a few African American men and white women, until 1805.

It's a feature, not a bug!

It’s a feature, not a bug!

7 thoughts on “Race, sex, and voting rights in American history: again, the longue durée

  1. This just in, UNFORTUNATELY after I published a few minutes ago, via Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, this story at Roll Call:

    There’s been a lot of talk about an enthusiasm gap between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in this election cycle: Every Democrat wants to vote for him and some reluctantly vote for her.

    At least, that’s how the narrative goes. And it’s easy to believe if you’re a millennial—because it’s pretty true among your cohort—or, like many journalists, you spend a lot of time with elite white dudes.

    But there’s another subset of the electorate that has been the story of the Democratic primary campaign: African-American women. More than any other demographic group, black women are the reason Hillary Clinton has racked up a 2 million-vote lead on Bernie Sanders and, more important, a 300-point advantage among pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

    The bedrock of her winning campaign is African-American women, and, as a group, these women seem pretty damn determined to vote for her


    • Meant to add to the above comment: this helps me understand why the first time I ever saw the “ready for Hillary” bumper sticker in my town–with a very small African American population–was on a car driven by an African American woman.

      I think the fact that Clinton is Clinton is a big part of it, but I also think that picking up and running with the Obama mantle is another big part of the mix. Bernie Sanders’s opposition to/minimizing of Obama’s achievements mean that he’ll never pick up significant black support, let alone black women’s loyalty.


      • Anecdotal evidence for Historiann’s point above: Last week the New York Times did a story about the African-American retrospective on the Obama presidency. (Yes, “the African-American” perspective, for better or worse: the thesis of the article was commonality rather than diversity in views.) Many people interviewed wondered whether the election of a black person to this post could happen again in their lifetime.

        For many black voters, it’s important that the Obama presidency not get pushed into a dustbin, repudiated, minimized. HRC and BS disagree on this priority. African-American voters can tell. So can white male voters, from the opposite direction.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve started sarcastically referring to white men as “standard humans” when people talk about women or minorities like special interest groups. (This has come up more often in people being like “pff, studies of gender bias in [field X]? what fluff!” lately, but insert politics for X, and it still applies!)


  3. Headline right below that NYT piece on white men and Hillary: “As Women Take Over a Field, the Pay Drops”.
    PS. I love you noting that NJ exception!


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