Election 2016

Here's the Overlooked Reason Why the Primaries System Is Inherently Racist

The first states to capture the media and political spotlight are also some of the whitest.

Photo Credit: Andrew Cline/Shutterstock

The 2016 election cycle has been marred by far-right racist and Islamophobic incitement, with a certain candidate openly calling for non-American Muslims to be barred from entering the U.S., and condoning attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters at his rallies.

But as we lunge into early primary season, we are reminded that the election system is racist for another, more structural reason: Iowa and New Hampshire, the first states to attract the media and political spotlight, are some of the whitest in the country, at 92 percent and 94 percent respectively.

In a country that is 13 percent black and 17 percent Latino, candidates spend months courting states that do not racially represent the rest of America. And these majority-white states, in turn, have a tremendous power to shape the outcome of the election.

We already have evidence that far-right candidates are appealing to racist fears of the “Other” in their early election messages and materials. One particularly egregious example is a mass mailer sent out by Republican candidate Ted Cruz that depicts the Lincoln Memorial being violently overtaken by ISIS.

But the racial composition of early primary states has implications on both sides of the aisle. The 2016 election cycle comes amid a growing Black Lives Matter movement, with organizers demanding answers from all candidates — including those angling for the progressive vote — about how they will advance racial justice.

Such challenges include an intervention at a Netroots Nation forum in Phoenix last July, where Black Lives Matter protesters addressed Bernie Sanders and then-contender Martin O'Malley.

“The strength, strategies and success of African Americans leading the civil rights movement laid the foundation for all progressive movements today,” wrote Tia Oso, the black woman who led the confrontation. “Black leadership must be foregrounded and central to progressive strategies if we are to achieve a multi-racial democracy with social and economic justice for all people.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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