We’re having a mayoral election here in New York.
I don’t expect you to care about this election or my candidate, Bill deBlasio. The issues are very local, hospitals and schools and stop-and-frisk. There is intrigue among the various political factions and clubs, historical old feuds and petty slights.
I like to leaflet at rallies, to take a stack of fliers and reach out to potential voters. It’s retail politics, one-on-one. The stranger on the street will either make eye contact and engage with me (either taking the leaflet, or refusing it) or not. In the process, I’m finding out some uncomfortable truths about myself.
There is only a fraction of a second for me to make a decision about whether or not to offer a leaflet to a potential voter. In the socio-cultural ethnic stew of New Yorkers, how can I tell who will be most receptive?
I hate to admit it, but I stereotype. I assume that people who seem to be LGBt will support Christine Quinn, the first out lesbian to run for the office. I think that Asians will support John Liu. I expect African-Americans to vote for Bill Thompson.
This entire thought process is appalling to me. It’s evidence of a racist streak I would prefer not to acknowledge.
A friend of mind, when I confessed, said that stereotyping is not the same as racism. I would argue that it is not as heinous, but it is another point on the same continuum. A person who relies on stereotypes to make decisions will eventually slide into full-blown racism. I’ve seen it in the older generations of my own family. Maybe you’ve seen it in your family, too
Now that I’ve seen it in myself, I have to act. I make myself uncomfortable and approach the people I’ve pre-judged. I’m happy to say that I’m frequently wrong. Sometimes the person will take a leaflet with a smile. Sometimes they will refuse it with a smile. Sometimes the person will stop and ask a few questions. I’ve signed up a few new volunteers among those I thought didn’t fit the deBlasio profile.
And, sure, sometimes the person will scowl at me, or ignore me entirely. That’s cool. This is New York, and we are a busy people.
But we are not predictable. No matter how this election turns out, that lesson learned makes my life better.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess, notes that little old Jewish ladies are the most politically engaged humans on the planet.