2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Pundits need a new playbook when it comes to Latino voters


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We're in the midst of a truly historic presidential campaign: A woman or an African-American have, for the first time, a real chance of becoming President of the United States of America, perhaps with the pivotal help of an important new voting bloc: Latinos.

Yet the media, particularly 24-hour cable news and talk shows, are stuck in the twilight zone. Although there's been a welcome increase in the number of African-American commentators that bring some perspective and sensibility into the equation, most of the panels of pundits, analysts, spinners and assorted "experts" consist of white males, with a pundette or two thrown in to play Kemo Sabe to their Lone Rangers.

For the most part, these self-appointed arbiters of truth and enlightenment are often pathetic.

It's not that, to use one of the sports metaphors the talk jocks are so fond of, the rules of the game have changed. What we have here is a completely different game being played.

I get palpitations every time a group of opinionistas discusses the Latino vote and rehashes the platitude du jour: Brown people don't vote for black people.

There's hardly ever a Latino participating in these discussions, so nobody points out that, first, "brown" is a misnomer. Hispanics are not an in-between, neither-fish-nor-fowl race. Hispanics are a diverse group of people united by culture and language, geography and history. There are white Latinos, black Latinos, Amerindian Latinos and every possible combination thereof.

As for Latinos not voting for blacks, frankly, that's news to me. I'm sure it's also news to my congressman, Charlie Rangel, for whom I've been voting forever and who always carries El Barrio, where I live.

Two decades ago, David Dinkins, :placeNew York City 's first African-American mayor, carried more than 70% of the Latino vote. Barack Obama himself has said he has always received the majority of Chicago 's Latino vote.

By all counts, Latinos will vote for Hillary Clinton in large numbers. This is because we are loyal to the familiar. We don't drop old amigos for just any new guy passing by the barrio to sip a café con leche on his way to somewhere.

On the other hand, we are not immune to being seduced into voting for the candidate we'd rather have a cerveza or a near-religious experience with. I predict that on Tuesday, the Latino Reggaeton Generation will vote for Obama in larger numbers than expected.

Yet on more than one occasion, I've heard pundits pose questions to other non-Latino "Latino experts" in such terms as "Do you think the Latino vote will go heavily against Obama?" This characterization is unfair and dangerous and just plain racist.

As rankling as these racially charged analyses and innuendos are, the Frat Boys Brigade - particularly MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough - save their best shots for the female candidate. Sen. Hillary Clinton has been called witchy, scary, Machiavellian, calculating, a castrating female.

"When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs," Carlson has said on air.

Remarks about Clinton 's cleavage, hairdo or clothes are made between smirks, sneers and guffaws. When she's being forceful, she's called "shrill." When she laughs, she "cackles." Too often, they refer to her as Mrs. Clinton instead of Sen. Clinton.

This school dorm banter and new raza card-playing might be good for the ratings, but it is deeply insulting and demeaning to all women and Latinos, and a tremendous disservice to the American people in general. And it's got to stop.

Those talk shows should recruit some Latinos and female commentators who do not bend over backward trying to be one of the boys, so they can offer professional, knowledgeable and fair commentary worthy of this historic presidential campaign.

Prida, a freelance writer and playwright, is a columnist for the Daily News Viva section.

By Dolores Prida


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