With political attention focused on the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire are rapidly disappearing in the media’s rear-view mirror. But before we bury ourselves in more current analyses and prognostications, it might be well to consider the peculiar order of America’s primary lineup.
I thought about this because I recently came across a post raising an issue I had not previously considered; that the choice of Iowa and New Hampshire as the sites of our earliest political primaries operates to support racism—or at least white privilege—in American life.
This is my epiphany of 2016. Our primary system – like the rest of our political system – is one more example of the racism we so deeply entrench and protect. I don’t pretend that moving the first primaries to more representative states would end racism, but, like pulling down Confederate flags, it couldn’t hurt.
In defense of this conclusion, he points to media coverage of the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries—coverage strongly suggesting that the results from these two states tells us something important about the desires of the “American people”— and he places the outsized importance attributed to those contests alongside voting requirements, slating, and gerrymandering, as examples of structures “designed to exclude minorities and protect white privilege.”
Frankly, it would difficult to find two states less representative of America than Iowa and New Hampshire. Only 3% of Iowans and 1% of New Hampshire residents are black in contrast to 13% of the nation. Only 5% of Iowans and 3% of New Hampshire residents are Latino in contrast to 17% of the rest of America. Indeed, having our first primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire is a little like reserving the front of the political bus for “whites only.” When the political parties suggest America has spoken in Iowa and New Hampshire, they imply that white America- the America that really matters to them – has spoken.
Indeed, Iowa and New Hampshire represent an America that hasn’t existed for two hundred years. Thirty-six percent of Iowans and forty percent of New Hampshire residents live in rural communities while only 19% of Americans are rural dwellers. Claiming white farmers and woodsmen are the most politically important people in our nation may have made some demographic sense in the 1800s, but it is patently ridiculous and racist in 2016. Allowing the opinions of whites in Iowa and New Hampshire to have such an inordinate influence on our national election is wrong.
I am less inclined to attribute the structures the author identifies to conscious racism; they are equally likely to be a result of partisanship and happenstance. That said, his larger point is worth considering: although this country has eliminated most of the legal disadvantages and inequities that operated to tilt the playing field in favor of white Americans, even people of good will have yet to recognize–let alone disassemble–the myriad social structures that facilitate racist practices and foster racist assumptions and stereotypes.
There are actually all sorts of good reasons to revisit the importance of the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries—reasons having little or nothing to do with race. Even if one finds the post unpersuasive, even if moving the primaries to more representative states wouldn’t really represent a blow against racism, the author is clearly right about one thing: it sure couldn’t hurt.