Bobby Jindal and media historicism

October 21, 2007

First off, congrats Governor-elect Jindal (I don’t know if he officially is that in the weird LA system, but …)

It’s so frustrating the way the media reports keep referring to him as (in the words of the LA Times for example “the first nonwhite to hold the job in Louisiana since Reconstruction.”

First off, P.B.S. Pinchback was a post-Reconstruction Governor. He was not part of the Reconstruction military administration, but rather was elected Lieutenant Governor, and became Governor when his predecessor was impeached, and served for just over a month.

Much more disturbing is the fact that the context this statement is meant to be understood in is the one in which Louisiana is the heart of the Confederacy and the presumed seat of American racism – which is supposed to make the election of Jindal in a place like that truly amazing. When the fact is that there have been almost no non-white governors anywhere in the US – North, South, East, or West. Pinchback was the only African-American governor anywhere before 1990! And he was not forced on the people of Louisiana – as the reference to Reconstruction is meant to imply, and as it was clearly taken by many in the blogosphere – he was elected by them to the #2 post, albeit in contentious times.

The next African-American governor took over the very capital of the Confederacy – first as Governor, then as Mayor, the post he holds today.

I couldn’t find statistics on non-white governors nation-wide, but I’m fairly sure Deval Patrick is the only one elected to run any of the Union states.

(AFAIK: The total of Hispanic governors, without regard for race, would seem to be 3 – two in New Mexico, one in California. The total of previous Asian-American governors is also 3 – two in Hawai’i one in Washington. The total number of native Hawaiian governors in US history is 1. I’ll let you guess the state. There have been no Native American governors. Thanks and blame to Wikipedia.)

None of this is to say that there aren’t several different types and levels of racist society existing in Louisiana. Just that we shouldn’t reinforce our assumptions about racism and the regions of this country with half-truths about history which obscure more than they reveal.

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