Congratulations to Mia Love on being the first black Republican woman in Congress. On the night of her victory, Love remarked, "Many of the naysayers out there said that Utah would never elect a black, Republican, LDS [Latter-Day Saint, or Mormon] woman to Congress. Not only did we do it, we were the first to do it."
But what exactly were the naysayers doubting? Surely it was not that a strongly Republican and heavily Mormon state could elect a Mormon Republican. And while there have been no Utah women in Congress recently, there have been three Utah women in Congress in the state's history, so the doubt was not about getting a woman elected either.
The real question was whether a very white state would elect a black representative. But on Election Day, the voters of Utah's fourth congressional district elected Mia Love.
Just as many people took the election of Barack Obama as a sign of a new post-racial America, some might take Love's election to mean that post-racialism has reached Utah. But the truth of the matter is that the election of a racial-minority candidate tells us very little about racial relations.
Love received 50 percent of the vote. The political scientist Michael P. McDonald estimates that only about 30 percent of eligible voters in Utah actually voted, so Love was likely supported by about 15 percent of all eligible voters in Utah. In other words, the vast majority of people eligible to vote did not vote for Love. By no stretch of the imagination can we use their non-vote for Love to assess their racial attitudes.
Additionally, we have no idea about the racial views of individuals who did vote for Love. Probably every American has supported a candidate about whom they were less than enthusiastic. Some Americans may have even voted for a candidate they disliked because they hated the candidate's opponent even more.
With Obama we saw this dynamic specifically related to race with the "racists-for-Obama" vote. For example, in 2008, a man told a woman working for the Obama campaign, "Ma'am, we're voting for the n*****." Another Obama supporter stated, "I wouldn't want a mixed marriage for my daughter, but I'm voting for Obama." We don't know whether there were "racists-for-Love" voters.
After the 2008 election of Barack Obama, many people declared America post-racial. This declaration was followed by large racial controversies around the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., around unauthorized immigration from Mexico and Central America, around the killing of Trayvon Martin, around changes to voting laws, and around the killing of Michael Brown. It would be a mistake to ascribe any post-racial motives to the election of Mia Love.
Mia Love is likely just the beginning of a new wave of Democratic, independent, and Republican elected officials of color. Many of these new elected officials of color will say Obama-esque things like Love's statement that "these issues that we're facing in our country, they're not black-white issues. They're American issues." They may even beat Obama's record for not talking about race. (In his first two years in office, Obama mentioned race fewer times than any Democratic president since 1961, according to research by the political scientist Daniel Gillon.)
But it would be a mistake for us to take their post-racial, colorblind politicking to mean that the country is actually post-racial. This point was illustrated crudely and clearly by a recent Republican caller to C-SPAN who stated, "This is about race. The Republicans hate that n***** Obama."