Baratunde Thurston (author of How to Be Black) is counting the number of black people at the Republican National Convention (not counting media). He is up to 143 according to his latest update. Check #negrospotting for details. What interests me are the critics calling his endeavor racist. That accusation leads to three thoughts.
1. How is counting the number of people of a certain background in a certain location racist? If that were the case the Census would be racist. Is it racist when black people I know look around to see how many other black people there are at a predominantly white event (say a James Taylor concert)?
2. If racism is the combination of prejudice and power, even if this action is an act of prejudice, how is it racist? Nothing is going to happen to those Thurston counts; he has no power to do anything to them. This is not some sort of racial profiling where they will be pulled over and issued a ticket for being black and Republican.
3. It does matter that the person doing the negro spotting is black, especially given the provocative name. If I went out to a local mall and started negro spotting and posting the tally, as an average white guy there would probably be some negative feedback. That’s just the reality of American history. In the past when white people sat around counting black people, there was usually nefarious intent involved. Same problem if the person behind rent-a-negro.com were white.
Sure, what Thurston is doing is a political stunt with an obvious agenda–showing how few black people there are at the convention and more broadly showing how Romney does not appeal to black people. That does not mean it is a racist political stunt.