What is racism? Is it a universal idea? A judgment about biological identity? A group of dysfunctional behaviors in a culture? Persistent myths about a community’s strength and weaknesses? Does it belong equally to white and black, and yellow and tan?
Is racism a political idea? A wedge for advantage? Does it exist? Is it an excuse? Do statistics verify its presence? What role does it play in society? How does it change individual lives?
Racism does exist; it always reflects the role race plays in society. For instance, the structures and forms of racism during slavery have virtually no role in society today. The laws, punishments, limits and ideas that governed race then were very different and many have been erased.
Since these ideas have lost their viability, does that mean racism has ended? In modern society with its pledge to equality, has racism been eliminated? No. But it has changed forms. Remember, each era produces its version of racism. Remember, the construct of racism is based on the role race plays in the social milieu.
Before looking at modern racism, let’s ask: How does race fit into today’s society?
In America today, race has become the major standard and measure for equality and equal opportunity. Collectively, through numbers and statistics; individually, through incidents and events, race provides the details and the rough measure of fair play and justice. Race sets the bar for social and economic improvement, the standard for civil liberties, but is also the target of anger for those in and out of power, and a source of constant confusion. This positivist function of race is rarely mentioned; race is most often framed as a problem or a source of friction, or as a factor of mistreatment.
But race has noble virtues. It is the source used to reflect how far America has come in resolving internal tyranny and it measures America’s social progress. It is also a measure of how far apart Americans stand on many social issues. It has been the bubble at the center of the builder’s level.
Race, in part, is the weight of a group response, for both blacks and whites. The shooting of whites by police, while tragic, doesn’t alert the nation to the attack of police violence and misconduct aimed at the American Promise; race is a sentinel for the entire country—not just for blacks. Race puts blacks in the vanguard of social change, yet also makes blacks one of society’s most vulnerable groups. The paradox leads to scepticism and ignorance about the fix for social problems as race as a change agent is caught in a fluid whirlwind of individual and indirect forces.
That is why whites were always visible and angry in the Ferguson protests, every night, in every frame, side by side with blacks. Race is America’s active metaphor for character and justice, for liberty and criminality, for alarm and good riddance. It is not a discussion about blacks or whites, but about the vision and substance of America and the content of the American character, not just of the individuals whose roles shape the discussion.
In the same way, America’s educational success is measured by race. The differences in student test scores reflect race as a means of distributed wealth.
Race as an American idea is always in motion; different than last year, changed by new experiences, redefined by the culture it represents. Unfortunately it is often tied to omissions, deficiencies and neglect more than success, and its noble side is missed.
From this view, I propose racism plays three key roles in today’s America, all three tied to politics and culture:
To unify race appearance (by skin color) into a common culture of values and desired qualities (i.e., loyalty, defense, ideology) that lead to mutual and joint actions for power and privilege limited to and controlled by a group.
To install social barriers supported by legal frameworks and individual decision makers that limit life chances and prospects for many of those outside of the group.
To deny the advantages that racism inherently seeks to make permanent.
The three are easy to understand with examples.
1. At the diner where I often eat, we wondered during the 2012 election how long it would be before Mitt Romney screamed, “I’m white!” to pander for votes. The opposite nearly occurred. Romney’s campaign adviser John Sununu approached that edge, claiming someone needed to teach the President “how to be an American.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich skirted the same precipice: he cited Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial world view” “as the the most accurate, predictive model for his [Obama's] behavior,” calling it “a profound insight.” “The food stamp President” was another of Gingrich’s contributions.
Rick Santorum came within a syllable of an offensive racial slur before he caught himself. Recently, a New Hampshire police chief uttered the word publicly (saying the President “met and exceeded” his criteria). He refused to back down, resigning but never apologizing.
My oft-cited example is the empty chairs that appeared after the 2012 Republican National Convention, tied to tree limbs on private property, often with roped nooses hung over chair backs—performance art that starkly expressed the dark dread of justice as lynching. These spontaneous racial installations were a reminder that the media never reported in 2008 the high degree of fear in the black community for Barack Obama’s life; people were frantic and the hysteria went unnoticed.
Racism is tasteless and invisible—until the first tug of attitude pushes one of its many structures into place to block progress—and to strangle black success. Members of Congress have said Barack Obama was only elected because he is black. Others say he won due to white guilt.
These conversations and actions call white people to band together under a banner of skin: a favorite principle of racism is to unite to defend and defeat the idea of the other. The other is different—and also more dangerous, more deadly, more deficient. The most important other in America is race. Its group tensions involve a history of violence, lynching, lawlessness, blame, poverty and social control.
I think that race as a social measure should change. Women and children are suffering greater attacks than African-Americans in this historical moment; women and children need a movement worthy of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements, yet they remain on the edge of America’s conscience. Thankfully, ending domestic violence has become a noble virtue. So should ending the murders of children by their peers.
2. Examples of social barriers abound. The most prominent and dangerous, as US House member John Lewis rightly recognizes, are the state-level bills that are redefining the right to vote. The new tactic recognizes it is not necessary to disenfranchise minority voters en masse (the old, pre-1960s tactic). Trimming voter turnout by 3 to 10 percent will often be enough to swing close national elections.
Remember, racism fits the role of race in society. In politics, that’s votes. After the Civil War, bills sought to disenfranchise the entire Negro vote, which ended with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now, in this era, with this Supreme Court, the same outcome can be achieved with a more limited, targeted effort to restrict early voting, raising the bar to voter access by requiring more paperwork and reducing polling hours. Continue reading Racism and Noble Virtues
I recently read an article telling of Paula Deen’s continued advertising and marketing troubles. Sponsors are bailing left and right and Paula’s brand is falling like a rock. Is she being raked over the coals to excess? A lot of people see the fallout from Paula Deen’s deposition as overkill and piling on; some say she earned the pain she’s receiving. No matter one’s opinion, Paula Deen’s troubles show how far this society has to go in the category of racial equity.
Longing for a Fantasy Racist Past or Waxing Ridiculous?
The really bad thing about the Paula Deen incident is not that she admitted to using racial slurs, something she likely shares with the vast majority of white people in general, but that it was done in a deposition for a discrimination case brought against her. A lawyer or other marketing/business professional would acknowledge that she is in a very high-visibility business and recommend that she not risk her good name and image in a court case and quickly settle out of court. I do not know if she got bad advice or no advice, or ignored said advice, or whatever the case, but, her deposition is now public record.
The next thing: what else has she said? Dig into the archives and find out. There are lot of people who will.
I had no opinion of Paula Deen either way. The few articles I read about her were not complimentary, including her cooking style and recipes that require insane quantities of butter, and her deal with a drug company to promote a diabetes prescription drug. However, the article that caught my attention was an interview about one of her past relatives who had a plantation and slaves and lost everything after the Civil War. In the interview, the slaves were called “workers” and were “treated like family” and she took great care to make the former slave owner look like a victim. The careful avoidance of any references to slaves and slavery is part of the neo-Confederate rewrite of history. I can see sympathy for a family member, but the rewrite of the history of the antebellum South made me want to vomit. I will not go into the historical treatment of slaves, but I do want to make this note: They were slaves. They were not considered people. They had no rights. I suggest reading the Articles of Secession issued by the seceding states back in the 1860′s; they made it very clear why they wanted to secede: to maintain and expand slavery. The Gone With The Wind South existed only in the movies.
There are various video clips now readily available showing Paula Deen being rather less than sensitive in her dealings with race. Also, her speaking of wanting to put on a wedding in the style of the plantation antebellum South with an all-black waitstaff in suits does not speak too highly of her, either. Either way, pining for a racist fantasy past is not a good thing to be associated with. Continue reading Paula Deen: A Cautionary Tale
The humor in ancient wisdom and the folklore celebrated by hunters and gatherers who spent long-ago evenings and days together with family and friends found its source in paradox—that place in life and history where nothing works as it should. At least, as we think it should.
Lucille Ball was its comedic master, taking simple sketches and adding her timing, eye-rolls and physical twitches until she embodied the madness that engulfed her. It was no longer the situation that was ridiculously funny: it was her!
And nothing fixed it, either. Paradoxes, like stones in a river, can be traversed, but not solved. No engineering or spin, no rule or bill, no lie or fear will change their nature. That’s why the ancients often pointed to them as the center of not only village humor but as communal religious teaching. They require heroic courage and thinking, both inside and outside, to get past them and mark the passage.
But paradoxes have a dark side, on full exhibit in the conversations about sex and race.
Anthony Weiner offers a paradox—more pathetic than funny or religious—until you realize that his situation is not an “either/or” of guilt and penitence of personality and politics, of bad judgment and stubbornness, but is a sequel, with parts one and two. His two-step process jointly connects to the biggest voyeuristic thrill in the history of American politics. Therein is his paradox; he is using politics to further the thrill!
What’s bigger and more dangerous to personal standing and the sanctity of the inner self than sending high-definition pictures of personal sex organs to unmet strangers over the internet?
Doubling down and knowingly running for one of the nation’s highest municipal offices, the high-profile mayor of a city that is a global beacon, and announcing at the announcement that more scandal is to come, then reveling in it when it does, dragging his family along, and refusing to step down, in order to draw the maximum public attention possible to what began as a private, prurient act and turning it into a daily outing, seen in the eyes of the hundreds he encounters without shame of his being a bad boy.
So with Weiner, rethink the prevailing view: switch the roles of the election and the exposure and see them as connected, evolving stages. The campaign’s main purpose is for flaunting his flaunting. Remember the announcement of his candidacy also included the announcement of “more incidents” to come. Note there is no platform, team, volunteers.
Now focus on the campaign as the second stage as a two-part event; the first being the private, digital exposure; the second being the public, personal exposure—the largest of its kind in history, within a public crucible that heightens the exposure, contact and exuberant feeling—even as the polls drop.
His running for mayor is a part of the earlier event, a vehicle for widening the data and getting the feedback so craved; a continuum of the risk-taking exposure morphed and zoomed to the biggest possible public stage—the ultimate danger, the non-repeatable, once-in-a-lifetime thrill, driven not by plan but impulse that laid out the order for it to fall into place.
It’s not for politics that he will not let go. It’s for the same reason he sent the pictures; for him it’s the same thrill/danger/defiant compulsion, larger, grander, a public naughty.
Notice it doesn’t bother him in the least.
Built on denial and blame, the GOP relies by intention and instinct on paradox. Theirs is a cultural strategy that relies on built-in paradoxes leveraged by misdirection, framed around denial, resolved by cognitive dissonance and the plausibility of blame.
Slavery is among the biggest of America’s historic paradoxes and is used to leverage racism and disenfranchisement today.
I see a neat match between our current place and the landed gentry who decided selling human beings from auction blocks was a capital idea—after trading with corrupt leaders for their capture, and disposing of those who died en route by dumping the bodies into the sea as great whites tore the flesh off the falling bones. Nothing defined America’s political parties, inside and outside, the rich and poor, and the common collective consciousness, its “governance,” like weekly arriving barks and schooners of Africans. Law, will and make-believe turned them into a half-million enslaved. Continue reading More Race and Sex
The Supreme Court returned a decision in the voting rights case, Shelby County, AL v. Holder (2013), that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. In short, the jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination no longer have to go to the Justice Department in advance of any changes in voting laws.
Please pardon my cynicism, but I’m not losing any sleep over this. It is not that it isn’t a bad decision; I think it is, but it does not rise to the level of the worst Supreme Court decisions. There are four of those, and two have invalidated the rights of black people, specifically Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), denying citizenship to all black people and invalidating the 1820 Missouri Compromise and allowing slavery in all territories. The other is Plessy v. Ferguson (1898), which allowed “separate but equal” Jim Crow segregation. The rights of black people have always been at the whim of the powerful and those whose rights are not in question at any given moment. The activist judges have done it again. Not the first time this has happened.
There are options the federal government still has; they will have to be prepared to work a lot harder. Section 5 is still intact, but weakened. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. However, that will be difficult with a divided Congress. Note that the corporatist Chief Justice said this out loud, so that is an option, though not an easy one. Section 2 is still intact: any jurisdiction that has passed a law that is discriminatory in nature can be taken to court. The Justice Department must remain vigilant, now even more so. Sections of the Voting Rights Act can be rewritten to pass Constitutional muster and be reauthorized by Congress. Maybe voting laws can be standardized at the federal level. I’m sure there are other options available.
There is something that can be done at the grass roots level, also. The obvious one is to use this as impetus to vote out the GOP and their racist counterparts at all levels. There is the coming demographic shift, especially in the red states, where people of color will eventually outnumber white people in general, not just in certain areas. There’s also the GOP’s vulnerability – they tend to cater to older white racists. Those are becoming fewer in number, in spite of their attempts to increase their numbers, while those who do not vote GOP are increasing. The struggle is far from over. Continue reading Why I’m Not Losing Any Sleep on the Voting Rights Act Decision
This has got to stop! But before I tell you how to end it (or what it is!), a few preliminary questions.
1) Where is the love that produces the outrage about verbal expressions of racism—unparalleled even in the literature, letters and diaries penned during the eras of slavery, reconstruction, segregation, or the racial nadir when lynching was at its height?
2) Is this (yet undefined!) what is meant when the public conversation turns to the question of whether America is post-racial?
3) And what number and quality of posts like these have to occur before they are no longer seen as an unacceptable, non-mainstream view by a fringe group?
Conventional wisdom has become too convenient and is failing to meet the dangers implicit in hate speech. I deliberately left vague and undefined (and confusing!) the topic, to parallel how media discusses, or fails to discuss, race and speech. Another question: I see the comment below as a danger; do you?
Do you think it’s unjust to compare you and Barack to all other criminal lying and stealing negroes in this country? I don’t!
The comment comes from tweets sent directly to the First Lady during an online White House twitter chat she held on nutrition. It’s not a part of background chatter on the net, nor an exchange between people of similar views. It’s a sub-140-character post sent directly to the President’s wife during an internet chat hosted to urge America’s families to improve the health and life survival of their children through exercise and better nutrition. Another:
@#AskFLOTUS STOP SPENDING OUR MONEY!!! STOP TELLING US WHAT WE CAN EAT! STOP DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY! AND OBEY THE CONSTITUTION FOR ONCE!
Mrs. Obama received hundreds of posts like this, many far worse, many attacking her or the President physically (by description or sexually, which you can review by clicking here or here. They bring up four additional questions.
1) If you point out, cite and quote these posts, are you giving visibility to and encouraging hate? Isn’t it better to ignore this type of irrational vitriol?
2) Since the words don’t threaten violence, as ugly as they are, aren’t they free speech?
3) If we slime back, won’t that drag us into the quagmire?
4) What can we do?
Hate speech in our time is both insulting and absurd, a point I made two weeks ago in talking about the Onion incident. The insulting parts use the most disparaging, hurtful, emotional, cruel words in institutional memory to inflict emotional violence not only on the person targeted by a post but also to inflict pain on its broader audience. You are being attacked too! Digital media has a built-in default that instantly aims its sword of words at every heart. The ripped echo of hate speech is a key to insights about its digital postmodern form; its attributes: autonomous, unaccountable, inflammatory, copy-catted, self-satisfying, unstoppable, impulsive; its substance: emotionally and psychologically targeted extremes.
I argue it must be examined, reviewed in the open, and discussed. And that to do so doesn’t give it comfort. Historically, the argument for silence fails. From Anne Frank to rape and violence against women to Trayvon Martin, a failure to speak up brings increasingly greater travesties, not reductions in their ranks. While everyone may not feel comfortable personally speaking up, silence is the wrong strategy. A simple historical review shows silence doesn’t work and has never been effective in confronting issues of social justice, fairness, safety, and protecting the humane values that bring progress.
The idea of all speech being “protected” as free speech is creeping into American thought, virtually unchallenged. The constitutional protection of an act by the Bill of Rights does not mean it is absolute or has absolution. An ill-framed attack is not by “rights” exempt from being wrong. Continue reading Race and Hate Speech
I just finished my new ebook! Writing and editing it made me wonder, is the American eye reliable? Do we observe the telltale details that are flashes of epiphany, the discovery of meaning and insight lodged inside of the blinders of our own vision? Why is it so hard to put down old versions of reality and tuck them away? When’s the last time any of us had a breakthrough? When I look at the media, especially, everybody seems stuck. How can we be more creative and how can that creativity be made trustworthy and true?
That challenge is hidden in my posts each week. Writing is a creative frame that improves my aim. Affirming the past can introduce depth and perspective or leave an idea mired in original error. If I extract an idea, it should not be a misleading “gotcha;” it should illuminate insights.
No-tax-pledge king Grover Noquist demonstrated a “gotcha” error last week that was blind stupidity at its worst. In a Twitter post, he called for higher appreciation for the policy views of House Speaker John Boehner. His reason: Boehner was elected and Obama was a lame duck. This ballooning mockery diminishes our democracy. And finally blinds our own eye. We only see the jeering. The good is damned by dire warnings, threats, fears, demands intended to defeat hope.
No hope existed in hundreds of Twitter posts calling the President a “nigger” and expressing searing outrage that his appearance at Newtown’s memorial for the children and adults of the Sandy Hook school killings interfered with their watching the scheduled weekly NFL game, as the networks covered the memorial rather the rivalry. One post accused the President of making the grief worse, as many parents (and many at home) cried at his words. So blind was their hatred, the posters failed to be moved by this powerful collective moment in our nation’s monumental loss. The deaths of innocent children in a small town’s school was an event they knew—it was on their screens!—but football was king! The President, also the nation’s mourner-in-chief, was assailed with America’s oldest epithet of race—one with a long. demeaning, nasty history containing its own memory and events of violence. But the label blinded his comfort as he stood to speak to grieving families and a grieving nation, ending with a roll call of the names of the child and adults lost, intoned one by one. Continue reading The Void of Blind Comfort
Black people need Black History Month because they need to know that black people are more than the ugly and false stereotypes too often portrayed in the media. Black history is more than cursory mentions of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.
White people need Black History Month because they need to know that black people are more than the ugly and false stereotypes too often portrayed in the media. Black people didn’t magically appear as slaves in the USA only to disappear after the Civil War and then re-appear after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that began the Civil Rights Era. Slaves were not smiling, dancing, happy people who were simply “servants” and a part of the master’s family.
Black History Month matters because it is history. It is history forgotten, ignored, and suppressed. It is a history of and within a country that desperately longs to forget its sullied and unfavorable past. There is no mention of slavery in the country’s founding documents, but slavery helped make it the most powerful and wealthiest in recorded history.
Some time ago, I wrote a piece called “Black History That Doesn’t Make It Into the History Books.” It reflected roughly five years of research and help from various people on various topics, from the historically black colleges and universities, to desegregation of the US military, to white allies in the struggle, to the source of the One-Drop Rule, and most everything in between. There is a lot of history that has been deliberately left out or simply ignored.
Why would that history be left out and forgotten? For the same reason that it was left out of the country’s founding documents: It makes the country look bad. A country that was created based on liberty and freedom can’t easily reconcile the existence of chattel slavery and a racial caste system. What cannot be reconciled gets written out and forgotten. Re-writing history is nothing new; what is new is that a lot of that history has been saved and not forgotten.
History is written by the winners. When the winners become the social norm and their version of history becomes the standard, there is no need for any other versions. The other versions are simply not taught.
And when you’re the norm, you don’t have to know about what matters to everyone else. You don’t have to know what “those people” think or how they feel or how they live or what they know. That kind of ignorance can make for some awkward moments, like Bill O’Reilly’s visit to Sylvia’s (Wow! I didn’t know black people could behave in public!), or saying to someone black, “You know, I don’t think of you as black,” or the all-time favorite, “I didn’t know black people could (insert non-stereotypical activity here).”
Peggy McIntosh’s treatise “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” outlines the functional points of white privilege, i.e. the privilege of being the norm. In reference to Black History Month, it has a couple of telling points. They are:
- When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. Continue reading Why Black History Month Matters
Racism is a double-edged sword with a vicious backswing.
Draconian anti-illegal immigration laws in various parts of the USA are having unintended consequences. Farmers and business owners within those states, esp. those with low-skilled and relatively low-paying jobs normally staffed by immigrant labor, are crying foul at their state legislatures. Their employees are leaving by the score. The ones without papers are gone because they don’t want to be arrested; the ones with papers are gone because they don’t want to be harassed by the police. Produce goes unpicked, meat goes unprocessed, beds go unmade. The jobs aren’t staffed by non-immigrant American citizens because so few want to work so hard for so little pay and little or no benefits.
Why are they crying? That’s what they voted for.
Alabama is one of the states with the draconian anti-illegal immigration laws, and is in the midst of a real PR nightmare. In the past few months, a Mercedes-Benz exec from Germany and a Honda exec from Japan were arrested in accordance with the state’s latest immigration law. The Japanese exec had all of his documents, and was still arrested; the German exec had forgotten his driver’s license and passport and was arrested. The historical irony aside, someone was arrested, but not one for whom the law was intended. The state legislature is taking another look at the law and considering changes — because the wrong people were arrested.
The backswing cuts deep, too.
Racists have always whined about how “those people” are coming across the border to get on welfare and take all the jobs, which shows the level of delusion that racists live under. People can’t do both; they can’t take all of the jobs AND live on welfare. Not to mention, that would qualify as fraud, fraud that the GOP and rabid right wing scream long and loudly about. You’ll notice that they have all these BS “welfare queen” stories, but no evidence and no prosecutions. Anyone familiar with the racist justice system knows that POC (people of color) are harassed and arrested for the most paltry of reasons (see NYPD stop-and-frisk), so it is an absolute lie that POC are getting away with “welfare fraud.” It is a lie, but it’s great campaign material, so great that the GOP has been using it in political campaigns for the past 40 years.
Racists like the illegal immigration laws, as long as they are selectively enforced. An estimated 2-5 million illegal immigrants come from Europe, but they don’t have a problem with THOSE illegal immigrants—only the ones with the wrong skin color. Law is not supposed to be a fine scalpel for selective enforcement, but a heavy ax, meant to strike impartially and without prejudice.
Here’s a little known fact: major US corporations, though unintended allies in the struggle, helped to end Jim Crow segregation in the South during the 1960′s. The major Southern cities wanted to be Big Corp’s regional headquarters and get Big Corp’s money and jobs. However, Big Corp did not want to be associated with the South under Jim Crow, so Jim Crow had to go. It is sad that doing the right thing for its own sake is not enough. Continue reading Racism’s Anti-Immigrant Unintended Consequences
As the first African-American male graduate of my southern high school, with a daughter who was one of five black graduates in her Tuck MBA class, I’ve seen the broad and narrow benefits and barriers coupled and decoupled to race. Socially these barriers have drastically diminished. But economically, they have proven inert and are expanding.
The GOP cites character, but not in the way Dr. King meant. They commonly assault the poor and minorities, as being too dependent on “redistributed” largess, or as incapable. Yet real differences amplify both poverty and opportunity. The yards once raked by youth are tended by professional lawn services with contracts. Neighborhood mentoring is replaced by privatized recreation leagues with high fees. Neighborhood grocery stores closed. The entry-level jobs communities traditionally pointed to vanished. The traveling, live-in service jobs that once paid college tuition for college-bound southern students disappeared (my route, at French Lick, IN; Hot Springs, VA; and Mackinac, MI).
It’s more than just numbers; the exposure, experience, and quality of those disappeared jobs reset barriers to opportunity. The system is rigged for less, by blocked paths, higher prices, lower pay, inefficient communication, education tied to testing, extracted wealth, and micro-managed opportunities that constrict minorities and the poor.
So pay and hire local and young. In New Orleans, community groups sell water at festivals. Opportunities for self-help are built into every festival and celebration. By changing our behavior, we can again share the dream.
The historic test for racism beside motive and purpose are the three elements: a code word, a myth, and the denial of racist intent. These elements are fitted to the times, and oppose progress by attitude, legal or institutional action.
Racism changes as society changes. But it always has the three elements to deter progress. For example, slavery had the myth of helping the heathen and intellectually inferior Africans; its denial was represented as good work since slave holders provided full support. The word “Negro” was used in the newspapers and polite society because it was considered less offensive than the word “slave.”
In a great irony, during the Civil Rights era, the myth was Southern blacks were “content,” satisfied with the status quo! “Agitator” was the word, or “communist,” applied then to Dr. King. The myth of contentment served as its own denial. The use of “food stamps” in SC as the myth — in a state with a long context of opposing the quest for human dignity by people of color — and its easy denial resonates not as assistance for those black and white unemployed by the recession, but as those “dependent” (the code) on government “entitlements,” not mentioning the benefits to the nutrition of young children, the commercial benefits to local groceries (or fees to banks that issue the cards), and the restrictions on items that prevent misuse.
Using food stamps to attack Obama is a racist misuse. Everyone doesn’t have to agree for it to be so.
A Lee Atwater co-worker is the one who actually taught me the elements I have shared. In a discussion about the Willie Horton ad, he told me how it was not done at random, but systematically, composed of the elements I have described.
While it is without logic, racism of all stripes has these three common, repeated structural elements–a code word, a myth, and denial of racist intent. Racist appeals make use of all three. Denial has high appeal; it allows those with race-based views to avoid self-examination or confrontation; they get by guilt-free, scot-free, without being held accountable. These elements, skillfully used by Newt and others, manipulate our moral compass.
They had the opportunity to set a different tone. Any of the candidates, including Mitt, Newt and Rick, could have honored the non-partisan, legendary African-American entrepreneurs in the state, among them America’s best known blacksmith, Philip Simmons, honored by Reagan during his term. They could have mentioned the bravery and courage of Robert Smalls, a slave pilot who commandeered the Confederate commander’s flag ship, surrendering it to the Union Navy, winning election to Congress as one of the founder’s of SC’s Republican party.They could have pointed to the success of Rep. Tim Scott, GOP freshman co-president, in beating the son of Strom Thurmond for his seat. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Redistribute the Dream
When I step back, I see one of the strangest sights I have witnessed in contemporary American politics. Among the Democrats: grumbling and disenchantment about Obama being unwilling to lead the country off a cliff, even as he saved it from recession. That recession created massive fissures: persistent high joblessness, general dissatisfaction with regulatory enforcement, mortgages that are evicting homeowners, and an oft-repeated assumption that the smooth talker was milquetoast when it came to action. Among the Republicans: a willingness by social conservatives to endorse a serial adulterer, a scheming thief who is a megalomaniac who tells the kinds of lies not heard since eighth grade, a willingness to ignore the extremes of his legislative positions on centerpiece Republican issues, his relish of large, activist government, and his claims of constitutional violations so absurd they border on treason.
How did it happen that Democrats thus repute a President who ended two wars, opened military service without regard to a preference for intra-gender relations, got a Gulf fix that appears to work, reformed the Medusa of health care, established consumer protections, cut middle class taxes, and consistently beat the Republicans with the last move? And how did Republicans grow to embrace a failed, badly flawed Washington insider whose smokescreens of big ideas (mirrors in space!) would expand government and debt?
I am sure you find much to disagree with, but grant me the broad outlines. I’m a theorist and a writer, a historian who sees complex dynamics and tries to grasp the whole and its negative space. In fact, this year’s voter deals are being cut in negative space. The deals involve a concept from complex systems theory called joint utility. Joint utility traces the links between satisfactions or dissatisfactions or combinations of the two among disparate groups.
Theory? Why not just campaign hard, door knock, make calls, and vote? Because theory let’s you maximize your effort, order your understanding, avoid pitfalls and improve your moves. It helps focus attention on resonating issues, and directs the message in a way that builds support and blocks objections. Political decisions are front-loaded with a thousand deep commonalities. Joint utility has to do with how this front-loading is connected to outcomes.
The negative space around Barack Obama has to do with his being black. And the issue is definitely front-loaded. The economy notwithstanding, the deeply embedded resistance to his race has increased. Monday the site FreakOutNation reported that a Tea Party leader, who ran for a city council seat and is described as a Ron Paul libertarian, posted on Facebook: “assassinate the fucken nigger and his monkey children.” Four years ago, I didn’t see this kind of raw and vile treason, immoral, criminal speech toward Obama, certainly not toward his family; by contrast, this level of hate makes Newt’s offenses look like a choir boy’s. This element wants to pointedly establish that the character and zany ideas of any white man is better and superior to the highest ranking black’s, even an elected President’s. Newt — all Republicans — augment race and policy as a joint utility. These views are front-loaded and locked in.
Now Tom Friedman disagrees. In a panel of New York Times editors and columnists on Charlie Rose, he suggested the GOP craves the opposite. He argues they want a candidate that sounds erudite, speaks with confidence and fluency, who can attack the nuances of Obama’s positions, and take the high road to negatives. Perhaps. Tom doesn’t understand the dynamics of race and how they operate in the negative space of culture and politics, but even so, Newt fills both bills, Friedman’s and mine.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have dropped race from their political view, thinking it might dangerously inflame passions and turn off supporters of the President. By doing so, they are conceding the racial dynamic to Republicans. By refusing to defend racial dignity, to assert Obama’s full humanity — to point out the nasty, increasing undertone of race hatred in this election, by ignoring the overwhelming litany of daily hate speech, they open a back door for all forms and expressions of hate. Democrats are offering no resistance to one of the fastest growing campaign elements. Their silence concedes a battle that could and should be fought and won, and should be cast into the light from the negative space. Already, the denials of defense come. Using the word “nigger” doesn’t make you a racist, one writer argued. No. It makes you something worse. It makes you a hater. Continue reading Digging Deeper: In Defense of Racial Justice