Category Archives: Racial Equality

Confirming What Most Of Us Know

Not long after the 2016 election, I had a conversation with my youngest son in which I shared my absolute amazement that any sentient person could cast a ballot for Donald Trump. How could they miss his total ignorance of government–not to mention his other repulsive characteristics? (Surely, people couldn’t see themselves having a beer with him–the usual explanation people offered for supporting George W. Bush..)

His response–which I’ve shared on this blog previously–was that every single Trump voter fell into one of two–and only two– categories: those who shared and appreciated his racism, and those for whom his racism wasn’t disqualifying.

My son’s explanation struck me as correct then, and the racist underpinnings of the MAGA movement have only become more obvious since. Now, as Jennifer Rubin has explained in a column for the Washington Post, there’s added evidence of its accuracy.

As she begins,

It has long been understood that the MAGA movement is heavily dependent on White grievance and straight-up racism. (Hence Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow racist groups and his statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” in the violent clashes at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.)

Now, we have numbers supporting that thesis.

Rubin proceeds to describe a survey recently fielded by PRRI–the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey had 11 statements that had been designed to probe the respondent’s views on racism. The researchers then used their answers to quantify a “structural racism index,”basically, a score from zero to 1 that measured attitudes on “white supremacy and racial inequality, the impact of discrimination on African American economic mobility, the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, general perceptions of race, and whether racism is still a significant problem today.”

The higher the score, the more receptive to racist attitudes.

The results shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to the MAGA crowd’s rhetoric and veneration of the Confederacy. “Among all Americans, the median value on the structural racism index is 0.45, near the center of the scale,” the poll found. “The median score on the structural racism index for Republicans is 0.67, compared with 0.45 for independents and 0.27 for Democrats.” Put differently, Republicans are much more likely to buy into the notion that Whites are victims.

The survey also looked at differences among religious groups, and found that White evangelical Protestants had the highest median score, at 0.64. Latter-day Saints, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants all came in at a median of 0.55. Religiously unaffiliated white Americans scored 0.33.

It turned out that the “Lost Cause” –the effort to rewrite the history of the Civil War and downplay or ignore the role played by slavery– is. popular on the right:

Republicans overwhelmingly back efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy (85%), compared with less than half of independents (46%) and only one in four Democrats (26%). The contrast between white Republicans and white Democrats is stark. Nearly nine in 10 white Republicans (87%), compared with 23% of white Democrats, support efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy.”

That “legacy,’ of course, is treason in service of slavery.

Rubin quotes Robert P. Jones, who leads PRRI,  as saying the result is attributable to the fact that Americans don’t know their own history. That history includes a “widespread, centuries-long Christian defense of white supremacy.” Given that history, Jones says, “it’s hardly a surprise that a denial of systemic racism is a defining feature of White evangelicalism today.”

Those who want to keep Confederate monuments and offensive mascots in place might deny that their views have anything to do bigotry, but then again, they often deny the legacy of racism and paint Whites as victims, too. In general, MAGA forces have one goal when they amplify “replacement theory” or fuss over corporations promoting inclusivity: to maximize White anger and resentment.

The PRRI poll shows the degree to which the MAGA movement has convinced the core of the GOP base that they are victims. As Rubin says, “And let’s be clear: An aggrieved electoral minority that believes it has been victimized and is ready to deploy violence is a serious threat to an inclusive democracy.”

The results of this research aren’t a surprise. The survey not only confirms what most of us can see, it answers an otherwise imponderable question: why would anyone support Donald J. Trump–a truly loathsome, ignorant (and clearly mentally-ill) man without a single redeeming feature?

The answer is: He hates and fears the same people they do. And shared racism is evidently sufficient to outweigh all the rest……

Christian Grievance

Sometimes, a news article will hit several of my hot buttons. This recent one managed to do so. (Not that it is particularly difficult to piss me off…the older I get, the crankier…)

Here’s the gist of the story: a poll taken by Politico discovered that

about 57 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of Americans overall, believe the Constitution would not allow America to be declared a “Christian nation.” Respondents were then asked “Would You Favor or Oppose the United States Officially Declaring the United States to be a Christian Nation?”

Sixty-one percent of Republicans were in favor of just that, with 78 percent of Republicans who identify as an evangelical Christian backing the idea. Support was even higher among older Republicans.

Regular readers of this blog know of my preoccupation with America’s low levels of civic and constitutional literacy. These percentages reflect that only 57 percent of Republicans understand–or are prepared to acknowledge– the intended effect of the First Amendment, or the history of America’s constitutional debates.

Then, of course, there’s the little matter of America’s still-pervasive racism. Evidently, there are still a lot of White folks who are dogged believers that the pre-Civil War South should rise again, whether or not it actually will…

Per Politico

Our polling found that white grievance is highly correlated with support for a Christian nation. White respondents who say that members of their race have faced more discrimination than others are most likely to embrace a Christian America. Roughly 59 percent of all Americans who say white people have been discriminated against a lot more in the past five years favor declaring the U.S. a Christian nation, compared to 38 percent of all Americans. White Republicans who said white people have been more discriminated against also favored a Christian nation (65 percent) by a slightly larger percentage than all Republicans (63 percent).

Regular readers are also well aware of my language prejudices; I have this old English-teacher belief that words have meanings, and that communication requires that the people using those words broadly agree upon those meanings.

In any sane world, the assertion that White Americans suffer discrimination would be met with incomprehension. I know that political strategists dislike the contemporary use of the term “privilege”–its users sound elitist, and when one thinks of “privilege,” what comes to mind is unfair advantage. (Actually, White skin does confer advantage, just not the kind of material advantage that this particular word brings to mind.)

The fact remains that, in the good old U.S. of A., what is perceived of as discrimination against White people is a very overdue erosion of the considerably privileged status that skin color has historically  afforded them.

When I express my frequent criticisms of Christian Nationalism (which is, in reality, White Christian Nationalism), I try to be very clear that I am not criticizing Christianity. (To appropriate a phrase, some of my best friends are Christian..) I am happy to report that real Christians agree with me, as the following excerpts from a statement from Christians Against Christian Nationalism makes clear.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

The statement affirms basic constitutional principles: That “one’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community,” and that
“government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.” And it affirms others:

Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.

Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

So Republicans who want to label America as a “Christian Nation” manage to hit several of my hot buttons: concerns about civic literacy and the normalization of racism, annoyance at the misuse of language, and deep, deep fear of the rise of Christian Nationalism.

Politico did it all with one statistic…

 

Choosing To Believe

In the mid-1990s, after publication of my first book (What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?), I was a guest on a call-in radio show in South Carolina. My publisher had asked for my travel schedule, and booked me on the show–while failing to tell me that it followed three hours of Rush Limbaugh…

It was rough.

One caller shared a “quote” by James Madison to the effect that the Founders gave the Bill of Rights to people who lived by the Ten Commandments. I responded by saying that, not only had that “quote” been debunked by Madison scholars, it was contrary to everything we know Madison did say. The caller yelled, “Well, I choose to believe it!” and hung up.

Today, echoes of that conversation are everywhere. The phenomenon even has a name: belief polarization.

Belief polarization has been the subject of substantial scholarly research, as Thomas Edsall recently reported in an essay for the New York Times.

In a paper that came out in June, “Explanations for Inequality and Partisan Polarization in the U.S., 1980 — 2020,” Elizabeth Suhay and Mark Tenenbaum, political scientists at American University, and Austin Bartola, of Quadrant Strategies, provide insight into why so much discord permeates American politics:

Scholars who research polarization have almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Americans’ policy opinions and their partisanship. In this article, we discuss a different type of partisan polarization underappreciated by scholars: “belief polarization,” or disagreements over what people perceive to be true.

In a finding that is especially disheartening to naive people who (like yours truly) harp on the importance of credible evidence, scholars have found that two people with opposing prior beliefs often “both strengthen their beliefs after observing the same data.”

In a 2021 paper, researchers found

“ample evidence that people sustain different beliefs even when faced with the same information, and they interpret that information differently.” They also note that “stark differences in beliefs can arise and endure due to human limitations in interpreting complex information.”

Edsall quotes an explanation of belief polarization authored by professors of philosophy at Vanderbilt.

Part of what makes belief polarization so disconcerting is its ubiquity. It has been extensively studied for more than 50 years and found to be operative within groups of all kinds, formal and informal. Furthermore, belief polarization does not discriminate between different kinds of belief. Like-minded groups polarize regardless of whether they are discussing banal matters of fact, matters of personal taste, or questions about value. What’s more, the phenomenon operates regardless of the explicit point of the group’s discussion. Like-minded groups polarize when they are trying to decide an action that the group will take, and they polarize also when there is no specific decision to be reached. Finally, the phenomenon is prevalent regardless of group members’ nationality, race, gender, religion, economic status, and level of education.

Short version: humans of all kinds are irrational.

The most recent examples of belief polarization, of course, involve Trump: in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, MAGA supporters remain convinced by the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen; Democrats and independents are equally certain it wasn’t. And more recently, Right-wingers (and of course, Fox News) are calling the F.B.I. search of Mar-a-Lago a corrupt politicization of federal investigative authority. The rest of us counter that the raid is consistent with the rule of law, a reassuring demonstration that no one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.

Edsall explores Americans’ polarized beliefs about the economy, poverty,  climate change, and gender identity. Then he delivers a profoundly depressing statement: “There is further evidence that even people who are knowledgeable about complex issues are sharply polarized along partisan lines.”

He quotes from a paper titled “More Accurate, but No Less Polarized: Comparing the Factual Beliefs of Government Officials and the Public,” demonstrating that even though “political elites are consistently more accurately informed than the public,” that increased accuracy doesn’t translate into reduced belief polarization”. The study challenged the assumption that we will disagree less about the facts if we know more.

And most depressing, albeit unsurprising: it turns out that racism plays a central part in America’s polarization Researchers have found that–while political campaigns don’t change levels of prejudice–” they can prime these attitudes, or make them more or less salient and therefore more or less politically relevant.”

As one set of researchers found,

Trump not only attracted whites with more conservative views on race; he also made his white supporters more likely to espouse increasingly extreme views on issues related to immigration and on issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and police killings of African Americans.

In other words, political rhetoric can sharpen racial attitudes–and (like my long-ago caller) reinforce and legitimize what we choose to believe.

 

 

Perspectives…

During family gatherings, one of my sons often retells the story of a long-ago visit to the Rice Museum in Georgetown, South Carolina, and an accompanying tour guide/docent’s  description of a couple of the displays. (Docent may be an overly grand title; the museum is tiny and its displays are, shall we say, homegrown).Georgetown was the rice capital of the world back in the 1700s, and as we viewed a painting of Black folks working in a rice field, she explained that one of the most egregious injustices of the Civil War was the fact that, when the slaves were freed, plantation owners weren’t compensated for the loss of their property.

In her view, if the government was going to deprive them of the use of their “property,” it had an obligation to reimburse them…

At the time–well over twenty years ago– it was all I could do to keep my son from delivering  some very non-genteel observations about the definition of property. The incident clearly made an impression on him, because every so often he still marvels at the culture that led this otherwise pleasant-seeming woman to view other human beings as the equivalent of cattle and their “appropriation” as tantamount to theft.

I thought about that incident when I read a Talking Points Memo report on a recent Fox “News” segment. Here’s the lede:

Today’s little Fox News gem was a segment on what a huge bummer it is to visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello these days, what with all the focus on slavery and what not at what was built as a slave plantation.

A bow-tied, bespectacled guest for the segment was billed hilariously in one chyron as a “recent Monticello visitor.” Turns out there’s a little more to the story.

The bow-tied visitor–one Jeffrey Tucker– complained that even Monticello hadn’t been protected from “this disease of wokeism.” It turned out that Tucker had some history of his own–and that history was illuminating.

One thing about the internet–once something is posted, it is there forever…(I hope that’s true of those deleted Secret Service texts. But I digress.)

A 20-year-old report by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the Neo-Confederate movement had identified Tucker as a founding member of something called the League of the South–a proudly racist organization. He denied being a founder, but he was listed on the League’s Web page as a “founding member,” and he has written for League publications. Furthermore, several League members have lectured at events held by Tucker’s Ludwig von Mises Institute.

As the story from Talking Points Memo concluded,

Tucker’s star turn on today’s Fox segment came just a few days after he served as a named source for a New York Post story headlined “Monticello is going woke — and trashing Thomas Jefferson’s legacy in the process.”

It’s usually a little more difficult to pinpoint the origins of the newest right wing hobbyhorse. Tucker’s presence makes this one easy.

On the right, “going woke” is a current, favorite slur. (A recent, contending meme floating around defines “woke” individuals as people “who didn’t sleep through science and history classes.”)

We all occupy informational and value bubbles. In my bubble, where conversations tend (mostly but admittedly not always) to be based on credible, verifiable evidence,  a recurring discussion revolves around the question “how can any sane person believe [fill in the blank].

It’s one thing to recognize the political lens through which MSNBC and CNN, among others, view events. It is exceedingly misleading to equate that perspective with the out and proud dishonesty of outlets like Fox and OAN. There is a significant difference between a point of view and the constant dissemination of intentional propaganda carefully crafted for, and aimed at, a constituency desperate to confirm belief in a patently false narrative.

Apparently, it would take something like cult deprogramming to dislodge the profoundly racist paradigms through which far too many Americans continue to view the world. We can only hope that most of the Americans who continue to embrace that worldview are elderly and will eventually die off–leaving Fox and its clones with a significantly smaller audience for their deliberate disinformation.

I’m a member of that older cohort, but I’m convinced it’s past time to turn the levers of government over to a younger generation. If my former students were representative, they were far more inclusive, far less credulous, and far more concerned with the common good than my cranky and curmudgeonly generation.

Don’t Just Take It From Me

Several readers have shared a recent, stunning post from Pastor John Pavlovitz. I’ve been a fan of Pastor Pavlovitz, although not a regular reader–Facebook friends pretty regularly share his online “sermons.”  After reading them, I usually think how nice it would be if all self-identified Christians were like him–you know, really Christian. ( I revisited that thought after reading the revelations about sexual abuse in Evangelical churches…)

At any rate, I’m ceding my space today to his message, because–like those who sent it to me–I think it is important to hear it from someone with first-hand knowledge and an “insider’s” perspective.

________________________________-

I’ve been a pastor in the church for over two decades, much of that in predominantly white churches in the American South.

I’ve spent countless hours in church staff meetings and men’s Bible studies and youth pastor conferences.

I’ve stayed connected on social media with thousands of people still there in those churches. I read what they share and post and amplify and I know how they think and what they believe.

I need you to understand something and I say it without any hyperbole: white Evangelicals need to be stopped, now.

If the 2022 midterms elections allow Republicans to gain control of Congress, Conservative Christians will decimate this nation, and LGBTQ people, Muslims, women, people of color, and non-Christians will never have equality under the law again. We will all be at their mercy—and they will no longer have use for mercy.

This is not alarmist, sky-is-falling histrionics, it is the clear and sober forecast from someone who knows these people better than anyone. Over the last decade and a half, as my theology shifted and my beliefs grew more and more progressive, I’ve been a kind of undercover Liberal in an increasingly extremist movement, that while once relegated to minor fringe noisemakers is now at the precipice of Roman Empire-level power. They are less than two years away from having a dominance that they will wield violently and not relinquish.

I watched it all unfold from the inside:

I was at a North Carolina megachurch when Obama was elected and I saw the shift take place firsthand. I saw the fear slowly being ratcheted up and the agenda become solidified and the prejudices leveraged.

I was speaking regularly at the Billy Graham headquarters when Fox News reporters and Republicans like Sarah Palin started walking the halls with frequency.

I saw the messages at pastor’s conferences grow more incendiary and urgent, and heard the supremacist dog whistles become louder and more frequent.

While many decent people around this nation celebrated the progress of a black president and the many civil and human rights victories and gradually let down their guard—the white Conservative church set off the alarms and prepared for a holy war.

Yet, they were still a largely powerless, dying dinosaur until 2016, when Donald Trump acquired the presidency and gave the Evangelicals the perfect amoral partner to serve as the biggest bully pulpit they’ve ever had. Combine that with a fragmented Left, a general fatigue by the larger population, a ceremonial victory in Congress (thanks to Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema), and Republican attacks on voters’ rights— and we are now a hair’s breadth from the subjugation of diverse humanity here.

These are not followers of Jesus despite the trappings and window dressing. They are Jesus-less extremists: blind zealots for nothing but power. They have been conditioned by decades of polluted theology and FoxNews alternative facts to see diversity as a threat, to see progress as attacks on America, and to interpret more people being treated with dignity as oppression of white people.

Trust me when I tell you that we won’t recover from the theocracy Evangelicals are constructing once it is established. If we fail in 2022, they will have a political power that will render every election null and void, and we will never have a voice again in our lifetimes.

Women will lose autonomy over their own bodies.
LGBTQ people will have the rights to marry and adopt taken away.
People of color will be fully squeezed out of the electoral process.
Immigrants will be denied access to opportunity and refuge here.

These are not creative projections. They are precisely what Evangelicals have repeatedly stated as their intentions, and they’re closer than they’ve ever been to having a rubber stamp.

We can still stop it, though.
We just need a unity and coordination that transcends theirs.
We need a sustained, passionate, dedicated defense of humanity that rivals their relentless assaults on it.

I hear many people say they’re terrified, but being terrified alone doesn’t do anything but help these people.
Be terrified and get angry.
Be terrified and get busy.
Be terrified and go to work.
Be terrified and fight like hell.

I wish more decent people in America remembered they are among the vast majority instead of acting as if they are helpless victims of Republican Christians. We could defeat them, and we need to. We just need to stop lamenting how much damage they are doing and start doing something to oppose them.

We’ve seen this play out throughout history and we know how it ends. We know what the unchecked religious extremist is capable of and we know the cost of the silence and inaction of good people. We also know what people are capable of when they refuse to accept fascism and white supremacy cloaked in the Bible and wrapped in the flag, when they fight for something inherently good together.

As someone who knows just how much these Christians have lost the plot of their faith tradition, believe me when I tell you that they cannot be allowed to steer this nation. It will not end well for the disparate people who call it home or who one day wish to.

Love and equity and diversity are in the balance.

It’s time we made a choice.

It may be the last one we get.”