Category Archives: Racial Equality

It Always Comes Back To Racism II

Last Sunday, my post described the actual origin of the anti-choice movement, which was an effort to turn out Evangelical voters in order to protect segregated “Christian” academies.

Last Tuesday, I posted about the research tying a variety of our current hostilities back to racism. Opposition to immigration from “brown” countries, belief in a number of conspiracy theories and, of course, devotion to Trump and his “Big Lie,” among other distortions of public opinion, all strongly correlate with racist ideologies.

After that particular post was written, The Guardian added to the evidence. 

The article began by noting that the US Supreme Court is very likely to overturn Roe v. Wade this spring–and that the Court’s refusal thus far to halt a patently unconstitutional Texas statute means that, for women in Texas, reproductive rights have already been nullified.

The article then reported on an ugly underside of the “pro life” movement that has rarely been the focus of media coverage.

These victories have made visible a growing cohort within the anti-choice movement: the militias and explicitly white supremacist groups of the organized far right. Like last year, this year’s March for Life featured an appearance by Patriot Front, a white nationalist group that wears a uniform of balaclavas and khakis. The group, which also marched at a Chicago March for Life demonstration earlier this month, silently handed out cards to members of the press who tried to ask them questions. “America belongs to its fathers, and it is owed to its sons,” the cards read. “The restoration of American sovereignty must follow the restoration of the American Family.”

Explicit white nationalism, and an emphasis on conscripting white women into reproduction, is not a fringe element of the anti-choice movement. Associations between white supremacist groups and anti-abortion forces are robust and longstanding. In addition to Patriot Front, groups like the white nationalist Aryan Nations and the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker party have also lent support to the anti-abortion movement. These groups see stopping abortion as part of a broader project to ensure white hegemony in addition to women’s subordination. Tim Bishop, of the Aryan Nations, noted that “Lots of our people join [anti-choice organizations] … It’s part of our Holy War for the pure Aryan race.” That the growing white nationalist movement would be focused on attacking women’s rights is maybe to be expected: research has long established that recruitment to the alt-right happens largely among men with grievances against feminism, and that misogyny is usually the first form of rightwing radicalization.

The article provided evidence that the growing presence of White Christian Nationalists at “Pro Life” marches and events isn’t because the movement has been “infiltrated” without its consent.  To the contrary, “just as the alt-right loves the anti-choice movement, the anti-choice movement loves the alt-right.”

In 2019, Kristen Hatten, a vice-president at the anti-choice group New Wave Feminists, shared racist content online and publicly identified herself as an “ethnonationalist”. In addition to sharing personnel, the groups share tactics. In 1985, the KKK began circulating “Wanted” posters featuring the photos and personal information of abortion providers.

Now, mainline anti-choice organizations routinely share names, photos and addresses of abortion providers.

The association has a long and ugly history. 

Before an influx of southern and eastern European immigrants to the United States in the latter half of the 19th century, abortion and contraception had only been partially and sporadically criminalized. This changed in the early 20th century, when an additional surge of migrants from Asia and Latin America calcified white American racial anxieties and led to white elites decrying the falling white birth rate as “race suicide.”

This led to a campaign of forced birth for “fit” mothers–White women– while another widespread campaign actively supported involuntary sterilization for poor women, particularly Black and incarcerated women.

The final paragraphs of the report are chilling:

In the current anti-choice and white supremacist alliance, the language of “race suicide” has been supplanted by a similar fear: the so-called “Great Replacement”, a racist conspiracy theory that posits that white Americans are being “replaced” by people of color. (Some antisemitic variations posit that this “replacement” is somehow being orchestrated by Jewish people.)

The way to combat this, the right says, is to force childbearing among white people, to severely restrict immigration, and to punish, via criminalization and enforced poverty, women of color. These anxieties have always animated the anti-choice movement, and they have only become more fervent among the March for Life’s rank and file as conservatives become increasingly fixated on the demographic changes that will make America a minority-white country sometime in the coming decades. The white supremacist and anti-choice movements have always been closely linked. But more and more, they are becoming difficult to tell apart.

This isn’t about “saving babies.” It never has been.

 

it Always Comes Back To Racism…

Let me begin today’s discussion with a disclaimer: I’m fully aware that–at least in the context of public policy and governance–nothing is simple and linear. When it comes to humankind’s longstanding bigotries, for example, there’s ample evidence that they come to the surface more forcefully in times of economic downturn and/or unease, and can be triggered by recognition of demographic change.

But that said, there is also a veritable mountain of research confirming that today’s civil discord is primarily grounded in racism. We may not be having a “hot” civil war, but it is abundantly clear that the most prominent and damaging elements of our current dysfunctions are rooted in the same moral sickness that prompted the original one.

Recently, Thomas Edsall surveyed some of that evidence for the New York Times. Here’s his lede

Why is Donald Trump’s big lie so hard to discredit?

This has been a live question for more than a year, but inside it lies another: Do Republican officials and voters actually believe Trump’s claim that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election by corrupting ballots — the same ballots that put so many Republicans in office — and if they do believe it, what are their motives?

A December 2021 University of Massachusetts-Amherst survey found striking links between attitudes on race and immigration and disbelief in the integrity of the 2020 election.

Surveys have found that 66 percent of self-identified Republicans agreed with the statement that “the growth of the number of immigrants to the U.S. means that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity.”  (I have actually been amused–in a “black humor” sort of way–by the GOP’s recent laments about the dearth of workers, especially in the hospitality and food industries. They seem utterly clueless to the rather obvious link between severely depressed immigration numbers and the “inexplicable” lack of people willing to pick crops and be restaurant servers. But I digress.)

Edsall shared the following paragraph from an essay by four political scientists, further emphasizing the link between racial attitudes and unfounded beliefs.

Divisions over racial equality were closely related to perceptions of the 2020 presidential election and the Capitol attack. For example, among those who agreed that white people in the United States have advantages based on the color of their skin, 87 percent believed that Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate; among neutrals, 44 percent believed it was legitimate; and among those who disagreed, only 21 percent believed it was legitimate. Seventy percent of people who agreed that white people enjoy advantages considered the events of Jan. 6 to be an insurrection; 26 percent of neutrals described it that way; and only 10 percent who disagreed did so, while 80 percent of this last group called it a protest. And while 70 percent of those who agreed that white people enjoy advantages blamed Trump for the events of Jan. 6, only 34 percent of neutrals did, and a mere 9 percent of those who disagreed did.

In his column, Edsall traced the scholarly dispute between researchers who believe that poll respondents claiming to believe The Big Lie really do know better, and are using their purported agreement as a way of signaling that they are part of the tribe/cult, and those who think these respondents have actually imbibed the Kool Aid. He also quotes Isabell Sawhill of The Brookings Institution, who suggests that there is a dynamic at work here– that what was originally an “opportunistic strategy to please the Trump base” has had the effect of solidifing that base.

It’s a Catch-22. To change the direction of the country requires staying in power, but staying in power requires satisfying a public, a large share of whom has lost faith in our institutions, including the mainstream media and the democratic process.

In response to an inquiry from Edsall, Paul Begala wrote

Trump lives by Machiavelli’s famous maxim that fear is a better foundation for loyalty than love. G.O.P. senators don’t fear Trump personally; they fear his followers. Republican politicians are so cowed by Trump’s supporters, you can almost hear them moo.

Elected officials who know better may lack both the backbone and integrity to oppose the party’s Trumpist base, but–as a professor from MIT pointed out–there’s a reason the base loves Trump, and it’s simple: racial animus and Christian millennialism.

No wonder they engage in an unremitting culture war.

As a sociologist at N.Y.U. described our current, dangerous political dynamic: “In capturing the party, Trump perfectly embodied its ethno-nationalist and authoritarian tendencies.”

I guess labeling the GOP as “ethno-nationalist” is nicer than calling it out as irredeemably racist. But it means the same thing.

 

Fear Itself…

FDR famously declared that ” the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It was 1933, and the country was still reeling from the Great Depression.

Almost 100 years later, the U.S. is dealing with a pandemic, but otherwise most of us are in far better shape than people were in 1933. (For that matter, there’s an argument to be made that if it wasn’t for the people holding an “unreasoning, unjustified” fear of vaccines, the pandemic would be largely behind us.) Our sour national mood is almost entirely attributable to a political environment  characterized by fear–a fear that has led to Congressional gridlock and refusal to deal with reality.

A friend recently sent me the results of a poll conducted by Axios–results that puzzled her. The poll showed heightened levels of fear across the political spectrum, but far higher  among those identifying as Republicans. She had a reasonable reaction: yes, rational Americans have reason to be fearful of Republicans’ persistent attacks on democratic institutions–but what do the Republicans fear? And why is fear so much higher among them?

Whatever they told the pollsters, I’m pretty sure that what most of today’s Republicans really fear is demographic change and the loss of White Christian privilege. It’s that fear that is motivating their frenzied attacks on democracy and “one person, one vote.” 

There’s an enormous amount of research corroborating that conclusion. Over the past decade, as popular culture and media outlets have paid more attention to their demographic decline, Americans who equate “real Americanism” with being White and Christian have seen headlines describing the waning of their share of the population; in 2017, numerous outlets headlined the fact that the country’s White Christian population had dipped below 50% for the first time.

Or, as one 2019 headline put it, “White Christian America ended in the 2010s.”

The author of the article, Robert P. Jones, heads up the Public Religion Research Institute. He wrote

Of all the changes to identity and belonging, the century’s second decade has been particularly marked by a religious sea change. After more than two centuries of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominance, the United States has moved from being a majority-white Christian nation to one with no single racial and religious majority.

When I first identified this shift mid-decade in my 2016 book “The End of White Christian America,” I noted that the percentage of white Christians in the general population had dropped from 53 percent to 47 percent between 2010 and 2014 alone. Now, at the end of the decade, only 42 percent of Americans identify as white and Christian, representing a drop of 11 percentage points.

Jones recited the statistics: since 2010, the number of White evangelical Protestants has dropped from 21 percent of the population to 15 percent. Today they are roughly the same size as their white mainline Protestant cousins (15 percent vs. 16 percent, respectively).

In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that, for the first time, there was an absolute decline in the country’s white, non-Hispanic population. In other words, whites not only lost ground as a proportion of the population, but in actual numbers; there were more deaths than births. The U.S. Census Bureau now predicts that the U.S. will no longer be majority-white by 2045, and among children at every age below 10, whites are already a minority.

Research tells us that White Christians have become deeply anxious about the future and unrealistically nostalgic for the past. That anxiety and nostalgia “has fueled support for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda, and not just among white evangelicals.”

Solid majorities of each white Christian subgroup voted for Trump in 2016 and, in the Public Religion Research Institute’s most recent American Values Survey, nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) white evangelicals and approximately two-thirds of both white mainline Protestants (68 percent) and white Catholics (65 percent) oppose impeaching and removing him from office.

White Christian America’s attraction to Trump has little to do with his personality or character — a slim majority (52 percent) of white evangelicals, for example, say they wish his speech and behavior were more like previous presidents — and everything to do with something more important: their belief that “making America great again” necessarily entails restoring white Christian demographic and political dominance.

These are the fears that motivate today’s GOP base–its opposition to immigration and hysteria over “Critical Race Theory,” among other things, and its determination to retain social dominance and privilege no matter how unconstitutional or unChristian the means and no matter how damaging to the nation.

Fear is a potent motivator but a very bad navigator.

 

Scapegoating

Indianapolis readers of this blog may remember P.E. MacAllister, now deceased. P.E. was a local businessman/philanthropist, the sort of Republican who used to exist “back in the day”–a model citizen who placed good government above partisanship, and when a Democrat was elected Mayor, willingly worked with him on city projects.

P.E. was also a serious biblical scholar, who wrote a book called–if memory serves–The Tongue of the Serpent. It was in his book (which he graciously gifted me) that I encountered the origins of scapegoating.

Evidently, in biblical times, the inhabitants of a village would come together, and one of them would lay hands on the head of a live goat while confessing all the iniquities of the people– all their transgressions, all their sins. They would put those sins  on the head of the goat, and send it away into the wilderness.

Where is that goat when you need it…??? Ah, well….

Scapegoating, as we all know, has evolved, with various marginalized folks taking the place of the goat. It now works with other unfortunate practices, especially hate speech and disinformation, and the prevalence and impact of all of those practices has been magnified by social media.

The Brookings Institution has published a report suggesting how concerned folks might deal with these techniques of spreading online racism. The report, titled “Bystander Intervention on Social Media,” stresses the need for online interventions against the “very real threats that can grow out of online abuse,” and identifies four primary discourses for spreading racism online: stereotyping, scapegoating, allegations of reverse racism, and echo chambers.

The researchers wanted to identify effective strategies available to bystanders that might be used to combat hate speech and misinformation online. At a time when many of us feel helpless to counter the mounting threats we face–growing tribalism, the rise of autocracy, climate change, etc. etc.–it’s comforting to be told that there is actually something individuals can do about at least one of the challenges we face–online racism.

We found that people of color are being targeted by organized misinformation efforts using digital technologies. We identified four primary racist discourses that operate on social media: stereotyping, scapegoating, allegations of reverse racism, and echo chambers. For example, Trump’s March 2020 tweet involves scapegoating in that he blames Chinese people and China for the spread of coronavirus in the U.S., thereby absolving his government of responsibility. Addressing racism on social media requires understanding that users who spread racist misinformation do so differently, sometimes compounding multiple forms of racism in just one post.

The researchers identified several techniques for combating online racism, and emphasized that they aren’t equally effective.

For instance, our study reveals that education and evidence-based or content-moderated discourse are prosocial techniques. These reactions to racist posts foster dialogue in the same way that they seek to debunk racist rhetoric. On the other hand, some methods, such as callouts, ridicule, and insults, were antisocial. These methods failed to minimize the hostility amongst users or against persons of color. Therefore, Internet users who want to speak out against online racism must consider the purpose of their interactions. If they want to reduce the presence of racism on social media, they must keep in mind that certain approaches may have the opposite effect.

Effective or not, the use of  any intervention tactics was relatively rare.  Most users on the platforms analyzed by the researchers simply refrained from intervening in racist conversations entirely. Only around one in every six Twitter conversations and somewhat fewer than 40% of Reddit discussions included any bystander behavior. The authors say that needs to change.

As the article concluded:

“Silence and inaction do nothing but cause biased perpetrator behaviors to proliferate as they feel unquestioned.” This is one of the most important implications from our analysis. Targeted aggressions can have real consequences on a victim’s mental and physical health. When bystanders step in and help to make aggressions visible, disarm the situation, educate the perpetrator, and seek external reinforcement or support, these approaches provide crucial support in preventing some of the most detrimental effects. Understanding the best strategies for online bystander intervention is the first step in targeting aggression online. If we want to see a genuine change in how social media users discuss racism, we must foster a digital culture that values prosocial discourse.

Distasteful as it can be to engage with bigots, we need to take this advice seriously.

 

Defining Privilege

Let me begin this discussion by admitting that communication is hard. Words mean different things to different people in different contexts, which is why consultants like Frank Luntz have made lots of money teaching Republicans to use phrases like “Death tax” rather than the demonstrably more accurate “estate tax.” (What the government is taxing, after all, is the estate–the assets left by the decedent–not the death.)

Understanding the power of language both to illuminate and confuse helps us recognize the problem with clumsy and misleading slogans (i.e. “defund the police.”)  There are also terms, however, that are arguably appropriate and/or accurate, but that nevertheless raise the hackles of folks who  (intentionally or unintentionally) interpret them differently.

One of those is  “privilege.” White privilege. Male privilege.

Evidently, a lot of people hear the word “privilege” and assume it refers to luxury, or at least ease. What it actually is intended to convey is the absence of a barrier–White people don’t get followed around in shops by clerks convinced that Black people are likely to be shoplifters; men don’t face “casting couch” situations when they apply for jobs. They have the “privilege” of being judged on the basis of relevant credentials and behaviors.

I’m not sure what other word we might use to convey that absence of added burdens.

The Indianapolis Business Journal recently ran a column by Tom Gallagher that struck me as a perfect example of White privilege. It was about redlining.

Gallagher explained that, in the 1930s, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and its operational arm, the Home Owners’ Loan Corp., were established to stabilize the real estate market as the Great Depression was ending.

They are also responsible for creating the maps that ultimately gave the discriminatory practice of redlining its name.

To encourage “responsible” lending practices, working with local real estate professionals, financiers and appraisers in communities across the nation of more than 40,000 people, Home Owners’ Loan Corp. created color-coded reference maps investors could use as a standard to determine the “security” of their investments. Based on their assessments, the “best” neighborhoods were graded “A” (in green). “B” (in blue) were “still desirable” and those given a “C” were considered “definitely declining” (in yellow). The neighborhoods given the lowest grade of “D” were regarded as “hazardous” and were, of course, colored in red.

The idea of a locally based, data-informed basis for decision-making was a good one. The problem arose in the values applied to the assessments. There was a clear bias toward newer and more spacious development, for example. Most shocking was that the residents were being graded, perhaps more than the real estate itself, not in terms of their credit value or economic viability but in terms of the “kind of people” they were. The Mapping Inequality project points out, “HOLC assumed and insisted that the residency of African Americans and immigrants, as well as working-class whites, compromised the values of homes and the security of mortgages.” To be sure, the maps didn’t create prejudice, but they did codify and normalize it.

As Gallagher and many others point out, the practice of redlining resulted in a “systematic and fundamental restructuring of our cities to favor the privileged and divert opportunities for wealth from those deemed unworthy.” It has had a lasting effect on the health and wealth of communities of color.

The Brookings Institution dubbed those effects the “destructive three “Ds.”

Black neighborhoods are denied the opportunity to build wealth through housing (which is the predominant mechanism through which White folks amass assets); they experience the systemic devaluation of their existing assets (both residential and business/commercial properties); and thanks to the results of redlining, banks frequently deny loans, which  leads to disinvestment that undermines efforts to arrest and reverse decline.

To those three “Ds,” Gallagher adds two others:  asset devaluation, which leads to a drop in prices and allows outside investors to step in, acquire property “on the cheap” and displace long-term residents and small businesses.

It seems accurate to describe those of us who don’t have to deal with the consequences of those racially discriminatory policies as privileged.

It also seems appropriate to note that redlining and its persistent after-effects are an excellent example of what we mean when we talk about structural/systemic racism–one of the “built into the law” systems that are the focus of  Critical Race Theory studied by law professors.

I don’t know whether Frank Luntz or one of his clones is responsible for turning that example of relatively arcane graduate-school study into a phrase meaning “hey, White people, ‘they’ are coming for you..,” but Republicans do have a genius for turning descriptive words into weapons.