bigotry
06
Jan

Racism’s New Normal

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RFK

Robert Kennedy, building a Rainbow Coalition

Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles, minutes after he was projected to win the California primary and was – maybe, we’ll never know – on a path to securing the Democratic nomination for President. It’s just anecdotal, but in my experience, people who were alive and aware at that time, and who were Kennedy supporters, still tear up when they speak of him. Even more so than the reaction of those who remember where they were when his brother, JFK, was killed. They believe that hope was killed on that June day in 1968.

There’s an excellent documentary on Netflix right now, “Bobby Kennedy for President,” which chronicles RFK’s awakening to racial issues of the 60s. The film makes note that he started off that decade as his brother’s Attorney General, wiretapping Martin Luther King and being highly resistant to making overtures to communities of color. Near the end of the decade, and his life, he strongly embraced Black and Latino communities. We can credit Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders for his change of heart. But whether it was political calculation or a sincere evolution – many historians come down on the latter – he was the first politician running for President to not ignore communities of color or at least pay them lip service. Historian Richard Kahlenberg superb has written an excellent paper, “The Inclusive Populism of Robert Kennedy,” making the case that RFK was building an alliance of working-class whites and minorities, a coalition that just might have won.

Fast forward to 2018. Where are working class whites now? Oh yes. They helped propel Donald “Mexicans are rapists” Trump to the White House.

Remember when Presidents of both parties, at least in words, tried to appeal to our better natures? What happened? Was a half-century of progress wiped out with one divisive campaign and one highly divisive and bigoted President. Yes, some of it, at least, we can hope, temporarily.

A recent Washington Post editorial stated that everything we’ve witnessed recently, from the ugly Roseanne tweet that ended her show, to the rise in open racists running for office, are predictable and predicted byproducts of the hate spewed from the resident of the Oval Office:

Can I prove that Trump’s hate-mongering is infecting the culture? No, I can’t, but it stands to reason — and there are signs that it is. This year, there are at least 10 white supremacists running for office — and that doesn’t count failed West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship, who excoriated “China people,” and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams, who campaigned in a “deportation bus.” Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, and the Southern Poverty Law Center report that the number of hate crimes and hate groups has increased since Trump became president.

I can’t prove that the rise in overt racism is a direct result of Trump’s hate-mongering. But if not that, then what has precipitated it’s ugly rise?

I think reasonable people can agree on a few things. Racism never really left the U.S. It’s just that many racists and bigots were, for a while, afraid to say what they really thought. During that shining illusory interregnum in blatant racism –how quaint the term post-racial society sounds – people with racial animus – as opposed to racial bias, which, sadly affects a much wider swath of America – became resentful about feeling like they had to moderate their views. What was happening was, they were keeping the views out of sight, but within their bubbles, they were free to not only say what they wanted, their sense of white victimization grew. Hey, bubbles reinforce beliefs, don’t they?

Speaking of bubbles, we all live in our own. Here in southern California, a melting pot, salad, whatever metaphor you want to use, of every race, bigotry is generally not cool. Because I live in this region, which is relatively free of overt racism – oh it’s likely there, but tamped down by social norms – I’m left astounded and a little depressed every time I see support for Muslim travel bans, racist rallies, and polls where whites say they’re victims of discrimination.

And now, here we are, in a time where racism, for the time being in at least in a too-large part of the population, is normalized again. We’re a much more diverse nation than 50 years ago, and on the verge of, as you’re probably aware, of becoming a nation where whites are not the majority. And yet, we have an occupant in the White House who has, time and again, shown more racial animus than any major candidate for President since George Wallace, a man who doesn’t use coded dog-whistle terms to speak to racists, but rather, a bullhorn. It should be noted that George “Segregation Forever” Wallace didn’t come close to winning any of his Presidential races. Pendulums swing back and forth. We may be seeing a certain percentage of the white population unleashed and angry that they’ve had to keep their racism under wraps for so long. But it’s pretty clear that Trump gave them the freedom to unwrap it.

Still, America is changing, and it will not become whiter. I fear that America will always have a problem with race. But with more time, and with leaders who, at the very least, accept that this is a multicultural nation, we’ll keep making progress.

While I’m on the RFK-Trump comparison, one more thing. Charles Blow, opinion columnist in the New York Times, has an excellent piece today outlining what he sees as the darkness in Trump, and concludes:

He always disguises his hatred, often as a veneration and defense of his base, the flag, law enforcement or the military. He hijacks their valor to advance his personal hatred.

So I remember that. I center that. I hear “I want to hate” every time I hear him speak. And I draw strength from the fact that I’m not fighting for or against a political party; I’m fighting hatred itself, as personified by the man who occupies the presidency. That is my spine stiffener.

Surely RFK had his detractors. But I seriously doubt anyone made the case fifty years ago that he was a “hater.” Maybe that’s why he’s still beloved by so many who were adults at the time. And I’m trying not to be mean here, but I can’ help wondering how many people get weepy at the memory of Gov. George Wallace, who, to be fair, recanted on much of his racial animosity at the end of his life. And I can’t help wondering, after all the ways Trump has taken us backward into bigotry, after he’s gone, how many people will choke up at the memory of him?

 

 

 

 

17
Jan

The case for mocking bigotry

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Does it seem like every day this month you’ve heard about people, white people, calling the cops or security on people of color sitting in Starbucks (more than once), coming out of their Air BNBs, sleeping in the common area of their dormitories, trying to return a circuit cutter at Hobby Lobby? Well, that’s because there’s been a new incident almost every day. There may be a new one today.

This open bigotry and xenophobia has been going on for decades. And it happens because white people, generally, feel they have the police on their side.

But thanks to the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and social media, we’re getting an idea of just how widespread the fear of The Other is in the U.S. Mostly this fear and animosity is directed at Black Americans. Sometimes it’s at Latinos or other people of color, like the NYC lawyer who threatened to call ICE because people at a restaurant were… gasp, speaking Spanish. Can you imagine? In a video shared by Edward Suazo and first reported on by Latino Rebels, that fuming lawyer, Aaron Schlossberg, excoriated a Fresh Kitchen employee for not interfering in people’s conversations en Español.

“Your staff are speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English,” he said. “Every person I listened to, he spoke it. He spoke it. She’s speaking it. It’s America… So I will be following up, and my guess is, they’re not documented. So my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country. If they have the balls to come here and live off of my money. I pay for their welfare. I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do, the least they can do is speak English.”

For those who don’t see the U.S. as a white homeland, these incidents can provide anger and outrage. And that’s natural. These are outrageous instances. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be furious with these people. And, surely the killing and beating of People of Color for no reason is absolutely a reason to get mad.

But there is also something that the internet does well: ridicule and mock those that so deserve it.

Take the incident last weekend in Oakland, California, where a white woman called the police on a black family who had the temerity to barbeque in a public park.

Yes, she used the N word. Then she started crying when the police arrived, acting like she’s the victim of the encounter. Merry pranksters online are responding with humorous memes.

Like this one:

 

And this:

Also:

And a big party was planned in that park, supporting people who have the nerve to picnic while Black.

In light of rampant – but at least not violent, in these cases – injustice, sometimes you just have to laugh instead of crying. That is precisely what meme creators have done. As for that angry racist lawyer, Schlossberg, it looks like he will be enjoying the music of several Mariachis, right at his office, gratis. No, thank you, internet-based pranksters.

Schlossberg, by the way, appears to have a history of bizarre and offensive racial outbursts. This is beyond mere racism, in my opinion. I’m not a doctor, but this guy has some serious mental issues. He needs help. In the meantime, he deserves all the scorn and ridicule he’s getting (though I hope it doesn’t make him worse).

Outrage has its place. But there’s also something to be said for responding to racism and bigotry with style, art, humor and love. The best response to others inhumanity is to embrace your own humanity.

 

 

05
Jan

Study: many whites voted for Trump for his embrace of whiteness

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Trump voters

Trump supporters: white and afraid of losing their majority (wikipedia commons)

 

For the past year and a half, there’s been a vigorous, sometimes tortured, effort to answer the question of how the election of Trump happened. Let’s forget for a minute that Hillary Clinton actually won 3 million more votes. She’s not sitting in the oval office.

It’s been posited that it was economic anxiety among rust belt voters that led so many Ohioans, Michiganders, Wisconsinites and Pennsylvanians to vote for Trump and deliver him an electoral college victory. The theory goes, he’ll bring back jobs by… doing something. Like tariffs, which he’s done. And… doing deals (he never was very specific about how he was going to bring back jobs, was he?)

We’ve also been told that voters wanted a change in Washington, drain the swamp as it were. Try not to laugh, given what you know about the D.C. swamp, which has become a nationally protected wetland with extra alligators since January, 2017. But maybe some people did believe that Crooked Hillary line. Surely many people just hate Washington, and having some other guy in there – a businessman, sports figure, singer, whatever – would do the nation good.

What a lot of mainstream pundits have tap danced around is what many of us have suspected: many whites voted for Trump because of his pretty explicit embrace of white nationalism.

Well, now there’s a study that backs up what we’ve been thinking. A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that a segment – though not all, but hey, he only lost three key states by 80,000 votes – were motivated to protect their own dominant status in American culture and politics. Make America Great Again, for some, meant Make America White Again.

The study looked at a group of the same voters who cast ballots in 2012 and 2016, focusing on those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. Many of these voters, instead of expressing pocketbook fears, showed deep concern about America’s declining global power and – this is key – about the projected demographic changes that will put whites out of the majority by 2045.

 

The study’s author, Diana Muntz, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, found that one factor in particular increased the likelihood of voting for Trump: the belief that white people are more discriminated against than people of color. Mutz also found that the people who switched their vote from Democrat to Republican liked Trump’s aggressive stance on free trade and China’s ascendance as a global superpower. And they wanted group hierarchy, not equality, with their group on top.

So, remember that escalator speech where Trump announced his candidacy, the one where he said Mexicans coming into the country were rapists and murders? Turns out he knew his base pretty well. Or, maybe, he created this base. After all, no major nominee of any party has been so openly bigoted.

Now that naked bigotry is out in the open – and, sadly, growing – how do we as a nation deal with what has been unleashed? It’s a pretty good time for a real conversation on race. Unfortunately the one with the biggest megaphone and tiniest twitter fingers is the one setting the agenda. For now.

 

22
Jan

The shrinking world of white men

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Make America great again? Has the candidate with that slogan ever asked what was the last year America was great? We haven’t heard it. But for his supporters, that year might have been the last time they had an unquestioned dominance in the body politic and in culture. Still, we don’t know when that was; it’s been known for a while that the white share of the population is shrinking.

This piece in the Chicago Tribune adds to the analysis of what makes the GOP candidate’s supporters – the white male voters – tick. This passage with a quote from a Texas talk show host frames the narrative:

“I want America to be America,” he says. “I want some semblance of what this country used to be. It’s worth protecting. It’s worth defending. I don’t recognize this country anymore.”

This is a white male voice preaching to a largely white male audience that has expressed many of the same sentiments, in dribs and drabs, in hushed watercooler conversations and boisterous barroom exchanges, around kitchen tables — and most of all, in the course of a presidential campaign in which Trump has become their champion and their hope.

Certainly, not all white males agree. But at this moment in American history, to be white and male means, for many, to question what happened to the opportunities once theirs for the taking, to see others getting ahead and wonder why, to feel centuries of privilege and values slipping away.

“They’re taking everything from us,” says one of the day’s callers, Stephen Sanders. “I don’t want my community changed.”

The callers express resentment of immigrants who came here illegally, suspicion of Muslims, disdain for gays. They rail against a coarsening of culture, while backing a man who brags about making unwanted sexual advances. They voice bitterness toward a society they see as rallying to save an endangered animal or to lobby for the bathroom rights of transgender children, while seeming to ignore their own pain.

Can someone say to them, “Okay, fine, I feel your pain”? And then tell them to knock off the bigotry?

Do read the rest of the piece. There is nothing about slipping economic clout or insecurity about economics. There may be some scapegoating in the “I want my country back” chants. But let’s call it what it is. For the most part this is nothing more than, with apologies to Dylan Thomas, rage, rage against the dying of the White.