race
05
Jan

Identity crisis in American politics

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Here we are on the cusp of the 2018 midterm election, and the closing arguments of each party have offered a stark contrast. In short, the Republicans, led by, and I would say eclipsed by, the occupant in the White House, are running on fear. Specifically, of the Scary Migrant Caravan, which is weeks away from reaching the southern U.S. border, and will likely be a fraction of its size now. On the other side, Democrats are implicitly and explicitly running to undo some of the damage they say has been done in the past two years of total Republican control. And they’re running on health care, which polls consistently show as the top concern of voters.

I’m not making any predictions about the outcome. I’m just pointing out that the Republican party right now is using tribal identity to win. By tribal identity I mean “white, Christian Americans who hate and fear those brown people.”

Am I being too harsh? Ezra Klein probably wouldn’t think so. In his great essay published today in Vox, Klein makes the case that the Republican party under the Obama years had become more white and more fearful about losing their, let’s call it what it is, white privilege. If the current occupant of the White House hadn’t descended that golden escalator in 2015 and immediately denigrated Mexican immigrants, another of the two dozen Republicans running would have won the nomination, but eventually another nativist – let’s call him white Nationalist – would need to emerge. Because that’s the way the party was going. Here’s Klein, boiling down Identity Crisisan analysis of the 2016 campaign from political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck:

• Trump destroyed the rest of the Republican field among primary voters who were angry about immigration. Trump did 40 points better among Republican voters with the most negative views of immigration than among those with the most positive views. Trump’s success, in other words, was that he ran an issue-based candidacy on an issue where he was closer to the Republican base than the other candidates were.

• The same was true with attitudes toward Muslims: “Trump performed significantly better with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively unfavorably in 2011 than he did with Republican voters who rated Muslims relatively favorably.” By contrast, views of Muslims did not affect support for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

• And so it went for race, too. Republican voters who attributed racial inequality to a lack of effort among African Americans rather than past and present discrimination were 50 points likelier to support Trump. Similarly, Republicans who told pollsters they felt coldly toward African Americans in 2011 were 20 points likelier to support Trump than Republicans who said they felt warmly toward African Americans.

Klein goes on to quote the authors about how the election of the first Black President was a realigning moment. That is, and I’m injecting my own spin here, Republicans, especially those on the lower end of the education and economic spectrum, more strongly aligned their political persuasion with race; that is their own White race.:

“The Obama administration was not only eight years of a Democratic president—which meant that partisan polarization would only continue to grow—but also eight years of a black president,” write Sides, Tesler, and Vavreck. “Once Obama was elected, Americans’ racial identities and racial attitudes became even more potent political forces. The gap between the political opinions of whites and blacks grew larger.”

It was exactly ten years ago that Barack Obama was elected. Do you remember the elation around the country and around the world at this event? I do. But in other parts of the U.S. there were people on the other side who saw his election as not just a defeat of their candidate – John McCain, who, to his credit, explicitly did not make race an issue – but rather a sign of the coming doom of White Americans. Remember how people tossed around the term “post-racial” ten years ago? Yes, quaint. Instead of instantly becoming a post-racial nation, the election of Barack Obama deepened and hardened the racial divides that were always there (usually) just under the surface. And now we have an occupant in the White House who is using a klaxon horn instead of a dog whistle to the most racist of his base. The rest of his party is a bit divided: some in suburban districts are not saying his name, as I am not. They’re generally touting the low unemployment numbers. One wonders why the occupant in the White House is not doing the same; the economy is generally good. Other Republicans in mostly rural and deep-red districts are running on the same fear and racial resentment and terror that the Migrant Caravan – filled with, as was said in the Saturday Night Live spoof last weekend, “Guatemalans, the 1990 Detroit pistons and a few babadooks.” Will fear and hate work? For the sake of race relations alone, I hope not.

One other thing. If the rise of Donald Trump – there, I said his name – is the major legacy of Barack Obama’s tenure, well, that’s sad. I don’t think it will be seen as Obama’s most important legacy. After all he accomplished many things apart from just being who he was. But if the rise of Donald Trump and naked nativism is a key fallout from 2008, I hope for the best: that it will be able to lance the boil of racism that has plagued this nation for hundreds of years. I remain optimistic.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty images)

07
Jan

Fears of a Non-White Majority

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By now it’s clear that the current administration has whipped up fears – that were already there lurking under the surface – and, anger – about the decline of whites as a percentage of the U.S. population (and, by extension, the decline of white’s perceived cultural power). Witness that two weeks ago, just as Trump’s “fixer,” Michael Cohen, fingered his boss as an co-conspirator in a crime to get elected, the President’s fixation was about the Criminal Mexicans – his favorite refrain – coming across the border to kill white people. It just so happened that as Cohen was singing, it was learned that an undocumented worker had killed a woman in Iowa. Guess which was the top story on Fox news that week?

A New York Times opinion piece by the fantastic Thomas Edsall suggests that the rise of Trumpism came along at just the time when projections showed a declining white majority and a rising non-white population (the way these are phrased are important in how threatened people feel about these demographic changes, as it turns out).

Some of those I contacted suggested that only Trump and his fellow Republicans have the power to change the anti-immigrant, anti-minority tone of the political conversation. Nathan Kalmoe, a political scientist at Louisiana State University, argued, for example, that

“Politicians and other opinion leaders play an important role in helping citizens make sense of the threats and opportunities they face. I expect the views of many white Americans would shift if President Trump and other leaders who deploy ethnonationalist messages collectively changed their tune, at least in terms of attitude intensity and priority.”

In the highly unlikely event that that happened, “prejudices wouldn’t vanish, but they would be less politically potent for most people.” More realistically, Kalmoe wrote, “as long as prominent leaders continue to mobilize white fear and anger on the issue, citizens who trust them will follow.”

Having a leader with a more inclusive – and less incendiary – view of race and demographic changes in the U.S. would help to mitigate some of the anti-immigrant and anti-white animosity, but it wouldn’t completely erase it (Edsall doesn’t say that it would). It’s a problem we’ve been bumping up against for the entire history of what we call the U.S.

Edsall also surveys many other academics regarding demographic changes in the U.S., covering issues such as who identifies as white – a growing number of people with mixed heritage think of themselves as white – and whether the U.S. Census binary non-Hispanic white-minority division may be stoking the anxieties of whites fearful of a majority-minority America.

The bottom line is what I’ve been expressing for years: America has a race problem. What we’ve learned in the past three years is, a leader who tells white Americans “the other” coming to kill their daughters, take their jobs, take their prestige, only makes the problem worse.

Regarding the Iowa woman who was murdered, Mollie Tibbits, the family is fed up with anti-immigrant mouthpieces using her daughter’s murder to score political points, calling them “heartless and despicable” and racist. Where’s the reporting on that, Fox News?

28
Jan

John McCain’s complicated history with race

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mccain_obit_061114gn_lead

Photo credit Greg Nash

 

The U.S. Senate has lost one of its lions, and, predictably, the coverage of John McCain’s death ranges from hagiography to screed to everything in between.

That middle ground is most interesting. For those who aren’t familiar with McCain’s long Senate career, they’re surely aware of his 2008 Presidential run against Barack Obama. And a now-iconic moment involves pushing back against a racist woman who called Obama an Arab town hall.

McCain grabbed the microphone from her, cutting her off. “No, ma’am,” he said. “He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that just I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

He could have added, “and even if he were an Arab, or a Muslim, he’s still an honorable American, because Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans can be decent family men too.” But that’s a bit of a quibble. Especially considering how toxic the political environment has become in the past decade. And considering we have an open racist in the White House now.

You may remember the Reverend Wright controversy in the 2008 campaign. That’s where video of Obama’s longtime reverend surfaced with him saying “God damn America,” but lacked the context of why Wright said this in a sermon (Wright was denouncing America’s foreign intervention and its original sin, slavery). Campaign watchers point out that in 2008 McCain declared it verboten to mention Reverend Wright or anything about Obama’s religion. He wouldn’t play the religion card. He wouldn’t play the race card. It’s the decent and statesman-like stance to take, but can you imagine that happening in a Presidential campaign today?

But McCain had other, more complex – and some might say troubling – conflicts regarding race. During his first run for the Presidency, in 2000, the Confederate flag was a controversial issue in the pivotal South Carolina primary. At first, McCain said that the flag was a symbol of “racism and slavery,” but it up to each state to determine whether to display it or not. His rival, George W. Bush, had essentially the same position, without excoriating it as a symbol of slavery and racism. McCain lost that primary to Bush, for a variety of reasons, including a smear campaign against him suggesting he had fathered a bi-racial child. After the race, he went back to South Carolina and clarified his position and apologized for putting political interests ahead of candor.

“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary,” the Arizona senator who named his campaign bus “The Straight Talk Express,” said at a luncheon in the state’s capital city. “So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.”

His Confederate forefathers in Mississippi, McCain said, “fought on the wrong side of American history.”“I don’t believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors,” he continued.

He didn’t have to make that statement. It didn’t gain him anything. But it shows that, when political considerations are put aside, McCain was more likely to be progressive in terms of race.

But he was a Republican, running in a state with a very conservative base (Arizona). So, sometimes politics won. Like in the 2010 primary, where he was facing a challenger from the right. He responded by releasing a TV ad blaming immigrants for home invasions and saying the U.S. needed to “complete the danged fence” on the border.

This is the same man who co-authored – with another Senate lion, the liberal Ted Kennedy – a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2005. The bill failed, scuttled by hardliners in his own party. But it remains the benchmark for immigration reform efforts, still.

We could assume that the real McCain was the bipartisan reformer he showed in the immigration bill efforts, rather than the “complete the danged fence” angry old man of 2010, at least when he didn’t have to face his base.

In 1983, as a new Congressman, he voted against making Martin Luther King Day a national holiday. Years later he said he changed his position, he evolved.

So, a complicated history. But he was willing and able to admit when he was wrong. This is something that stands in stark contrast to his party today, and the leader of his party.

07
Jan

White people and misplaced nostalgia

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This article from the Washington Post is another in a long and continuing line of How Did This Happen analyses of the presidential election. This one uses the theory that nostalgia for White Christian America – presumably in the 1950s, whether or not they actually lived through the 50s – drove so many Americans to vote for Trump. Because nothing says nostalgia for a simpler time like a thin-skinned man with a fragile ego who tweets out provocations to foreign countries before he’s inaugurated and dismisses the entire intelligence community. Just like Eisenhower, right?

Sorry. Back to the race issue. White resentment is a real thing, and it’s been reported on in many outlets and researched by Pew and others. But the framing of the article, that all these voters wanted was a return to Andy Griffith America – Andy Griffith was a TV SHOW – sorry – shows that either these people are suffering from the worst case of cognitive dissonance ever, or the author is treating their racism with kid gloves. Here’s a key passage:

Seventy-four percent of white evangelicals believe American culture has mostly changed for the worse since the 1950s — more than any other group of Americans — compared with 56 percent of all whites, according to a 2016 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. In sharp contrast, 62 percent of African Americans and 57 percent of Hispanic Americans think the culture has changed for the better, the survey said.

With his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump appealed directly to this sense of dispossession, and 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for him, according to exit polls.

Make America Great Again is about racism. Say it, Washington Post. Well, the writer sort of gets real with some fact-based history about the town The Andy Griffith Show was supposedly based on, Mount Airy, North Carolina:

Not everyone is nostalgic for the 1950s.

Ron Jessup, 68, who grew up in Mount Airy during that era, found the place generally friendly then, he said — as long as he and other blacks obeyed the racist laws and social mores of the time.

If African Americans went to the theater, they sat upstairs, he said. If they went to the restaurants, they avoided the counter. “We understood what was considered our place,” said Jessup, who is retired from his job as a high school principal in nearby Winston-Salem. Even now, all five Surry County commissioners are white.

Fictional Mayberry only represented part of the Mount Airy story because it only portrayed a white America, Jessup said.

And the article is still skirting the glaring truth: many of these voters don’t care just about the Bible or gay marriage or lower taxes, they want a White dominant America.

They’re not going to get it. It’s simply not possible. And they’re going to be very angry if and when they realize this.

19
Jan

Study: Whites lost jobs, Americans of color gained jobs, since 2007

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A new report by the independent Economic Cycle Research Institute, covers a lot of economic ground with it statistics on employment and economics over the past nine years. But this sentence in the report stands out:

Whites actually have fewer jobs than nine years ago, while Hispanics, Blacks and Asians together gained all of the net jobs added, and more.

This editorial in the New York Times suggests that these statistics, the lopsided job gains that benefitted Americans of color over the past nine years, had an impact on the recent election. You know that Angry White Working Class voter? Turns out he had something to be angry about:

Despite accounting for less than 15 percent of the labor force, Hispanics got more than half of the net additional jobs. Blacks and Asians also gained millions more jobs than they lost. But whites, who account for 78 percent of the labor force, lost more than 700,000 net jobs over the nine years.

By the numbers, from November 2007 to November 2016:

- The U.S. economy has gained net 9 million jobs.

-  Whites experienced a net job reduction of more than 700,000 jobs.

-  Asian Americans gained close to 2.5 million jobs.

- Blacks gained a little over 2 millions.

- Latinos  gained almost 5 million net jobs.

Taking age into account, the numbers are even more shocking. Looking only at those of prime working age—25 to 54 years old—whites suffered a net job loss of 6.5 million. For Latinos, Asians, and blacks in the same age cohort, the net job gains were 3 million, 1.5 million, and 1 million respectively.

Part of it had to do with where the new jobs are concentrated vs. where the white people are concentrated, according to ECRI:

Part of the reason may be that these jobs, predominantly in services, were created in metropolitan areas, rather than in rural areas and small towns where factories were shuttered as the manufacturing jobs disappeared. There is little reason to expect that those jobs are coming back to those areas away from the urban centers.

Metropolitan areas gained jobs over the past nine years, while the rest of the country shed 2 percent. Trump won white working class voters decisively, which made the difference in heavily rural states and in non-urban areas of swing states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Overall, among whites without a college degree, Trump won by 39 points. More importantly, he outperformed Mitt Romney by 14 points among that group.

A couple of things to point out:

- The data don’t show that, despite some ugly race-baiting, that non-whites “took white people’s jobs.”

- The data don’t suggest that things are great for most Americans of color.

- The data do not show that we hat we don’t need more investment in urban or metropolitan areas.

- The data do not show that all or most of the jobs gained were good, well-paying jobs.

What the data do suggest is that white resentment is based on some actual numbers. Though these working class (generally) whites didn’t have this study to go on, they have been perceiving the situation accurately  - that they have been left behind economically. This anger over this can take many unproductive forms, which we have seen. This can be lashing out with racism, a rise in opioid drug use, or, though we can disagree on this, voting for a “change candidate,” without much concern over whether that change candidate will deliver what they want, or just blow the whole system up.

Politically, both parties should pay attention to these numbers.

 

 

29
Jan

The problem with colorblindness

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Fascinating article in Psychology Today that suggests “colorblindness” is really a form of racism.

Many people think colorblind ideology is the same as equality; that is, everyone will be treated the same, and their skin color doesn’t matter (or can’t be seen). The author has a different view on this:

Racism? Strong words, yes, but let’s look the issue straight in its partially unseeing eye. In a colorblind society, White people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society (Fryberg, 2010). Most minorities, however, who regularly encounter difficulties due to race, experience colorblind ideologies quite differently. Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives.

Instead of colorblind ideology, she has a better idea:

The alternative to colorblindness is multiculturalism, an ideology that acknowledges, highlights, and celebrates ethnoracial differences. It recognizes that each tradition has something valuable to offer. It is not afraid to see how others have suffered as a result of racial conflict or differences.

23
Jan

“Expat” vs “Immigrant”

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A commentator in The Guardian poses a great question: Why are white people living abroad called expats, while people of color are immigrants?

Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad.

Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.

The commentator comes around to the point that most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. This is from a worldwide perspective, but can easily be applied just to the U.S.

One person in the comments section – yes, we know but the Guardian’s comment section is better than most – says that it’s not jut about race but about class:

I think it’s probably to do with economic dynamics, immigration is usually perceived as poverty driven. For example, relatively poor Bulgarians moving into France or the UK to work for better wages are considered to be ‘immigrants’ (although they are white). And a rich Qatari oil Tycoon living in a ridiculously luxurious flat in London is not considered an ‘immigrant’ (although he is not white).

Poor people are ‘immigrants’. Rich people are ‘expats.’ Whether it’s economics or race or both, it’s important to remember that language matters.

08
Jan

American anger 2016 and “the other”

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Have you gotten into an argument about politics yet this season? If so, you’re not alone. And if it seems like these disputes are becoming more toxic and mean, they are, according to a fascinating, though not surprising, essay in the New York Times this week.

The Big Orange One was not named in the article, and that may be due to the conclusion that Trump is just a vessel for simmering rage that has been boiling in the American electorate for some time.

While the percentage of Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican has gone down in recent decades, those with a strong party affinity are now farther apart from the other side than ever. And according to this essay, it’s largely based on racial attitudes:

The increasing alignment between party and racial attitudes goes back to the early 1990s. The Pew Values Survey asks people whether they agree that “we should make every effort to improve the position of minorities, even if it means giving them preferential treatment.”

Over time, Americans’ party identification has become more closely aligned with answers to this question and others like it. Pew reports that, “since 1987, the gap on this question between the two parties has doubled — from 18 points to 40 points.” Democrats are now much more supportive (52 percent) of efforts to improve racial equality than they were a few decades ago, while the views of Republicans have been largely unchanged (12 percent agree).

And with race and ethnicity front and center in the 2016 race, from Black Lives Matter protesters to Trump calling Mexicans rapists and murderers (“though some I’m sure are nice people”), the partisan split is even more pronounced.

 

14
Jan

#oscarssowhite

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And the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has done it again. It’s proved that it may be many things, but it is not reflective of the U.S.

Actors of color were shut out of the nominations again. And people are noticing. There is a #oscarssowhite twitter account. In fact all of social media is a-twitter about the whiteness of the nominees.

It isn’t like there weren’t any great performances of people of color. As the media site Vulture points out, candidates Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), and Michael B. Jordan (Creed) all received awards buzz in the weeks leading up to the nominations (Jordan took home a National Society of Film Critics award for Best Actor) but none were nominated. And:

In addition to the individual snubs, the Academy didn’t recognize Straight Outta Compton, a movie with a largely black ensemble, in either the acting or Best Picture categories, leaving us with no Best Picture nominees that feature a nonwhite lead or a predominantly nonwhite cast. (Straight Outta Compton did receive a nomination for Best Original Screenplay — which was credited to four white writers.)

Part of the problem is that the Academy itself doesn’t look like America. It’s members are overwhelmingly white, male, and older. From the LA Times:

A Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%.Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership.

So there it is, then.

10
Jan

Minority teens pessimistic about their longevity: study

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As if the news weren’t depressing enough these days, here is a study showing that minority teens are less hopeful they’ll see the age of 35 than white teens.

In a recently published study in the journal Health and Social Behavior, researchers mined the data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health — a cohort that initially included 20,745 teens questioned every few years between 1994 and 2008 on topics regarding their health and well-being.

Participants were asked how likely they were to live to age 35. The response choices ranged from “almost no chance” to “almost certain.”

Foreign-born Mexicans were the least optimistic, followed by second-generation Mexicans, then black teens, and then Puerto Ricans. Asian teens were also “significantly less optimistic about future survival relative to whites,” the study notes. The only outlier among the minority groups were the American-born Cubans, whose optimism for survival didn’t look all that different from that of the white teens.

Even controlling for neighborhood factors like violence and poverty, the authors found an optimism gap between black and white participants. Black youth, at least, appear to believe the world is more dangerous to them, regardless of where they live.

The one bit of hope in the study was a U-shaped curve for all the racial and ethnic categories. The older the teens of all races grew, the more confident they were of their survival,