racism
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.

 

 

16
Jan

“You will not replace us!”

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IMG_TK-Confederate_flag__2_1_JDB86S2U_L310756755     On Saturday, several dozen torch-wielding protesters gathered in Charlottesville’s Lee Park chanting “You will not replace us,” “Russia is our friend” and “Blood and soil.” It was a short protest, quickly dispersed.

It was a response to the Charlottesville City Council, which in April voted to sell the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that stands in the park. A judge earlier this month issued an injunction that prevents the city from doing so for six months. It’s part of a – well, movement is too sweeping a term – concurrent effort to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces throughout the south.

It’s hard to say how representative the protesters are of white Southerners today. The removal of the confederate flag from South Carolina in 2015 after Dylan Roof massacred black people in a Charleston church. Yet the fight over the flag hasn’t ended.

It’s easy for many to day, “you lost the Civil War, get over it already.” But to some – okay many, even most – Americans who see Civil War symbols as a reminder of slavery, to some, they’re something else (but don’t call these people racists). In banning the Confederate flag in 2015, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said that it could be displayed, but in a museum. Many others equated it with Nazi symbols, something you just don’t wear in public. Then again, one wonders how many people have both swastikas and Confederate flags in that venn diagram of white supremacist groups.

Right, we’re not supposed to call those who want to preserve Confederate symbols in public places racists. Just historians. Okay then. We’re actually not interested in debating that. What we do find interesting is this: the Charlottesville protesters chanted “you will not replace us!”

Replace hard-core Confederates? Replace white nationalists? Or replace… white people?

White Americans – north, south, east and west – are very touchy these days. In study after study, the idea that white people were losing ground – economically and culturally – was a main reason they voted for Trump.

Now, the latest research offers more evidence that it was fear of diversity – okay let’s just call it racism, mixed with xenophobia – that motivated Trump voters:

Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the PRRI analysis said they believed the U.S. was in danger of losing its cultural identity. Similarly, 65 percent responded that American culture had deteriorated since the 1950s. And more than half of white working-class Americans said that discrimination against whites was as big a problem as discrimination facing blacks and other minorities.

Discrimination against whites. So, we’re at a chicken-or-egg question. Did Trump stoke the fears that were already there, making white pride a thing? Or did he funnel all of the fears of white Americans into one convenient container: race?

You will not replace us: those projections that the U.S. will be racially plural in this century really, really have struck at the heart of white America.

17
Jan

“Those people” and white racial resentment

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There’s a story in the Washington Post today about how Trump supporters trust him to do the right thing on health care, no matter what the evidence shows them.

Near the end of the story is a telling anecdote that shows how easy it is for whites to blame non-whites for their economic insecurity. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. In this case a mom, Nancy Ware who has helped her 35-year-old son find an insurance plan and complains about the lack of competition in the exchange in Nashville making her premiums too high. Legitimate complaint. But who does she blame? Not the insurance companies or Tennessee’s political leaders who wouldn’t expand Medicaid. She points the finger at… you know.

Ware is a landscaper and often works near Section 8 housing in the Nashville area, and she becomes furious when she sees residents who “drive better cars than I do, they have weaves and hair color better than I can, they have manicures.” As Ware, who is white, waited in line for the rally to start, a group of young African American protesters walked by, and she yelled at them, “Go cash your welfare checks!”

“He gets penalized on his income taxes, while these people that don’t know how to pull their pants up can go get it for free,” said Ware, whose employer covers the full cost of her health care. “Make it even. Make it balanced.”

Anyone remember Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen driving a Cadillac” anecdote? Now that welfare queen has health care and a better manicure than white people, apparently.

We’ve been told again and again how the Trump vote was all about economic insecurity. Perhaps. But the blame for that economic insecurity, as it has been throughout American history, is cast on the most convenient scapegoat. In this case, the welfare queen with the better hair color has stolen a white woman’s health care. Because… just because.

And Trump? He’s been doing what race-baiting politicians have always done. Except they used to do it in coded ways, dog whistles like “welfare queen.” The dog whistle is gone. The megaphone is here.

 

05
Jan

The stigma of racism is gone

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It happened again.

It has happened again. In Kent, Washington, a Sikh American was shot on his own driveway by a man who yelled “go back to your country.” This crime echoes the recent murder of two men who had come from India to live and work in Kansas.

Here’s the official statement from the Sikh Coalition:

“While we appreciate the efforts of state and local officials to respond to attacks like this, we need our national leaders to make hate crime prevention a top priority,” said Sikh Coalition Interim Program Manager, Rajdeep Singh. “Tone matters in our political discourse, because this a matter of life or death for millions of Americans who are worried about losing loved ones to hate.”

Here is assessment offered by Jasmit Singh, a leader of the Sikh community in the Seattle region, from CNN:

The Sikh community is shaken and very frustrated at the hate and rhetoric that is being spread today about anyone that looks different, who looks like an immigrant. Based on anecdotal evidence, more and more people are saying inappropriate things to Sikh men, the stigma attached to being a racist has been erased from the community. In the past — in Bush, Obama time — there was swift action and communication saying that this is unacceptable. We aren’t seeing any response from this administration.

The victim in Washington is “out of danger,” after having been wounded in the arm, according to his father. But this won’t be the last such shooting we’ll see in the next few months or weeks, sadly.

22
Jan

White History Month?

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It’s Black history month, a time of year we hear from Angry White People about the need to have their own month. Aside from the folly of seeing these racial history months as a zero-sum game, this white grievance has reached a fever pitch since the rise of Trump, someone who gave voice to Angry White People who want to make America white, er, ahem great, again.

Now we see the big divide in who really supports White History Month in the U.S. Nearly half of President Trump’s supporters think there should be a White History Month, according to a  survey released this month by Public Policy Polling. The group reports that 46 percent of pro-Trump voters were in favor of such a celebration while 36 percent were opposed.

The PPP survey also showed that Trump supporters – this shouldn’t surprise you, should it? – are a little hazy on Black history, and on U.S. history generally. The poll asked participants about legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Trump seemed to imply Douglass was alive during some recent remarks: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” PPP says less than half, 47 percent, of Trump voters knew Douglass died more than 100 years ago, while 78 percent of Clinton supporters did.

Maybe there should be a U.S. history month instead of a white history month.

05
Jan

Wither the White Working Class

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Here’s another in a series of articles exploring What the Heck Happened on November 8, particularly where it involves that vaunted White Working Class voter. According to The Atlantic article, Clinton didn’t lose their votes because she didn’t deliver an economic message but rather, they didn’t/couldn’t/didn’t want to hear it.

Trump’s white voters do support the mommy state, but only so long as it’s mothering them. Most of them don’t seem eager to change Medicare or Social Security, but they’re fine with repealing Obamacare and its more diverse pool of 20 million insured people. They’re happy for the government to pick winners and losers, so long as beleaguered coal and manufacturing companies are in the winner’s circle. Massive deficit-financed spending on infrastructure? Under Obama, that was dangerous government overreach, but under Trump, it’s a jobs plan by a guy they know won’t let Muslims and Mexicans cut in line to get work renovating highways and airports.

The writer isn’t too explicit about what the apparent cognitive dissonance among White Working Class voters is about, so we’ll make it: They’re afraid that the benefits of a liberal social democracy, benefits they would like for themselves, are going to “Those People,” AKA, immigrants and people of color. So, instead of voting for more for everyone, including themselves, they will vote against Those People having more (and, though the writer doesn’t say this explicitly, possibly screwing over themselves).

 

21
Jan

White nationalist: election about white identity

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Elections are about a lot of things, obviously. People vote for a variety of reasons, obviously. But when you have white nationalists (AKA white supremacists) jumping for joy at the election of someone who they think will “bring their world view into being,” you really have to sit up and take notice.

One prominent white nationalist says plainly that the election of Trump was about white identity:

That concept would be that white Americans, as whites, have collective interests that are legitimate — just as blacks and Asians and every other group have collective interests that are legitimate. One obvious legitimate interest of whites is not to be reduced to a minority.

Now, I don’t think Donald Trump really thinks in those terms. But for those of us who have been trying to slow the dispossession of whites, all of his policies — at least, those pertaining to immigration — align very nicely with the sorts of things we’ve been saying for many years.

I think that is almost — well, probably entirely — an accident. He does not arrive at these views because of any kind of sense that white Americans deserve to be a majority in their own country. I don’t think he thinks in those terms.

White nationalists, again AKA, white supremacists, are overjoyed and energized. Their attendance doubled, the Washington Post reports, at their key national conference last week.

In the wake of Trump’s win, attendance more than doubled from last year’s Washington gathering of the group, which the Southern Poverty Law Center places in the vanguard of “academic racism.” The Institute’s core belief, according to the SPLC, “is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.”

Political correctness. You remember that phrase spat out by EVERY Trump supporter interviewed in the mainstream media in the last 18 months. If it wasn’t clear then what they meant, it should be clear now. They – white Americans who espouse these views – want the ability to shout their grievances that they have lost their dominance and they want it back.

We should listen to them, carefully. We should have listened to them. But, then, listening is not the same as condoning. Regarding race, we’re entering a very dark period in the U.S., pun not intended.

12
Jan

The White Male Resentment Election

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Wait. Keep reading. We know that elections have a lot of moving pieces and there are many ways to explain a “loss”: we put that in quotes because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, possibly by more than two million when all from California are counted.

But we’ve commented many times on the “Make America Great Again” slogan. Do its adherents have any idea exactly what date when America was last great? 1956? Before they were born? What has been making America not so great?

There are many answers these voters have been giving. They’ll blame NAFTA, they’ll blame ISIS – which is a minimal threat within America’s borders, but whatever – and they’ll blame the “elites” (gee, who did you think you voted for? Joe the Plumber?)

But what many have said – many white men – have said, explicitly and covertly, is that they’re losing their power. From The Nation magazine:

Indeed, when these voters scream about the economy, when Trump appealed to them, over and over, by claiming that the government was wasting their money, a big part of that was the perception that government money was going to help African Americans, single mothers, and the white people in their neighborhoods they deemed lazy. Trump ally Roger Stone said in September, about his candidate’s appeal to black voters: “When you are trading your vote for a welfare check, yes, that is a form of slavery. Yes.”

Again, not just loss of white privilege, but white male privilege. The Nation continues:

They were voting against an economy they believed was giving women a step up. In July, David Frum, in The Atlantic, compiled all of the conversations and interviews he’d done with Trump voters into an anti-elite screed written from their perspective. “In our America, the gender gap closed a long time ago—and then went into reverse,” he wrote. “Obama in the Oval Office was humiliating enough. But Hillary will be worse: We’re going to lose any idea at all that leadership is a man’s job.” I looked into this and it isn’t true. Everywhere in the country, women do worse than men in both job-market participation and in salaries. If there’s a tiny pocket of the country where women do better than men, it is not large enough to measure or make even a tiny difference in what we do measure. What is true is that women had been gaining ground. Men in rural communities across the country are unable to perceive that as anything but a loss to their own advantages.

So. Will America be great enough for them after four years of the new administration? We have to doubt that.

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.