Category Archives: Racial Equality

They Don’t Even Bother To Dog-Whistle Anymore

The basic line of demarcation between pro-Trump and anti-Trump partisans is now too clear and too well-documented to misunderstand. As my youngest son has maintained since the election, there were two–and only two–categories of people who voted for Trump: those who  agreed with and felt validated by his too-obvious-to-ignore racism, and those for whom that racism was not disqualifying.

Pundits and political observers on the left were deeply uncomfortable with that reality. “Nice” people looked for other plausible reasons for those votes: economic distress, hatred of Hillary, partisan affiliation. But as research on the vote has emerged, even polite formulations (“racial anxiety”) and studies conducted by academics noted for their rigor and lack of political agendas have confirmed the degree to which racism predicted support for Trump.

If any dispassionate observer still doubts that conclusion, the behavior of the Trump administration, its supporters and its propaganda arms should dispel those doubts. The fixation on immigration (from the southern border, not the north) and the fact-free demonization of brown immigrants is a clue too obvious to ignore.

Brian Kilmead of Fox News–the administration’s propaganda arm–speaks for Trump’s supporters when he says 

And these are not — like it or not, these aren’t our kids. Show them compassion, but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas.

The “us versus them” formulation could hardly be clearer.

For those of us who tend to look at what they do, not what they say, the picture is even clearer.

A ProPublica analysis.. found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of wrongdoing or corrective action, often due to insufficient evidence….

ProPublica also found that the Office for Civil Rights has become more lenient. Under Obama, 51 percent of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in findings of civil rights violations, or corrective changes. Under the Trump administration, that rate has dropped to 35 percent.

ProPublica noted that the Trump administration has largely shelved investigations of systemic violations, opting to look instead at individual complaints.

One long investigation terminated by the Trump administration took place in Bryan, Texas. As ProPublica previously reported, the Dallas bureau of the federal civil rights office spent more than four years investigating whether disciplinary practices in Bryan discriminated against students of color. Federal investigators found at least 10 incidents where black students received harsher punishment than their white peers for the same conduct.

Weeks before Trump’s inauguration, federal investigators and the district were on the cusp of a settlement that would have required more than a dozen reforms. But after DeVos took over, the case and the pending settlement were scuttled, with no findings of wrongdoing.

In late April, OCR also shelved the investigation into school discipline in DeSoto County, where 852 students — more than half of them black — received corporal punishment in 2015.

Shelia Riley, the chairperson of DeSoto’s school board, told ProPublica that OCR’s decision was appropriate. “I read the [parents’] claims and I just felt like we were fair in our disciplinary decisions,” she said.

Google “Trump Administration racism” and the search will return–among many, many other “hits”– sober analyses of the ways in which the administration’s racism is affecting foreign policy, the role of race in the administration’s shameful neglect of Puerto Rico, the racism of proposed “reforms” of welfare programs, and the way Trump “encourages a pro-white semiotics and a return to racisms past.”

The Civil War may have ended slavery, but America’s “original sin” has persisted. Honest observers can no longer ignore it; “nice, polite” people can no longer pretend that grandpa just has “policy differences” with dark people. Trump owes his election to the voters who couldn’t abide the presence of Barack Obama in the White House–and who rewarded the bigot who remains willing to “tell it like [they believe]it is” in the ugly world they inhabit.

We aren’t in Kansas any more, Toto–and we’ve gone way beyond dog-whistles.

“Racial Anxiety” And The Social Safety Net

Sometimes, it’s hard to know what aspect of current American political life is most depressing.

Children are taken from their parents at the border. Regulations meant to protect clean air and water are eviscerated. The President’s delusional mental state becomes more obvious–and frightening– each day. Congress does nothing about anything. (Case in point: despite polls showing 90% of Americans want them to protect Net Neutrality, the House refuses even to vote on the issue.) Trump attacks our allies and embraces our enemies….it goes on and on.

Perhaps worst of all, this Administration consistently panders to toxic attitudes that have always been there, but had mostly been banished from polite society. His rhetoric has encouraged the growth of overt racial and religious animus.

Nowhere has that animus been more poisonous than in debates around social welfare programs. The odious “makers versus takers” construct permeates the country’s already punitive approach to social programs, as the Guardian recently reported.

Endless paperwork. Dirty looks on the checkout line whether you are buying Skittles or pricey organic kale. Hours spent in tedious training for non-existent jobs. Urine tests, supervised by creeps. Unclear requirements, mandatory appointments without regard for lack of transportation or childcare, arbitrary deadlines that are undisclosed until you run afoul of them.

And, after all that, the skimpy benefits obtained don’t begin to cover expenses.

These are just a few of the ways the American social safety net aims to deter aid seekers, ensuring that unworthy “takers” don’t get unearned crumbs from the mighty “makers”.

And, as the article goes on to detail, it is about to get worse. Far from moderating efforts by the Administration to cut back most programs for the poor, Republicans in Congress are positively eager to cut the heart out of social programs. Their justifications smack of moral judgment and “deservingness,” and betray a deeply-held conviction that being poor is itself a sign of immorality–or at least prima facie evidence that bad choices must have been made.

In Trump’s America, one of those bad “choices” is having been born black or brown.

A recent study, highlighted by the Washington Post, confirms the racial “anxiety” at the root of efforts to cut social welfare programs.

White Americans are increasingly critical of the country’s social safety net, a new study suggests, thanks in part to a rising tide of racial resentment.

The study, conducted by researchers at two California universities and published Wednesday in the journal Social Forces, finds that opposition to welfare programs has grown among white Americans since 2008, even when controlling for political views and socioeconomic status.

White Americans are more likely to favor welfare cuts when they believe that their status is threatened and that minorities are the main beneficiaries of safety net programs, the study says.

(The irony is that these cuts actually hurt more white Americans, who–despite racist memes about welfare– comprise the majority of Medicaid and food-stamp recipients.)

In the reported study, researchers analyzed 10 years of data on attitudes toward race and welfare. Between 2008 and 2012 in particular, they found a rise in opposition to welfare. That opposition rose among all Americans — but it rose far more sharply among whites. White Americans also began scoring higher on racial resentment scales during that period. (I’m sure the fact that we had a black President was coincidental….not.)

In order to confirm the link between racial attitudes and positions on welfare, the researchers investigated further.

White Americans called for deeper cuts to welfare programs after viewing charts that showed they would become a racial minority within 50 years. They also opposed welfare programs more when they were told that people of color benefit most from them.

I keep telling myself that the re-emergence of these attitudes–attitudes of fear and resentment that largely explain support for this morally reprehensible President–are a temporary reaction. Loss of white privilege is threatening to people who grew up believing it was their due–especially if they don’t have much else going for them, but I keep telling myself this ugly time will pass.

I hope I’m right.

 

 

Facing Up To The Evidence

There is a robust argument among pundits and scholars over the comparative contributions of economic insecurity and racial anxiety to Donald Trump’s election. It is an argument that rests on an ahistorical “either-or” approach to voter motivation (anyone who has studied German attitudes in the period after the first World War understands that economic fears fed the not-so-latent anti-Semitism.)

That said, we make a mistake–as I have argued previously–if we minimize the role racism played and continues to play in America’s electoral politics. One aspect of the uncomfortable discussion we need to have focuses on the history and persistence of racism in Evangelical Christianity.

It is a discussion that self-aware Evangelicals are now having. As Nancy Wadsworth recently wrote in Vox,

I spent the first 15 years of my career as a scholar studying American evangelicals and race, and in my view, the failure to consider motivations rooted in anxieties about race and gender as an explanation of evangelical Trump support represents a striking omission. The history of American evangelicalism is intensely racially charged. The persistent approval for Trump among white evangelicals ought to prompt far more critical self-reflection within the evangelical community than we’ve seen so far.

Evangelicals’ tenacious affection for Donald Trump is not a bug driven by expediency. Instead, it reflects defining features of American evangelicalism that become clearer when we examine the historical record. Doing so reveals that when white conservative evangelicals feel threatened by cultural change, the old demons of racism and misogyny, which lurk at the heart of the American evangelical tradition, return with a vengeance.

Wadsworth recounts–and dismisses–analyses by Evangelicals who find the support for Trump to be “transactional.” She also takes issue with aspects of Michael Gerson’s more nuanced and widely-read critique of Evangelical Trump supporters.

Michael Gerson lays out a particularly condemnatory, yet nuanced, version of the Christian anti-Trump lament in a lengthy, elegant essay in the April issue of the Atlantic. He frames Trump loyalty as “the last temptation” that could forfeit evangelicalism’s future and despoil a long legacy of positive contributions to American culture.

Cheerleading by second-generation Christian right figures like Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, Gerson writes, is “not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption.” Allowing hatred of their political enemies to “blind” them to Trump’s attacks on people of color and women is a tragic mistake, he suggests.

Gerson offers a 150-year summary of evangelicals’ positive work in the public sphere to make the case that, despite some missteps along the way, white evangelicals have mostly been on the right side of moral and social issues, historically. But his history is strikingly lopsided, reflecting a characteristic amnesia among evangelicalism’s boosters.

Wadsworth reminds readers that Europeans considered the indigenous people they encountered when they came to America to be uncivilized “heathens”–a belief anchored in a white Christian worldview employed to justify various forms of missionary conquest.

On the question of chattel slavery, evangelicals do not just appear as the abolitionists Gerson cites approvingly. The institution had millions of champions among conservative Christians who drew on Scripture and Curse of Ham theology to defend white supremacy and black subordination. Gerson fails to mention that every major evangelical denomination split along regional lines based on divisions over the slavery question. In fact, the vast bulk of Southern white evangelicals defended slavery, clung to the Lost Cause, fought Reconstruction, and designed and defended Jim Crow.

As the Kentucky General Baptist Association put it in 1860:

Among the white race in the Southern States there is no difference of opinion upon this subject: all are united in the opinion in reference to the political, intellectual, and social inequality between the colored people and the white races. And the people of our Commonwealth generally feel that the present condition of the colored race in this country accords both with the Word and the providence of God.

The entire article is eye-opening for those of us previously unaware of this history. Racism truly is America’s original sin. We will not eradicate it–from Evangelical Christianity or from any of the other constituencies in which it holds sway–until we confront the major role it has occupied, and continues to occupy, in our common life.

 

Things We Can’t Unsee

There’s plenty of speculation over the social and political effects of the Wild West that is the Internet. Optimists believe it’s a mechanism for democratic renewal; pessimists are certain it is shortening attention spans and facilitating the spread of conspiracy theories.

I lack sufficient expertise to evaluate most of these arguments/predictions, but I do know one thing: the Internet and especially social media have upended our ability to deny the extent of American racism.

Before social media, nice people–and I still believe nice people outnumber the not-so-nice–could tell ourselves that race relations were improving, that the civil rights movement had addressed most legal inequities, that the growing rate of intermarriage was a sign that old, tribal hatreds were subsiding.

And there has been progress– just a lot less than I used to think.

it isn’t just the explicitly racist websites. The Internet and the ubiquity of smart phones with cameras have combined, making it impossible to ignore the extent to which people are treated badly simply because they are black. In recent incidents, police have been called because a graduate student fell asleep in a common area of her dorm, because a picnicking family was grilling in a city park, and because two businessmen were waiting–without ordering– for a friend at a Starbucks. Those incidents are just recent examples; similar episodes constantly flood the Internet.

As distressing and hurtful as those sorts of experiences can be, the truly horrifying videos are those showing police officers killing unarmed black men–all too often in situations that defy justification.

A few months ago, here in Indianapolis, police officers shot and killed an unarmed motorist named Aaron Bailey. The officers weren’t charged with a crime, but after an internal investigation, the Police Chief recommended that they be terminated for failing to follow proper procedures. Terminations have to be approved by the Police Merit Board, however, and last week, at the urging of the police union, the Merit Board declined to approve the Chief’s recommendation. The Board accepted the argument that the officers had “feared for their lives.”

Perhaps they did. There’s plenty of research showing that white people generally–and police officers specifically–have an instinctive, often unreasonable, fear of black people.

The Indianapolis shooting is one of a long string of similar incidents that have been captured in videos and distributed on social media. It’s impossible to view some of these without thinking “If that guy had been white, the officer wouldn’t have shot him.” I think of Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old playing with a toy gun; I think of Stephon Clark, who was shot in his grandmother’s back yard holding a cell phone. Type “police shoot unarmed black man” into google, and you get dozens and dozens of hits.

I was in City Hall when Indianapolis police arrested a young man named Michael Taylor. He was shot dead in the back seat of the patrol car, and the police swore he must have had a gun on him that they’d missed–that he’d shot himself. I remember how Bill Hudnut, the Mayor at the time, agonized over that episode. He desperately wanted to believe members of his police force, and he had no evidence on which to dispute their version of events, no matter how far-fetched it seemed.

Before cell-phone cameras and social media, nice people were often in denial of the extent to which Americans–including but certainly not limited to police– continued to harbor implicit and explicit racist attitudes, the extent to which our belief in progress was illusory.

Whatever else the Internet has done, it has forced us to confront a very unpleasant reality. That certainly doesn’t mean that every police shooting is unjustified, or that every conflict involving people of different races is prompted by bigotry.

But neither can we dismiss the now-exhaustively-documented fact that, in far too many cases, skin color makes the difference between being apprehended and being killed.

 

 

Reconsidering “Cultural Appropriation”

Speaking of tribalism, as I was yesterday….

As the discussions on this blog amply reveal, the United States is currently experiencing wrenching–even existential–social and governance problems. Most of those problems can be seen as a result of the transformation of the GOP from a traditional political party to an extremist organization I’ve likened to a cult, but you will forgive me if I find some of the preoccupations of the left equally “unnuanced” (aka rabid) and unhelpful.

I recently read about a controversy in Utah over–wait for it–a prom dress.

The high-school student in question had posted a photo modeling her choice of a prom dress–a Chinese cheongsam– to social media. A storm of criticism erupted, with accusations of “cultural appropriation.”

Keziah Daum said she won’t give in to pressure and delete an April 22 Twitter post showing her posing with her prom date in the red cheongsam, or qipao.

“To everyone causing so much negativity,” she tweeted. “I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture. I’m simply showing my appreciation to their culture. I’m not deleting my post because I’ve done nothing but show my love for the culture. It’s a f***ing dress. And it’s beautiful.”

Daum told the Washington Post she found the dress in a vintage store in Salt Lake City and found it “absolutely beautiful” adding it gave her a “sense of appreciation and admiration for other cultures and their beauty.”

The critics of her choice insisted that, not being Chinese, she should not wear a recognizably Chinese dress, that doing so would amount to “cultural appropriation.”

According to Wikipedia, cultural appropriation occurs when a dominant culture adopts elements of a minority culture. It is distinguished from equal cultural exchange when there is the presence of a “colonial element” and an imbalance of power–in other words, when the adoption is for purposes of denigrating or mocking the original culture.

As the Guardian pointed out, in an article about the blowup, donning a Chinese prom dress hardly meets that criterion.

The original complainant’s instinct– to draw a line at a time when Chinese people are under siege from Trump-inspired China-bashers – is understandable, but in this case, completely mistargeted. If anything, the qipao represents power and class, not race, and certainly not the culture of some exploited underclass.

Criticisms of “cultural appropriation” raise some fairly profound issues. Have our politics become so tribal that any “crossover” is viewed as an attack, rather than a sign of appreciation? When is the adoption of an element of minority culture by members of the majority culture a compliment, and when is it an insult? When does such adoption advance intergroup understanding, and under what circumstances does it diminish appreciation of and respect for the “appropriated” culture?

I’m sure the White supremacists (aka Nazi sympathizers) who have become increasingly vocal since Herr Trump’s election disapprove of any adoption of any aspect of minority culture; for them,  it’s “mongrelization.” How is their call for “racial purity” any different from the criticisms that attended this teenager’s choice of a prom dress?

I don’t get it.

What ever happened to the old axiom that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

And what the hell happened to a sense of proportion?