Category Archives: Racial Equality

Peeling The Onion

The news has been full of the arrest of a self-proclaimed White Nationalist who had amassed a gigantic arsenal and intended to kill numerous lawmakers and journalists in his effort to create a “white nation.”

Since Trump’s election, we’ve seen an increase in such racist incidents.

Pundits often refer to racism as America’s first sin. That may be an understatement. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that persistent racism explains much that is otherwise inexplicable in American political life.

It’s sort of like peeling an onion–but once you discard the outer trappings of a policy argument, you discover that the core, the “seed” is something quite different and less palatable. We’ve seen this in the research connecting Trump voters to “racial resentment,” and noted religion scholar Randall Balmer has recently reminded us of the racial roots of the anti-Choice movement.

Writing in Politico Magazine, Ballmer says

One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.

This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wadestory,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.

Ballmer reminds readers that it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, goaded by Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion as “a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.” Being against abortion was “more palatable” than what was actually motivating the Religious Right, which was protection of the segregated schools they had established following the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

Ballmer goes on to quote a number of Religious Right figures who expressed similar sentiments. He also documents the real impetus for its new political activism.

In May 1969, a group of African-American parents in Mississippi sued the Treasury Department, arguing that whites-only K-12 private academies should not receive tax-exempt status. The schools had been founded after Brown and  in the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in their county dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero. They won a preliminary injunction.

President Richard Nixon ordered the Internal Revenue Service to enact a new policy denying tax exemptions to all segregated schools in the United States. Under the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which forbade racial segregation and discrimination, discriminatory schools were not—by definition—“charitable” educational organizations, and therefore they had no claims to tax-exempt status; similarly, donations to such organizations would no longer qualify as tax-deductible contributions.

Ballmer traces the history of the civil rights law and the anger of those running the segregation academies, including, famously, Bob Jones University.

Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.

The catalyst for the Religious Right’s political activism was not, as often claimed, opposition to abortion.

Although abortion had emerged as a rallying cry by 1980, the real roots of the religious right lie not the defense of a fetus but in the defense of racial segregation.

And the catalyst for Trump was the seething resentment of a black President felt by far too many Americans.

We are far, far from atoning for America’s original sin.

A Privatized Border Wall?

Both Politico and Common Dreams have reported on efforts by Trump’s most “MAGA” cronies to build his “big, beautiful wall” privately. (And no, I’m not joking.) From Politico, we read

It could have been an outtake from a hard-right reboot of “Ocean’s 11” for the Trump era: a gathering of some of President Donald Trump’s most notorious and outspoken supporters, who descended last week on the southern border town of McAllen, Texas.

In what amounted to a kind of #MAGA field trip, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, baseball legend Curt Schilling, and former Sheriff David Clarke convened to plan construction of a wall along the southern border. Blackwater founder Erik Prince phoned in from South Africa.

With Congress refusing to pony up the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded for the project, his allies are now plotting to kick off construction with private money and private land.

The motley crew insists that they are serious.They shared plans to tout their project at a town hall in Tucson, Arizona and at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). They’ve formed a nonprofit group called “We Build the Wall,” an outgrowth of an earlier crowdfunding campaign mounted by a Trump supporter.

As Politico noted, this smacks of political theater rather than a serious effort, but in a way, I’d like to see them try. Not only would they have to raise enormous amounts of money–several billion– for a project that polling tells us is unpopular everywhere, but especially on the border, but they would have to acquire the land from property owners without the ability to threaten eminent domain. They would also have to battle the EPA (which will presumably be reconstituted by a new President after 2020) over the wall’s damage to the ecosystem; Trump’s plan has already raised cries of outrage from environmentalists.

The men (and they are all men) involved in this fantasy are all well-known–or perhaps “notorious” is the more accurate description. (Politico’s recitation of their “colorful credentials” is kinder than they deserve.)

While Bannon’s involvement had been secret, Prince, Kobach, Clarke, Tancredo and Schilling all serve on the nonprofit’s board. Each of them brings colorful credentials to the mix: Prince, the brother of Trump’s Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has performed extensive private security work in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. Clarke, a former sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis., known for wearing cowboy hats, has a reputation for espousing extreme law-and-order views on the conservative media and conference circuit. Tancredo made his name as a five-term congressman with constant calls for tighter border security. And Schilling has pivoted from a storied major league pitching career to a failed video game startup to hosting a podcast for Breitbart News.

These are precisely the sort of people who populate the White Supremacy movement– outliers and losers with a desperate need to prove that they are better than those brown people they want to exclude from “their” country.

To use a term favored by “their” President, “sad.”

 

Race And American Inequality

This is Black History Month, but rather than a post on black history, I think it may be useful to share some depressing information about the current status of African-Americans vis a vis the White Americans who have occupied a privileged social position in this country even after most of the legal disabilities targeting people of color were repealed.

The Institute for Policy Studies recently issued a report on the wealth gap between whites, Latinos and blacks in the United States.The report looked at trends in household wealth among Black, Latino and White households over the past three decades.

Since the early 1980s, median wealth among Black and Latino families has been stuck at less than ten thousand dollars, while the median wealth of White households, adjusted for inflation, grew from $105,300 to $140,500. The median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family.

The wealth gap has gotten wider as wealth in America has become extremely concentrated.The median American family of any color has seen its wealth drop 3 percent between 1983 and 2016–a period of time in which the richest 0.1 percent have seen their wealth jump 133 percent. The three wealthiest families–the Waltons, the Kochs and the Mars–have seen their wealth increase by nearly 6,000 percent.

Wealth held by members of the Forbes 400 equals that of all Blacks plus a quarter of Latinos.

The  report takes issue with analyses that treat the racial wealth divide and the growth of economic inequality as two separate issues; instead, it finds that they are mutually reinforcing outcomes of larger economic issues–issues that result from public policies that have favored–and continue to favor–both White Americans and the very wealthy.

Just one example: As this is being written, Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP are proposing to eliminate what they like to call the “death tax,” and the rest of us call the estate tax.

The estate tax raises $20 billion dollars a year, which is a lot of money, but a pretty insignificant part of the federal budget. It applies only to estates worth more than $5.5 million dollars, and people with lots of money can pretty easily structure their wills to avoid it.

As the Atlantic points out, however, there’s more than money involved in this debate.

The tax code is more than a ledger. It is a national statement of values. And so this little law inspires a great commotion during each tax debate. To its opponents, it is the ultimate (literally) punishment on success and an affront to the family legacy that each striving individual hopes to leave. To its supporters, it is a necessary bulwark against inherited plutocracy, which offends the national virtue of merit over privilege.

The article goes through the arguments advanced in favor of repeal and in favor of retention of the estate tax, and is worth reading for a quick review of the debate. But the argument for retention most relevant to policy’s role in worsening inequality is that, in a period defined by the rising gap between rich and poor, we need to recognize the enormous role played by inheritance.

According to analysis byMatt Bruenig, a writer and the founder of the advocacy group People’s Policy Project, four out of 10 members of the wealthiest 1 percent inherited some money, with an average inheritance in the millions of dollars….

In the last half century, the average wealth of the bottom half has gone from about nothing to about $1,000 in debt. Meanwhile, the returns at the top have accelerated. In the 1960s, families in the top 1 percent were six times wealthier than families in the middle, according to the Urban Institute. By 2016, the 1 percent was 12 times wealthier than the typical family. As wealth inequality has soared, the estate tax has been diminished, with the number of estate tax returns declining by 76 percent between 2006 and 2015. There is little doubt that 21st-century tax policy has assisted the concentration of wealth.

When ostensibly color-blind tax policy benefits “haves,” that policy inevitably benefits Whites.

And let’s face facts: money is power.

The Persistence of Structural Racism

These days, American racism seems pretty easy to spot. Trump has legitimized White Nationalism, the ubiquity of cell-phone cameras has allowed witnesses to document horrific (and sometimes fatal) episodes of bigotry, and the media is filled with stories of anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant vandalism and violence.

The good news–and there really is some–is that these despicable attitudes are held by relatively few of our fellow-citizens. They’ve just felt safe lately crawling out from under their rocks.

The bad news is that minorities– especially African-Americans–are still disadvantaged by longstanding cultural and structural barriers that are much harder to see. Those disadvantages are hard to eradicate because, unlike police shootings and/or racist behaviors at the corner Starbucks, they tend to be invisible.

The Brookings Institution recently addressed one of those “invisible” barriers: the devaluation of black-owned assets.

Homeownership lies at the heart of the American Dream, representing success, opportunity, and wealth. However, for many of its citizens, America deferred that dream. For much of the 20th century, the devaluing of black lives led to segregation and racist federal housing policy through redlining that shut out chances for black people to purchase homes and build wealth, making it more difficult to start and invest in businesses and afford college tuition. Still, homeownership remains a beacon of hope for all people to gain access to the middle class. Though homeownership rates vary considerably between whites and people of color, it’s typically the largest asset among all people who hold it.

If we can detect how much racism depletes wealth from black homeowners, we can begin to address bigotry principally by giving black homeowners and policymakers a target price for redress. Laws have changed, but the value of assets—buildings, schools, leadership, and land itself—are inextricably linked to the perceptions of black people. And those negative perceptions persist.

The Brookings report focused on the question of how much value black homeowners and majority-black communities are losing in the housing market as a result of racial bias. The research concluded that owner-occupied homes in predominantly black neighborhoods are undervalued by an average of $48,000 per home; that brings the cumulative loss to a staggering $156 billion.

Some of the research findings:

  • in the average U.S. metropolitan area, homes in neighborhoods where the share of the population is 50 percent black are valued at roughly half the price as homes in neighborhoods with no black residents.
  • differences in home and neighborhood quality don’t explain the devaluation of homes in black neighborhoods.
  • Metropolitan areas with greater devaluation of black neighborhoods are more segregated and produce less upward mobility for the black children who grow up in those communities. This analysis finds a positive and statistically significant correlation between the devaluation of homes in black neighborhoods and upward mobility of black children in metropolitan areas with majority black neighborhoods.

The link will take you to the full report, including an interactive feature that allows readers to examine the indicators in various neighborhoods and states.

What is truly insidious about the widespread assignment of lower values to homes in majority-black neighborhoods is that it is essentially invisible. Unlike white hoods, brown shirts and burning crosses, most of us simply don’t see the assumptions that operate to diminish the fiscal benefits  of homeownership for black families. Those of us who are horrified by videos of overtly racist incidents are largely unaware of the ways that deeply embedded attitudes inform a variety of systems, including real estate markets. Those attitudes continue to disadvantage people–white and black–who live and own property in majority black neighborhoods.

I’m willing to believe that the devaluation of homes in majority black neighborhoods isn’t usually deliberate, that it reflects attitudes about valuation formed in more segregated and racially-polarized times. But that’s not an excuse for continued failure to address the problem.

Many white people who would never shout a racist epithet, or cast a vote for a White Nationalist, nevertheless pooh-pooh the continued existence of structural racism, because they erroneously think it requires active racist intent. It doesn’t.

It just requires indifference.

 

Identity Partisanship

A recent Vox “explainer” by Ezra Klein rebuts some post-2016-election punditry–while confirming emerging political science research on partisan identity.

Klein’s article began with an important point that is often overlooked: the term “identity politics” is too often used to diminish the importance or legitimacy of political demands made by historically marginalized groups. It is a handy way to dismiss demands by African-American voters for action on police brutality, for example.

Corporate CEOs asking for tax cuts or suburban voters demanding action on health care costs, well, that’s just normal politics.

This narrowed definition obscures the true might of identity politics. Virtually all politics is identity politics, and the most powerful political identities are the biggest political identities — Democrat and Republican, which are increasingly merging with our racial, geographic, religious, and cultural groups to create what the political scientist Lilliana Mason calls “mega-identities.”

These mega-identities influence the way we interact with reality. Who we are influences not just our policy preferences, but what we believe is true. The column quotes from a recent, important book titled “Identity Crisis.”

  • During Barack Obama’s presidency, polling showed Republicans making more than $100,000 a year were more dissatisfied with the state of the economy than Democrats making less than $20,000 a year. Economic anxiety was “in large part a partisan phenomenon.”
  • It was also a racial phenomenon. Prior to Obama, measures of racial resentment didn’t predict views on the economy. After Obama, they did. It’s worth stating that clearly: The more racially resentful you were, the worse you thought the economy was doing, even controlling for your party, circumstance, and so on. This flipped as soon as Donald Trump was elected: The more racial resentful you were, the more economically optimistic you became.
  • Among Republican primary voters, Trump did not do better with Republicans who worried that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” or that the system “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Nor did he routinely lead the field among Republicans who felt betrayed by their party. There’s little evidence, in other words, that Trump voters were registering outrage with the political system as a whole.
  • Trump destroyed the rest of the Republican field among primary voters who were angry about immigration. He 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.

There was much more along the same lines. It adds to the steady accumulation of evidence that has emerged in the wake of the 2016 election, that Obama’s Presidency moved less-educated, more racially-resentful Americans to the GOP, and widened the attitudinal and cultural gap between the parties.

In Pew Research Center surveys from 2007, whites were just as likely to call themselves Democrats as Republicans (roughly 44%-44%). But whites quickly fled the Democratic Party during Obama’s presidency. By 2010, whites were 12 points more likely to be Republicans than Democrats (51%-39%). By 2016, that gap had widened to 15 points (54%-39%).

This, um, white flight was concentrated at the bottom of the education ladder. “Whites who did not attend college were evenly split between the two parties in Pew surveys conducted from 1992 to 2008,” write the authors. “But by 2015, white voters who had a high school degree or less were 24 percentage points more Republican than Democratic.”

The conclusions of the study were unambiguous, and debunked both the theory that economic anxiety drove Trump’s voters, and the theory that a weak economic recovery catalyzed the racial resentment that drove Trump’s voters.

The correct synthesis is the reverse: Racial resentment driven by Obama’s presidency catalyzed economic anxiety among Trump’s voters.

As other studies have documented, racial resentment has been stoked–“activated”– by growing White Christian realization that America’s demographics are changing. As Klein says,

 Politics is increasingly revolving around fights that activate the Democratic-diverse America identity and the Republican-white America identity.

We shouldn’t expect Trump to be the terminal point of this kind of political appeal, which means we need books like Identity Crisis that help us understand it.