Category Archives: Racial Equality

Systemic Racism

I have been very critical of the Indianapolis Star since its acquisition by Gannett. (In all fairness, it wasn’t a particularly distinguished publication before that.) And while I remain unimpressed overall–and positively livid over its neglect of adequate reporting on state and local government– I must compliment the paper on recent reporting that not only highlights an unfair situation, but provides readers with an excellent illustration of what is meant by systemic racism.

Much of the pushback that accompanies accusations of systemic racism can be attributed to a widespread misunderstanding of what the term means. It doesn’t imply intentional animus–instead, it refers to widespread systems that may well have been intentional at one time, but have since simply been accepted as “the way things are.” (Redlining, for example, was long justified as simply a reflection of the differences between “good’ and “bad” neighborhoods, despite the fact that those designations often simply reflected the racial makeup of the inhabitants of those neighborhoods.)

The lede to the Star report tells the story:

Carlette Duffy felt both vindicated and excited. Both relieved and angry. For months, she suspected she had been low-balled on two home appraisals because she’s Black. She decided to put that suspicion to the test and asked a white family friend to stand in for her during an appraisal. h Her home’s value suddenly shot up. A lot. h During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the first two appraisers who visited her home in the historic Flanner House Homes neighborhood, just west of downtown, valued it at $125,000 and $110,000, respectively.

 But that third appraisal went differently.

To get that one, Duffy, who is African American, communicated with the appraiser strictly via email, stripped her home of all signs of her racial and cultural identity and had the white husband of a friend stand in for her during the appraiser’s visit.

The home’s new value: $259,000.

This particular situation isn’t a one-off, and it isn’t unique to Indiana. Media outlets have reported several similar situations around the country. As one expert noted, it is almost reflexive–what we might call “implicit bias.”  When appraisers see Black neighborhoods, they make unwarranted assumptions about the prevalence of crime and the quality of the schools, and devalue the property accordingly.

It isn’t just the appraisal process. Duffy qualified for a lower interest rate when her application omitted any indication of her race, even though her credit report didn’t change.

Toward the end of the article, there was a good explanation of the difference between systemic and individual racism.

Andre Perry, of Brookings, has conducted research on how racial bias distorts the housing market. He compared home prices in neighborhoods where the share of the Black population is greater than 50% to homes in areas where the share of the Black population is less than 50%.

They controlled for crime, walkability and other factors that could effect home prices. After those factors were controlled for, homes in Black neighborhoods were underpriced by 23% or about $48,000 per home. Cumulatively, there was a loss of $160 billion in lost equity.

Perry’s research preceded the crafting of the Real Estate Valuation Fairness and Improvement Act of 2021, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April. The bill addresses racial disparities in residential and commercial real estate appraisals.

Discrimination in appraisals can be both systemic and individualistic.

“Systemic is the price comparison model,” he said. “When you only compare homes to like peers in neighborhoods that have been discriminated against, you essentially just recycled discrimination over and over again … You have individual acts of racism and you have more systemic reasons why. Both are robbing people of individual and community wealth.”

When individual bigotry raises its ugly head, most other people can see it for what it is. Systems that incorporate assumptions that were originally bigoted, however, are much harder to see and to root out.

That said, it’s a task we need to attend to.

Context And Clarity

One of the great virtues of Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters from an American” is her ability as a historian to “connect the dots” and provide context to the news of the day. That context often strips away the non-essentials that can confuse us, and provides the clarity so often missing from the reporting that follows our daily headlines.

A recent letter was triggered by Rick Scott’s angry op-ed excoriating the reaction of what he sneeringly called “woke” corporations to the Georgia election bill. Here’s where the history operates to clarify the moment in which we find ourselves:

The ideological faction that is currently in control of the Republican Party grew out of opposition to the active government both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War II. But since Americans actually liked business regulation, a social safety net, and infrastructure projects, those Movement Conservatives who wanted to take the government back to the 1920s got little traction until 1954, when the Brown v. Board of Education decision enabled them to harness racism to their cause. With federal government efforts to end segregation in the public schools, businessmen who hated government regulation warned voters that their tax dollars were being used to give Black Americans extra benefits. It was socialism, they said, and it would encourage Black people to step out of their place.

This formula worked. Businessmen determined to cut the government bankrolled Movement Conservative candidates, and people determined not to let their tax dollars go to Black or Brown people voted for them. In 1986, Grover Norquist, a former economist for the Chamber of Commerce, brought together business people, evangelicals, and social conservatives. “Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.”

Richardson points out that the racist and sexist language was initially understated. That allowed supporters–including corporations concerned about their images– to wink at it.  But that was before Trump and his attack on “political correctness”–i.e., civility–brought the racism and sexism out into the open.

In the wake of Georgia’s effort to suppress minority votes and the corporate response, several observers have suggested that we are on the cusp of a realignment that would sever the longstanding relationship between  the GOP and the corporations that have previously supported and funded it. After all, they reason, Republicans may deny the reality of demographic change, but businesses cannot and will not. Corporate America has increasing numbers of minority employees–even in management–and vastly increasing numbers of minority customers. Unlike the GOP, they don’t live in an alternate reality.

It would be very satisfying if Corporate America deserted the Republican Party, but as both Paul Ogden and Richardson point out, small donors are increasingly able to replace any monies that corporations might withhold from GOP candidates.

There is a truism in politics to the effect that voters are more motivated by what they are against than by what they are for. Stirring up anger and bias are, unfortunately, timeless tactics for getting out the vote. With the niceties of “political correctness” stripped away, the departure of most moderates from the party, and the dwindling need to placate corporate and business supporters, today’s GOP is putting all of its electoral eggs in the racism basket.

And as we saw in 2020, there’s a depressingly substantial portion of the electorate responsive to that appeal.

 

 

 

Today’s GOP Even Frightens David Brooks

David Brooks frustrates me. Sometimes, I disagree strongly with his “take” on the American condition (usually offered from what seems a self-consciously “elevated” vantage point), but sometimes, he hits the nail squarely on the head. I continue to read his columns in the New York Times for those latter instances, of which last Friday’s was one.

Titled “The GOP is Getting Even Worse,” Brooks commented on the cultural hysteria that has clearly gripped the Republicans’ (declining) base.

There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

Survey research provides support for that observation. Brooks points to a poll taken in late January, in which respondents were asked whether politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or more about “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it. ” Fifty-one percent of Trump Republicans said survival; a mere 19 percent chose policy.

Another poll asked Americans which of two statements came closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Those who read this blog can guess what’s coming: More than 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

Brooks is absolutely right when he writes that

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war, but a conversation and a negotiation.

He is also right when he observes that the Republican response to Biden and his agenda has largely been anemic “because the base doesn’t care about mere legislation, just their own cultural standing.”

For years, the refrain from what Americans call “the Left” (and what is globally considered pretty middle-of-the-road) has been “why do so many people vote against their own best interests?” That question, however, rests on a faulty premise. Moderate and leftwing folks define “best interests” in largely economic terms. Voters would be “better off” financially or more likely to find employment if they voted differently. But today’s Republicans see their “best interests” in cultural and racial terms, not economic promises.

The overwhelmingly White Christian supporters of today’s GOP see a demographic shift that will eventually rob them of what is clearly most important to them–far more important than a good job or a fairer tax system or the rate of inflation. Their “interest” is in continued cultural and racial dominance–and as the research shows, many of them are willing to engage in violence, a la January 6th, to protect that dominance.

It’s scary.

Uniquely Anglo-Saxon…

The dictionary definition of “Anglo-Saxon” is “relating to or denoting the Germanic inhabitants of England from their arrival in the 5th century up to the Norman Conquest.”

The term evidently means something rather different to White nationalist Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. As Talking Points Memo explains their recent “policy proposal,”

A new “policy platform” document sprinkled with nativist and white supremacist language emerged Friday from a newly launched far-right caucus linked to Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ). The group is, according to the document, pushing for “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and new infrastructure that “befits the progeny of European architecture.”

The new caucus they are forming, called the “America First Caucus,” is intended “to follow in President Trump’s footsteps,” which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about it. But just in case following Trump isn’t explicit enough, the so-called “policies” advocated by the document leave little room for doubt.

It begins by describing the United States as a country “strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” Historically, Anglo-Saxon traditions were the result of interactions between incoming Germanic tribes with indigenous British groups. Over time, the two populations melded, creating a primarily Anglo-Saxon culture and language. Use of the term Anglo-Saxon today is associated with the establishment of England and the early adoption of Christianity.

The caucus supports a “pause” in immigration and decries immigrants who– the statement says– are “imported en-masse” and then “fail to contribute positively to the country.” (Evidently, only White Christians can “contribute positively.”)

In case there is any confusion over the identity of the immigrants being targeted by this language, the platform makes its White nationalism crystal clear. It opposes birthright citizenship and claims that immigrants who came to the United States before 1965 “were more educated, earned higher wages, and did not have an expansive welfare state to fall back on when they could not make it in America and thus did not stay in the country at the expense of the native-born.”

The caucus calls for roads, bridges and buildings that uphold “the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture, whereby public infrastructure must be utilitarian as well as stunningly, classically beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.”

Pardon me while I upchuck…

Tellingly, the caucus also says it will fight against an education system that “has worked to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation.” In other words, they will fight to retain mythology over accuracy.

Congressional supporters of this exercise belong in Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables.” In addition to Greene and Gosar, Louis Gohmert has signed on, which should signal the intellectual integrity of this effort–as I’ve previously noted, my favorite description of Gohmert is “the dumbest animal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse.” Another sterling character who has indicated support for the Caucus is Matt Gaetz, who  evidently took time away from defending himself against charges of  sexual and other improprieties by tweeting Friday that he was “proud” to join the caucus.

In a nod to Trump’s election conspiracies, the seven-page document also promotes false claims about election fraud, citing rigged voting machines and manipulated election results.

The caucus pointed at mail-in voting as a prime target — making clear its intentions to advance restrictive voting laws that are already underway in a number of states.

“We will work towards an end to mail-in voting, implementation of national voter ID and substantive investigations into mass voter fraud perpetrated during the 2020 election,” it says.

A report by CBS News connects the none-too-obscure dots.

The focus on “Anglo-Saxon” and European terminology could be read as a veiled analogy for “White.” The term “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant,” or WASP, has traditionally been used in American culture to denote wealthy White families, typically with British ancestries. The Anglo-Saxons were a group who inhabited England prior to the Norman invasion of 1066.

American white nationalists have also relied heavily on medieval, viking and Anglo-Saxon imagery to justify their prejudice. During the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, some marchers carried banners with Anglo-Saxon runes, iconography that was also used by the Nazis.

They don’t even try to hide what they are…..The people who voted for them must be so proud…

 

There Once Was A Party…

One of the newsletters I receive is that of Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson is a history professor, and her obviously deep knowledge of U.S. history permits her to contextualize the news of the day in ways that most of us cannot.

A recent letter is a great example. It’s also profoundly sad–at least, to those of us who once belonged to a very different Republican Party.

Richardson begins by reminding us that the GOP’s roots “lie in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in spring 1854.” That was when it became clear that southern slaveholders effectively controlled the federal government– and were using that control to protect and spread the institution of slavery.

At first, members of the new party knew only what they stood against: an economic system that concentrated wealth upward and made it impossible for ordinary men to prosper. But in 1859, their new spokesman, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln, articulated a new vision of government. Rather than using government power solely to protect the property of wealthy slaveholders, Lincoln argued, the government should work to make it possible for all men to get equal access to resources, including education, so they could rise to economic security.

Most of us think of Lincoln as the President who fought the civil war and emancipated the slaves. Richardson focuses on what is considerably less well-known, his policy preferences–especially his belief that government should provide a national infrastructure.

Back then, both Lincoln and the Republican Party believed in an activist government.

Richardson points out that the early Republican Party introduced the first national taxes, including the  first income tax. They used government to give “ordinary men” access to resources. In 1862, the GOP passed the Homestead Act, a measure that gave away western lands to those willing to settle on it. The party established Land-Grant Colleges, established the Department of Agriculture, and provided for construction of a railroad across the continent. They joined with Democrats to build more than 600 dams in 20 western states.

FDR is usually–and appropriately–credited with enlarging the scope of government in order to deal with the Great Depression, but as Richardson reminds us, Republicans who followed accepted the premise that government should provide for the common good–and that it has a special obligation to fund and maintain the national infrastructure.

Three years after he became president, Eisenhower backed the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, saying, “Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods.” The law initially provided $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of road; at the time, it was the largest public works project in U.S. history.

So what happened? Why are today’s Republicans not just disinterested in governing, they are positively allergic to the notion that government should provide for the common good by building and maintaining the country’s physical and social infrastructure.

In this moment, Republican lawmakers seem weirdly out of step with their party’s history as well as with the country. They are responding to the American Jobs Plan by defining infrastructure as roads and bridges alone, cutting from the definition even the broadband that they included when Trump was president. (Trump, remember, followed his huge 2017 tax cuts with the promise of a big infrastructure bill. As he said, “Infrastructure is the easiest of all…. People want it, Republicans and Democrats.”) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warns that Biden’s plan is a “Trojan horse” that will require “massive tax increases.”

Republicans under Lincoln provided the first justifications for investing in the nation, and for taxing citizens to fund those investments.

The government had a right to “demand” 99% of a man’s property for an urgent need, said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Justin Smith Morrill (R-VT). When the nation required it, he said, “the property of the people… belongs to the [g]overnment.”

I probably wouldn’t go as far as Morrill, but it’s hard to rationalize what passes for philosophy in today’s Republican Party with the party’s history–not just the devolution into White Supremacy, but the 180 degree shift from policies supportive of the common good to policies favoring the wealthy.

Remember that old TV ad that told us “this isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile”? This isn’t your father’s (or grandfather’s) GOP, either.