Tag Archives: racism

Truly Terrifying Data…

Earlier this month, Thomas Edsall investigated the phenomenon that has most reasonable, rational citizens incredulous: the significant number of Americans who believe what has been dubbed “the Big Lie.

Just who believes the claim that Donald Trump won in 2020 and that the election was stolen from him? Who are these tens of millions of Americans, and what draws them into this web of delusion?

Three sources provided The Times with survey data: the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Poll, P.R.R.I. (the Public Religion Research Institute) and Reuters-Ipsos. With minor exceptions, the data from all three polls is similar.

Edsall quotes a political science professor from the University of Massachusetts for a summary of the data:

About 35 percent of Americans believed in April that Biden’s victory was illegitimate, with another 6 percent saying they are not sure. What can we say about the Americans who do not think Biden’s victory was legitimate? Compared to the overall voting-age population, they are disproportionately white, Republican, older, less educated, more conservative and more religious (particularly more Protestant and more likely to describe themselves as born again).

Once again, the evidence connects Trumpism, and the alternate reality inhabited by Trumpets, with racism and fear of the “other.” P.R.R.I. tested for agreement or disagreement with so-called “replacement theory” —the belief that  “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background” — and found that 60 percent of Republicans agreed, as do 55 percent of conservatives.

Edsall also probed the connection between authoritarianism and opposition to immigration, quoting from a recent academic paper:

Right-wing authoritarianism played a significant role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In subsequent years, there have been numerous “alt-right” demonstrations in the U.S., including the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that culminated in a fatal car attack, and the 2021 Capitol Insurrection. In the U.S., between 2016 and 2017 the number of attacks by right-wing organizations quadrupled, outnumbering attacks by Islamic extremist groups, constituting 66 percent of all attacks and plots in the U.S. in 2019 and over 90 percent in 2020.

As he explained, the term “social dominance orientation” refers to the belief that society should be structured by group-based hierarchies–that certain groups should be dominant over others. There are actually two inter-related components to the orientation: group-based dominance and anti-egalitarianism. People with a social dominance orientation prefer hierarchies and–importantly–approve of the use of force/aggression to maintain them. Anti-egalitarianism manifests itself as a preference to maintain these hierarchies through means other than violence, through systems, legislation, and social structures.

Studies of the 2016 primaries found that Trump voters were unique compared to supporters of other Republicans in the strength of their “group-based dominance.”

The column quotes from a scholarly paper, “The Existential Function of Right-Wing Authoritarianism,” to answer the question that most baffles the rest of us: why do people embrace authoritarianism?

It may seem ironic that authoritarianism, a belief system that entails sacrifice of personal freedom to a strong leader, would influence the experience of meaning in life through its promotion of feelings of personal significance. Yet right-wing authoritarianism does provide a person with a place in the world, as a loyal follower of a strong leader. In addition, compared to purpose and coherence, knowing with great certainty that one’s life has mattered in a lasting way may be challenging. Handing this challenge over to a strong leader and investment in societal conventions might allow a person to gain a sense of symbolic or vicarious significance.

Furthermore,

perceptions of insignificance may lead individuals to endorse relatively extreme beliefs, such as authoritarianism, and to follow authoritarian leaders as a way to gain a sense that their lives and their contributions matter.

In other words, right-wing authoritarianism, serves an existential meaning function–it provides reassurance “that one’s life matters.”

Political psychologists tell us that individuals who are “cognitively inflexible and intolerant of ambiguity” are more likely to become “captive audiences for ideological, political or religious extremists whose simplistic world-views gloss over nuance.”

It’s worth reminding ourselves that–while today’s threats are mostly from the Right, Leftwing zealots are cut from the same cloth. Fanatics are fanatics.

Edsall quotes other academics who confirm the connection between authoritarianism and racism, and he explores what the research tells us about intellectualism versus anti-intellectualism, the conflicts between individuals with different moral commitments, and the elements that may lead to radicalization–especially the willingness to use violence in furtherance of one’s moral commitments. What, in other words, distinguishes those who hold extreme views from those who violently act on them?

I encourage you to click through and read the entire essay, which explains a lot. What it doesn’t explain, unfortunately, is what we can do to salvage the American Experiment.

 

 

So What Can We Do?

There was a favorite example I used in my classroom when we were discussing the challenges posed by living in a country whose citizens increasingly occupy wildly different realities: if I say this particular piece of furniture is a table, and you insist it’s a chair, how do we have a productive exchange about its use?

Americans are continually having that maddening–and worthless– conversation. But it has taken a long time for the people who live in the reality-based community to recognize the basis of the problem.

In the wake of the 2016 election, well-meaning observers grasped for rational, evidence-based reasons to explain votes for a man who exemplified everything those voters claimed to detest. It was economic distress. It was an effort to “blow up” a system that wasn’t working for them. It was an inability to cross party lines.

Some of us suspected what has since become too obvious to ignore: Trump’s racism resonated with Americans whose chosen reality was being threatened by the increasing intrusion of “uppity” women and people of color. In Trump voters’ reality, White Christians enjoyed an obvious entitlement to cultural dominance, and that dominance–the position of “real” Americans– was being eroded.

Most of my friends are liberals (although many of them would have been classified as conservatives before the political spectrum lurched so far to the right that sanity is now a “liberal” marker…), and many of them are simply too nice to believe what the data so clearly confirms: America is split between those who live in a world where people are people, no matter their gender, skin color or religion, and those whose worldview assigns worth solely on the basis of those categories.

The data is unambiguous. Just look at this recent report by Alan Abramowitz from Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The article was about the prospects of Democrats winning back White voters without college degrees, and Abramowitz concluded that appealing to the economic interests of White non-college voters wouldn’t be enough for Democrats to win back their support, because the realignment among those White voters isn’t being driven by economics.

If the increasingly obvious argument is correct– that “economic discontent has little to do with the flight of white working class voters from Democrats”– economic policies aren’t going to prompt their return. As Abramowitz notes, the research strongly suggests that the “main factor behind the shifting party allegiance of these voters is the success of Republican leaders like Donald Trump in appealing to the racial resentments and grievances of non-college white voters.”

In this article, I use evidence from the 2020 American National Election Study to examine the effects of various political attitudes on the candidate preferences of college and non-college white voters in the 2020 presidential election. In line with the arguments of racial resentment theorists, I find that economic insecurity had very little impact on white voter decision-making in 2020. However, I find that the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters goes beyond racial resentment alone. Instead, I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest.

Those “conservative views,” of course, are also driven by racial bias. Sociological research has demonstrated, for example, that negative views on social welfare are connected to the belief that (“lazy”) Black Americans will primarily benefit. In the body of his analysis, Abramowitz notes that non-college whites “leaned to the right in every issue area but especially on social welfare, racial justice, and immigration issues.”

Abramowitz applied a regression analysis to the data, and found that

Racial resentment and party identification are by far the strongest predictors of conservative ideology. Evangelical identification has a significant impact as well, but its effect is not nearly as strong as the effects of racial resentment and party ID. Family income has almost no effect on ideology and economic insecurity has a negative effect.

So–back to that argument over whether the furniture is a table or chair. How do we talk to (never mind debate) people who occupy a wildly different reality–not just the looney-tunes who take horse de-wormers and/or accept QAnon fantasies, but the seemingly normal Americans who harbor stubborn hatreds and resentments untethered to fact or evidence (or for that matter, the Christianity they proclaim)?

I’m stumped.

 

 

When The Issue Isn’t Really The Issue

Thanks to the effort by Texas to totally ban abortion, the issue of reproductive choice has once again taken center stage in America’s interminable culture war.  But as Thomas Edsall has recently pointed out, a purported issue isn’t always, or necessarily, the real issue.

I always read Edsall’s essays in the New York Times, because he draws on both the history of whatever issue he is exploring and on a wide range of scholarly research in order to craft his conclusions. This particular piece is no different. As he tells us,

As recently as 1984, abortion was not a deeply partisan issue.

“The difference in support for the pro-choice position was a mere six percentage points,” Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, told me by email. “40 percent of Democratic identifiers were pro-life, while 39 percent were pro-choice. Among Republican identifiers, 33 percent were pro-choice, 45 percent were pro-life and 22 percent were in the middle.”

By 2020, of course, that situation had changed, with 73 percent of Democrats taking the pro-choice position (only 17 percent were “pro-life”–the other 10 percent were in the middle). That year, 60 percent of Republicans claimed to be pro-life; 25 percent were pro-choice, and 15 percent were in the middle.

If Edsall was commenting only on the growth of the partisan divide, that would be interesting but hardly surprising. What was surprising was the association between opposition to abortion and–wait for it–racial attitudes.

Whites who score high on measures of racial resentment and racial grievance are far more likely to support strict limits on abortion than whites who score low on these measures. This is part of a larger picture in which racial attitudes are increasingly linked with opinions on a wide range of disparate issues including social welfare issues, gun control, immigration and even climate change. The fact that opinions on all of these issues are now closely interconnected and connected with racial attitudes is a key factor in the deep polarization within the electorate that contributes to high levels of straight ticket voting and a declining proportion of swing voters.

I have previously posted about the origins of the anti-choice movement. Historians of religion have located those origins in conservative rage over the denial of tax benefits to the Whites-only academies that had been established to avoid integration. They had politicized abortion in order to motivate Christian conservative activism while dodging the less-palatable race issue.

There are other, less surprising associations: according to one scholar cited by Edsall, people who are active in the “pro life” movement are more likely to be committed to a patriarchal worldview in which control of reproduction, and female sexuality in particular, is important to the maintenance of  the gender hierarchy they support.

Women have noticed…

Edsall offers historical evidence that the issue of abortion has “evolved”–lending credibility to the claim that it is a proxy for a worldview that encompasses far more than religious convictions about reproductive choice.

Fifty years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis approved what by the standards of 1971 was a decisively liberal resolution on abortion:

Be it further resolved, that we call upon 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.

Edsall cites historian Randall Balmer for an observation often made by people critical of the anti-abortion movement: “the beauty of defending a fetus is that the fetus demands nothing in return — housing, health care, education — so it’s a fairly low-risk advocacy.” As pro-choice folks frequently point out, what is called a “pro-life position” is often merely “pro-birth,” since so many of the people espousing it are uninterested in feeding, clothing and educating the child once it emerges from the womb.

And of course, there’s the recent spectacle of anti-choice folks claiming “my body my choice”as justification for refusing vaccination. (Not only is that hypocritical inconsistency infuriating,  a woman exercising reproductive choice isn’t infecting her neighbors…a distinction that clearly eludes them…)

Edsall’s essay explains what, for many pro-choice advocates, has been a conundrum: why are opponents of abortion not seeking wide accessibility to birth control? Surely they should want to avoid  the unplanned, unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion, so why are some of the most fervent “pro-lifers” actually opposed to birth control?

Edsall and the scholars he cites have provided support for the answer many of us have suspected. For far too many of these “warriors for life,” the issue isn’t really the issue.

 

Highways And Critical Race Theory

Opponents of (a dramatically-mischaracterized) Critical Race Theory are essentially arguing against the recognition of just how deeply racism has affected American law and culture. They argue–and some undoubtedly believe–that civil rights laws created a level playing field, and that it’s now up to minority folks to stop complaining and make use of their equal opportunities.

The problem with that belief–even if we leave aside the sociological effects of two hundred  plus years of history–is that it is wrong.

As a society, we are just beginning to appreciate the extent to which racial animus has been baked into our laws and customs. (I was shocked to read The Color of the Law, for example, which documented how deeply the federal government was implicated in redlining and the segregation of America.) Only because I was involved in an effort to modify plans for rebuilding Indiana’s interstates within Indianapolis’ downtown did I become aware of the degree to which the original placement of those highways was the result of racist motives and assumptions.

Fifty-plus years ago, when the interstate system was built, entire neighborhoods were razed to make room for them. Homes, businesses, and urban amenities were destroyed, and the highways  became barriers between neighborhoods, cutting people off from job opportunities and retail options.

Subsequent environmental studies have shown that air pollution from highways negatively impacts student outcomes in nearby schools.

All of these negative impacts fell most heavily on Black neighborhoods and businesses, and that was definitely not accidental. As an architect recently wrote in The Washington Post about North Claiborne Street, formerly a bustling corridor in New Orleans:

There were many masters on North Claiborne, and Black New Orleanians were the beneficiaries of their talents. There were doctors, lawyers, retailers, insurance agents, teachers, musicians, restaurateurs and other small-business owners. The avenue stretched across the Tremé and 7th Ward neighborhoods, and in the Jim Crow era, it served as the social and financial center of the Black community.

The government tore up the avenue nearly 60 years ago, burying the heart of Tremé and the 7th Ward so the Claiborne Expressway, part of Interstate 10’s transcontinental span, could run through the city. New Orleans wasn’t alone. The same kind of thing happened across the country; Black communities like those in St. Paul, Minn., Orlando, Detroit, Richmond, Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., and Syracuse, N.Y., were leveled or hollowed out to make way for federal highway building. The Biden administration hopes to use the massive infrastructure bill now working its way through Congress to help remedy the harm done by these hideous scars, to “reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments,” in President Biden’s words. It’s not clear how much of the trillion dollars that lawmakers are contemplating will actually make it to places like North Claiborne. But those places aren’t just abstract line items in a budget resolution to people like me; they’re lived realities — vivid examples of how racist planning destroyed communities of color in America.

Our aging infrastructure now requires repair and replacement, and a number of cities have recognized the harms done by those original siting decisions, They have also recognized   how racist assumptions–and all too often, conscious racial animus–prompted those decisions, and have moved to ameliorate them. (Indiana’s DOT, it will not surprise you to learn, has thus far resisted similar efforts to fundamentally redesign those highways and reconnect neighborhoods.)

There are numerous reasons to rethink the country’s interstates, and most of those reasons have nothing to do with race. City centers have changed, historic districts have proliferated, we know more about the negative effects of highway pollution, etc. But we also shouldn’t forget why so many of those highways were built where they were.

As the author of the Post essay concluded:

I do not understand why we can’t look at these infrastructure relics the way we look at monuments to white supremacy, such as statues of Confederate heroes and obelisks apotheosizing the Lost Cause. The statues are hurtful reminders of the times when Black people and Native Americans were seen as commodities or nuisances that needed removal. But urban highways are more than a reminder; they continuously inflict economic, social and environmental pain on neighborhoods like mine. Like other monuments to racism, they must be removed. The nation has a chance to support the rebuilding of disenfranchised and fractured communities and make them whole. It won’t be easy, but I hope we will seize the moment.

We don’t look at highways as monuments to White Supremacy, because we don’t know–and haven’t learned–how White Supremacy influenced–determined– their placement. It’s just one more aspect of our current society whose origins we prefer not to understand.

 

Vouchers And Disinformation

I have posted numerous times about the myriad ways in which advocates of “privatization” and “choice” in education have contributed to the hollowing out of America’s civic structure. “Choice” sounds great. Providing citizens with a wide freedom of choice–of religion, politics, lifestyle– is a quintessentially American goal. The problems occur when institutionalized choices promote division and undermine civic cohesion.

In far too many communities today, the “educational choice” being offered is the opportunity to shield one’s children from intellectual and cultural diversity. Vouchers provide parents with tax dollars that allow them to insulate their children from  one of the very few remaining “street corners” left in contemporary American society. Whatever their original intent, as vouchers work today, they are mechanisms allowing parents to remove their children from public school classrooms and classmates that may be conveying information incompatible with those parents’ beliefs and prejudices.

In virtually all states with active voucher programs, including Indiana, well over 90% of participating schools are religious– vouchers have allowed sympathetic courts to do an end-run around the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. I’ve previously posted evidence that fundamentalist religious schools are teaching creationism rather than science--but it isn’t simply the science curriculum that is being corrupted by dogma. As a recent article from The Guardian reports, those schools are equally likely to distort accurate history.

One history textbook exclusively refers to immigrants as “aliens”. Another blames the Black Lives Matter movement for strife between communities and police officers. A third discusses the prevalence of “black supremacist” organizations during the civil rights movement, calling Malcolm X the most prominent “black supremacist” of the era.

Legislatures and boards of education around the US are currently engaging in acrimonious battles about how issues of race and equity are taught in public K-12 classrooms – the latest culture war in a decades-long fight around whose stories and contributions get highlighted in school. But largely left out of this conversation has been the education provided in private schools, thousands of which have quietly been excluding diverse voices and teaching biased versions of history for years.

The textbooks reviewed by the Guardian are used in thousands of private religious schools–schools that receive tens of thousands of dollars in public funding every year. They downplay descriptions of slavery and ignore its structural consequences.  The report notes that the books “frame Native Americans as lesser and blame the Black Lives Matter movement for sowing racial discord.”

As Americans fight over wildly distorted descriptions of Critical Race Theory–a manufactured culture war “wedge issue” employed by parents fighting against more inclusive and accurate history instruction- -the article correctly points out that there has been virtually no attention paid to the curricula of private schools accepting vouchers. As the article notes,

Private schools, unlike public ones, receive little oversight or restrictions when it comes to curriculum. In truth, thousands of private schools are currently teaching history through a racially biased lens.

Shades of the old segregation academies.

The Guardian reviewed dozens textbooks produced by the Christian textbook publishers Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education, three of the most popular textbook sources used in private schools throughout the US. These textbooks describe slavery as “black immigration”, and say Nelson Mandela helped move South Africa to a system of “radical affirmative action”.

The Abeka website boasts that in 2017, its textbooks reached more than 1 million Christian school students. The Accelerated Christian Education website claims its materials are used in “tens of thousands of schools.” One of its textbooks still refers to the civil war as the “war between the states,” and has a section titled “Black immigration”–characterizing the slave trade as “sometimes unwilling immigration.”

With respect to Reconstruction, the Accelerated Christian Education textbook contained the following characterization:

Under radical reconstruction, the south suffered. Great southern leaders and much of the old aristocracy were unable to vote or hold office. The result was that state legislatures were filled with illiterate or incompetent men. Northerners who were eager to make money or gain power during the crisis rushed to the south … For all these reasons, reconstruction led to graft and corruption and reckless spending. In retaliation, many southerners formed secret organizations to protect themselves and their society from anarchy. Among these groups was the Ku Klux Klan, a clandestine group of white men who went forth at night dressed in white sheets and pointed white hoods.

Unsurprisingly, the books were equally biased against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.Science denial, bogus history and homophobia are unlikely to prepare students for life in contemporary American society.

The U.S. Constitution gives parents the right to choose a religious education for their children. It does not impose an obligation on taxpayers to fund that choice, and we continue to do so at our peril.