Tag Archives: racism

Critical Race Theory

I was really hoping I could avoid ever posting about the asinine debate over Critical Race Theory–but the other day, I saw that our bootlicker-to-the-Right Attorney General had entered the fray, a clear sign that the racists and their enablers think they’ve found a winning formula for 2022.

So I guess I do need to weigh in, in a (probably useless) effort to clarify what all the noise is about.

I didn’t encounter Critical Legal Studies and its cousin, Critical Race Theory until I was a college professor. Both approaches were–and are–relatively arcane, primarily the preoccupation of a subset of legal scholars. As Heather Cox Richardson recently explained it,  Critical Race Theory was a theory conceived in the 1970s by legal scholars trying to understand why the civil rights legislation of the past twenty years had not eliminated racial inequality in America.

They argued that general racial biases were baked into American law so that efforts to protect individuals from discrimination did not really get at the heart of the issue. While this theory focused on the law, it echoed the arguments historians have made—and proved—since the 1940s: our economy, education, housing, medical care, and so on, have developed with racial biases. This is not actually controversial among scholars.

While CRT explicitly focuses on systems, not individuals, and while it is largely limited to legal theory classes rather than public schools, Republicans have turned this theory into the idea that it attacks white Americans and that history teachers are indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate America. In the past three and half months, the Fox News Channel has talked about CRT nearly 1300 times.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked to discover that people who couldn’t define either “socialism” or “capitalism” if their lives depended on it are having trouble distinguishing between their fear of being “replaced” by Jews and scary Black people and a graduate-level study of how and where racial stereotypes are reflected in the country’s legal system. (I guess they never heard of redlining…)

Assertions that CRT is being taught in America’s elementary and high schools is ludicrous–as I have been complaining pretty much forever, schools aren’t even teaching the most basic concepts required for civic literacy, let alone a theory that requires a familiarity not just with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but with significant elements of America’s legal structures.

The GOP-hyped hysteria over Critical Race Theory is just another effort to mask garden-variety racism  by pretending that the fight is really about something else. It takes its place beside the party’s rejection of “political correctness” (i.e., I refuse to abide by your social expectation of basic civility) and “cancel culture” (i.e., I should be free to spew my venom but you shouldn’t be free to respond by signaling your disapproval).

 One of the biggest disappointments of my adult life has been my reluctant recognition of the extent and depth of American racism, and the degree to which it infects our politics. That said, despite the evidence of the past few years–the hysterical reaction to Obama’s election, the subsequent election of an ignorant blowhard willing to demonize the “other”– I  still refuse to believe that the majority of Americans are in thrall to hate and fear.

The problem is, the rabid racist minority–thanks to gerrymandering,  vote suppression (and let’s be honest, voter apathy) and the Electoral College– has seized outsized control of America’s government. And when it comes to turnout, rage is a great motivator. If dishonest and dishonorable politicians can drum up fear and anger by emphasizing culture-war issues like the “threat” of a mischaracterized CRT, they may yet overwhelm the majority.

We live in an incredibly dangerous time.

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.

Structural Racism

Over the past several years, America has debated and (to some extent) confronted the extent of our country’s racism.The willingness of White Supremicists to make their animus explicit was triggered by the election of Barack Obama and evidence of shifting demographics, but we are still far from having a candid discussion of the ways in which that racism has infected the systems and structures of our society.

Far too many people think of racism as individual behaviors–the sorts of interpersonal  nastiness that goes viral after being captured by our ubiquitous iPhone cameras. Those of us who are white and middle-class rarely recognize the ways in which people of color have been systematically disadvantaged by official acts; I was shocked to learn about the federal government’s role in redlining from The Color of Law and similar books.

The Brookings Institution recently compared the treatment of South American immigrants with earlier treatment of immigrants from European countries. It was illuminating, to say the least.

Examining immigration policy through a systemic racism lens reveals that today’s largely Latino undocumented immigrants face far harsher consequences than white Europeans of years past for the same exact offense of unauthorized entry. A system that treats immigrants differently solely to their race is essentially the textbook definition of structural racism.

“Illegal” immigration was remarkably common in past decades. Around the turn of the century many Europeans came to the US “with a tag on,” a label sewn into their clothing to allow an employer or labor contractor who’d paid for the immigrant’s passage to find the newcomer at the dock on Ellis Island. While illegal—indentured servitude having long been outlawed[ii]–the practice was so widespread that one labor union official testified in 1912 that “more than 8 in 10” of the million immigrants who’d entered that year had a job waiting from an employer that paid for the newcomer’s passage.[iii] Others came as illegal stowaways aboard ships or unlawfully crossed the border from Canada, as CBS Evening News Anchor Nora O’Donnell recently discovered her Irish grandfather had done in 1924.[iv

According to the Brookings report, these “illegal” European immigrants faced few if any repercussions. In part, that was because there was little or no immigration enforcement, but even among those who were caught, few faced deportation. Migrants who entered unlawfully before the 1940s were protected by statutes of limitations and– in the 1930s and 1940s– by grants of amnesty. And before 1976, the government was extremely unlikely to deport parents of US citizens–the “anchor baby” accusation is a recent invention.

There weren’t restrictions on the ability of immigrants to access public benefits until the 1970s, and Brookings reports that it wasn’t until 1986 that it became unlawful to hire an undocumented immigrant.

In sum, from the early 1900s through the 1960s, millions of predominantly white immigrants entered the country unlawfully, but faced virtually no threat of apprehension or deportation. Businesses lawfully employed these immigrants, who were eligible for public benefits when they fell on hard times.

Times have certainly changed. Undocumented people today, most of whom are Latino and/or other people of color—are treated very differently. They enjoy none of the privileges  that were accorded to previous generations of white immigrants as a matter of course.

The toughening of immigration laws coincided with a shift of immigration from Europe to newcomers from Latin America, Asia, and Africa,[x] often in the context of racialized debates targeted mainly at Latinos. Researchers have documented how through the 1960s, racialized views of Mexicans shaped law and bureaucratic practice.

The report goes on to describe the increasingly draconian policies that followed the change in immigrants’ skin color. I encourage you to click through and read the entire, depressing  exposition.

Watching Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd was a horrific example of official disregard for the life of someone perceived to be different and thus lesser.  As a society, we need to send a message that such behaviors by individuals cannot be tolerated. But the larger challenge we face is the pressing need to ferret out the multiple ways in which similar attitudes have infected the structures of our laws and policies, and the multiple, less-visible ways those structures continue to harm not just the people being marginalized but also the country as a whole.

 

Those Trump Loyalists

One problem with political discourse these days is the participation of many truly nice people in those discussions. They are horrified by those of us who characterize today’s GOP as a racist mob. They (quite properly) note that such characterizations are far too broad-brush, and they insist that a continued effort to engage Republicans in civil conversation will often yield results.

Unfortunately, they are far too kind.

I will grant that stereotyping entire groups of people is both dangerous and inaccurate, but I also recall Maya Angelou’s advice to believe people when they show you who they are. So I was intrigued by a report from Talking Points Memo on a series of focus groups with Trump loyalists.(Note, this is a “members only” article that may not be readable if you aren’t a “member.” A link to the study itself is here.)

Democracy Corps conducted a series of focus groups with Trump supporters and various other GOP conservatives. They evidently had considerable difficulty recruiting volunteers– it took a long time to recruit people to constitute representative groups because, as a Democracy Corp representative noted, Trump voters seemed particularly distrustful of outsiders.

Once they were in a Zoom room with all Trump voters, however, they apparently let it all hang out. Here are the “takeaways.”

The Trump loyalists and Trump-aligned were angry, but also despondent, feeling powerless and uncertain they will become more involved in politics;

Trump’s base saw Biden, as a white man, as not threatening, controlled by others, unlike Obama who represented everything Tea Party-Republicans were determined to fight;

Even Trump’s base is curious about the extent to which they benefit from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Biden’s signature program, compared to Obamacare that they viewed as a new entitlement for Blacks and immigrants that must be stopped;

The Trump loyalists and the Trump aligned are animated about government taking away their freedom and a cancel culture that leaves no place for white Americans and the fear they’re losing “their” country to non-whites;

They were angered most of all by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa that were responsible for a full year of violence in Democratic cities that put white people on the defensive – and was ignored by the media;

The Trump loyalists and those who are aligned rooted for the anti-lockdown protestors in Michigan and saw the violence and disruption of the legislature as justified. Some pulled back when the guns threatened innocent civilians, and more when their methods seemed to be losing support for the Trump movement;

A handful of the Trump loyalists supported the January 6th insurrectionists, but most quickly concluded it was really Antifa or an inside job to make Trump supporters look bad. They normalized the insurrection, suggesting it was no different than the violence carried out by BLM and Antifa;

They worry now that it is the government that has taken the initiative on the use of force, increasing their sense of powerlessness;

It is difficult, if not impossible, to look at these findings and not see how deeply racism motivates support for Trump and his GOP. Nice people don’t want to recognize the extent to which White Nationalism affects and distorts American political life–and the extent to which bigotry and racial grievance has assumed control of one of the country’s major political parties.

I don’t want to admit it either–but some 74 million people voted for that President and that party. I don’t know how we combat hatred, but I do know that we can’t address a problem we refuse to see.