As happens, some of my essay on affirmative action and women ended up on the cutting room floor. So I thought I’d share with you the paragraphs that weren’t included, which I offer here as an important coda to the essay:
We live in a nation actively shaped by history, much of it beautiful but some of it shameful. The deep and dark legacies of explicit, legal discrimination against women and people of color still leave a mark today, continuing to stain our economy, our politics and our society with bias. The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households.
Researchers found that the exact same resume for the exact same job application will get twice as many call-backs for interviews if the name on the resume is “Greg” instead of “Jamal”. School districts spend more on predominantly white schools than predominantly black schools. The fact that black workers earn, on average, 35% less than white workers in the same jobs isn’t erased by the election of an African American president. Just as electing a female president wouldn’t change the fact that women earn just $0.77 for every dollar earned by men.
Unequal opportunity is baked into the arc of American history — for white women and women of color and black men and many other groups. Addressing that inequality, creating true opportunity and prosperity for all, requires more than passivity and patience. It requires affirmative action. Affirmative action not only helps fulfill the vision of equality about which our founding fathers could only hypothesize, but it helps all of us, including Abigail Fisher and all white women, whether we know it or not.
In advance of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas, I’ve written an essay for Time Magazine’s website about how white women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action. Here’s an excerpt:
While people of color, individually and as groups, have been helped by affirmative action in the subsequent years, data and studies suggest women— white women in particular — have benefited disproportionately. According to one study, in 1995 six million women—the majority which were white— had jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise held but for affirmative action.
You can read the full essay here. Please help spread it around and share your thoughts.
You’ve gotta admit, it just doesn’t feel right. Conservatives rail against “illegals” “sneaking across the border” with language laden with racial code — despite the fact that most immigrants are white and just overstay their visas. But then a Christian evangelical white family from Germany is denied asylum and conservatives rally around their cause? Seriously?
From my latest for Salon:
Look, this is how racial stereotyping works. No one comes right out and says, “We only like the immigrants who look like us.” They say things like, “The immigration system worked very well up until the mid-1960s” (Rep. Michele Bachmann) and “White America was kind of unified” in the 1950s, which “made it easier for society to function” (Bill O’Reilly, ignoring that Irish folks like him were once considered non-white). They call undocumented immigrants an “invasive species” that “contributes to the overall deterioration of the culture of this society” (Rush Limbaugh). The racialized message is mostly implied but nonetheless crystal clear — white immigrants, especially from Europe, are good, and dark-skinned immigrants, especially from Mexico, are bad. Which explains how a swath of conservatives so opposed to immigrant rights could be shouting from the rooftops in support of one family from Germany.
Read the rest here.
In an op-ed in today’s New York Daily News, I make the case for why Erika Menendez, the woman who allegedly pushed a Hindu man to his death in the subway, should NOT be charged with a hate crime:
It’s thus perplexing why, supposedly with the goal of rooting out bias within society in general, we would turn to a criminal justice system rife with prejudice. Enhanced sentencing under hate crime laws at best provides false comfort and at worst may compound injustice.
You can read the entire op-ed here.
When Romney and Republicans smear the President on welfare while hooting “We did build it!”, the result is a subtle but unmistakable othering based on racial anxiety. From my latest Salon column:
It is no coincidence that while every other Democratic president has been granted the presumption of good intent to grow the private sector and strengthen America generally, President Obama has been uniquely attacked as both un-American and a socialist. Add to that the inescapable context of the president’s blackness and the welfare smears and the “We did build that!” statement is as much about implicitly praising the hardworking, mostly white Republican base as it is implicitly demeaning the lazy, socialist black president. How could Obama build anything when not only is he so busy destroying America but he hasn’t even had a real job with “actual responsibilities”? In the us-versus-them story line, Mitt Romney is grouped with hard work and success and Barack Obama is grouped with laziness and irresponsibility. In her RNC speech, Ann Romney took one subtle but pointed dig in saying that, if elected, her husband will “work harder” than President Obama.
Please read and share the full essay. I think it’s an important conversation we all need to be having.
In my latest essay for ColorLines magazine, I catalogue the instances in which Mitt Romney and his surrogates have challenged President Obama’s fundamental claim on Americanness and have “otherized” the President with racialized attacks. Here’s an excerpt:
In a conference call with the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, Mitt Romney said President Obama has led an “assault on American values.” Romney has also accused President Obama of corrupting the American spirit and changing the “very fabric of our land.” Romney has said that while he believes America is exceptional and unique, President Obama thinks America is “just another nation with a flag.”
“The course we’re on right now is foreign to us,” Romney said of President Obama’s leadership. “It changes America.”
Taken in context with statements by Romney surrogates and other leading Republicans, it’s clear what ideas and sentiments Romney’s remarks are meant to trigger and echo
There’s more, and it will shock you. Read the full piece here.
In my first essay for The Atlantic, I give advice to Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren about how to turn the controversy surrounding her campaign into an advantage — seizing this important opportunity to talk about race, class and opportunity in America. Here’s an excerpt:
I am proud of my family and to align myself with the economic and political struggles of people of color which, I believe, represents the very best of what our nation stands for — the enduring principle, and still elusive promise, that all of us are created equal and that race, gender or economic status should never unfairly prejudice our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
But the implications of my opponent’s smear — that by supporting opportunities for people of color I am somehow opposing opportunity for working class white folks — could not be further off base. After all, there is no disputing my working class roots nor the fact that, whatever my heritage, I am also white. I personally known the frustrations of working class and poor white folks in our state and our country who feel like they can’t catch a break in our broken economy.
You can read the entire essay here.
Published May 29, 2012 in ColorLines
“The secret of Republican political success since the rise of the right is not, as many liberals believe, that they play no-rules hardball. Instead, it’s their skill at projection—at accusing Democrats of doing what they are doing themselves, or are planning to do, or have done.”
—Michael Tomasky, Daily Beast
Nothing stirs up white racial anxiety in an election year like a black-against-white race war. Never mind the fact that there isn’t one. When has that ever stopped the inventive right wing?
Those of us living in the world of objective facts and reality might be mistaken for thinking that the United States remains an at best well-intentioned, but nonetheless deeply hostile nation toward its communities of color. In New York City, reports have shown that in 2011, police conducted 685,724 street stop and frisks (up from 97,000 in 2002). Young black and Latino men between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of those stopped—although they are only 4.7 percent of the city’s population. In Missouri, a black man named George Allen has been in prison for almost 30 years for allegedly murdering a white woman, a crime that mounting evidence suggests Allen did not commit. Last month, a black woman named Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a single warning shot into the kitchen ceiling of her home to warn off her abusive husband and protect her three children.
But according to conservative media, exactly the opposite is occurring. Conservatives allege there is a growing but underreported black-versus-white race war in America.
There’s no data, of course, just some strung together anecdotes—namely, one about two white newspaper reporters who, while driving through Norfolk, Va., were attacked by a group of young black kids. The media didn’t pounce on the story—even the reporters’ own newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, only mentioned the incident in an opinion piece two weeks later. Conservatives, who actually love to talk about race and racism when they can do so with their fingers pointing at people of color and liberals, pounced on the story as evidence of media bias. The lamestream media was all over the Travyon Martin story but ignored the beating of whites by black kids. That, conservatives screamed, is racial bias.
Mind you, the two reporters in the Virginia incident weren’t hospitalized for their injuries, let alone killed. Local police moved quickly to investigate and three days after the incident was first reported by the paper, police arrested one teen, charging him with throwing a rock at the reporters’ car (a felony) as well as related misdemeanors. By comparison, George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested until almost two months after he shot Trayvon Martin, and only then as a result of community pressure. Only those desperate to distract from productive conversations about racial bias and injustice and return American attention to reinforcing racial stereotypes and hierarchies could manage to find anything comparable between the Trayvon Martin case and the Virginia incident.
Even most white conservatives know better than to use the term “race war” to describe this concocted, black-against-white threat. Fortunately, conservatives have Thomas Sowell. In a widely circulated, syndicated column for the National Review entitled “The Censored Race War,” the black conservative wrote:
What the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress is that the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places. If there is anything worse than a one-sided race war, it is a two-sided race war, especially when one of the races outnumbers the other several times over.
Sowell is either intentionally feeding the idea that blacks like himself are more dangerous and violent than whites or unwittingly providing cover for those who seek to do so.
The root of inequality is the simple but sinister idea that some people are inherently inferior to others. I’ll give Sowell and other conservative media figureheads the benefit of the doubt that they do not personally believe young black men are inherently more dangerous and violent, but that’s all the more reason not to play into such biases and fan the flames of white racial anxiety. Sowell and others should understand that, in America today, this is how racism operates—not primarily through explicit epithets and force but through subtle winks and nods to the prejudices on which our society remains built.
The Virginia case specifically and the manufactured race war in general conveniently feed a larger conservative narrative this election year—reminding white America of how dangerous and scary black men are and how white people, especially white men, are the victims. Despite the fact that, yes, a lot of white folks voted for President Obama in 2008, most didn’t and according to a post-election study by a researcher at Harvard, racial animus cost Obama anywhere from three to five percentage points in the 2008 popular vote. In what is shaping up to a be a tight re-election battle, a few percentage points can really matter.
In addition, the 2012 election will likely be less about independent voters (who polls indicate may split fairly evenly between Romney and Obama) than about voter turnout in each party’s base. Republicans know they have an enthusiasm gap—even now that the primaries are over, Republicans say the main reason they support Romney simply because he’s “not Obama.” Yet in 2008 exit polling, 24 percent of American voters said they were “scared” by the prospect of Barack Obama being elected president. Of those, 95 percent voted Republican. Gin up fear, win the election.
I’m not saying racial animus is the only way to stoke white conservative fear in an election. But it’s sure a popular choice, one we have already seen that Republican Super PACs are pursuing. And we can see this at play in other campaigns too, including the fact that Scott Brown has tried far harder to portray Elizabeth Warren as a person of color than she ever did herself, desperately hoping to increase his own margin of the racial animus vote.
Things really are bad for most white men in America today, just like they are for the rest of us. Jobs are disappearing and so are the public benefits that have traditionally supported them in times of need. And if the present seems bad, the future seems even worse, as public schools implode and college tuition gets further out of reach. Anger is a powerful motivator.
Republicans can’t risk white voters realizing that conservative policies have caused their suffering. And though President Obama’s own record isn’t strong, for the majority of voters middle class tax cuts, affordable health care and fairly centrist policies from education reform to the military aren’t exactly the stuff of fire and brimstone. But the president is black. I’m not arguing that conservatives are attacking the president only because of his race, but they are certainly guilty of tapping into and fanning racial resentment to ignite their critiques. In that sense, sadly, by inventing a fake black-versus-white race war, conservatives are reinforcing and exploiting the divisive white-versus-black racial dynamics in America that they should be instead helping to fix.
From my discussion today on America Live with Megyn Kelly and Monica Crowley. Does race affect the way voters judge President Obama? Yes. And saying so isn’t “divisive” but the first step in rooting out implicit bias from our unconscious and our politics.
And here’s the Mediaite story on this segment.
The always incredibly un-credible Ann Coulter has a new column out and it’s a doozy. Coulter argues that Democrats have historically been anti-gun rights because they have wanted to keep guns out of the hands of blacks who wished to defend themselves from the KKK (which, Coulter argues, began as part of the Democratic establishment). In her concoction column even claims that the National Rifle Association is “America’s oldest and most august civil rights organization.” That statement right there would give most reasonable people pause, but knowing how these sorts of crazy Right wing arguments tend to corrupt and corrode our public discourse, I thought a few facts would be in order:
1. Coulter’s celebrated Republicans are now called Democrats!
This has got to be a big face palm for anyone with even a lick of historical knowledge reading Coulter’s piece. Until the Civil War, the Democratic Party was the major political party in America. But in the mid 19th Century, anti-slavery Democrats fled the party and the Republican Party emerged. Abraham Lincoln, he of the Emancipation Proclamation and social liberal attitudes of the time with respect to abolishing slavery, was a Republican. White Southerners burning with racial resentment indeed backed the Democratic Party in Reconstruction. But then, as any eighth grader can tell you, as the 20th Century emerged, Republicans shifted to become the party of big business, white industrialists while Democrats became the party of the New Deal and Civil Rights legislation.
2. One can’t ascribe the attitudes of the 1800s racist Democratic Party to today’s Democratic Party
Yes, the so-called Democrats of the mid-1800s were rabidly racist and tied to the Ku Klux Klan. But given the profound ideological flip-flop between the two parties over the last two centuries, it’s about as absurd to attribute 1800s Democratic Party attitudes to today’s Democrats as it is to suggest that the Republican Party is “the Party of Lincoln”. If people like Ann Coulter are so damned proud of what anti-slavery Republicans stood for back then, why aren’t they standing up for those same values now?
3. The “civil rights hero” Coulter hangs her argument on exiled himself to Cuba and China and inspired the Black Panthers
This is the best part. Coulter writes about Robert F. Williams, author of the book “Negroes With Guns” (from which Coulter takes the title of her piece), who apparently formed the Black Armed Guard in Monroe, NC, with a charter from the NRA. In other words, ignoring about a hundred year gap in her narrative, Coulter tries to portray Williams as a Republican joining forces with the NRA to fight against the Democrats’ KKK. Ms. Coulter must not have known that one of Williams formative experiences was, at age 11, witnessing a black woman being dragged and beaten by a police officer named Jesse Helms, Sr. (father to future Republican Senator Jesse Helms, Jr.). And she must have missed the part where Williams delivered a speech at the 1965 International Conference for Solidarity with the People of Vietnam Against U.S. Imperialist Aggression for the Defense of Peace. Doesn’t sound like a Republican, eh Ann?
4. The “Negroes With Guns” premise assumes a persistent racism in America that Ms. Coulter and Republicans are otherwise quick to deny.
Let me see if I get this straight: The existence of persistent, implicit racial bias in America is a sufficient argument to exploit when making the case for the NRA and 2nd Amendment rights but when making the case for everything from equal funding for public schools to ending racial profiling to affirmative action, suddenly racism is a thing of the past that liberals are inventing?
5. And lastly, does Ann Coulter really want to arm black folks now?
It seems to me, the leading argument that conservatives make for lax gun laws is that “criminals” (read: black people) have guns and, therefore, law-abiding citizens (read: white people) need guns to protect themselves. By seemingly embracing Robert F. Williams’ arguments, is Ms. Coulter seriously suggesting she wants to see more black folks take up arms today? Apart from being refreshing if true, is she aware that a resurgence of Mr. Williams’ Black Armed Guard-type movement today would likely go after not the Democratic establishment but Republicans — the party that repeatedly suggests problems in the black community are the fault of “black culture” and not deep-seated history and public policy, the party that wants to cut food stamps to give more tax breaks to the rich, the party that won’t even pass the Violence Against Women Act because it might help immigrants and gay people? Oh, yeah, and the party that is constantly blowing its dog whistle about the “New Black Panther Party”?
Perhaps Ann Coulter thinks she can pick and choose from history and biography and tell only the parts of political party history and Robert F. Williams’ life that fit her narrative. And perhaps Ann Coulter also thinks that unicorns poop glitter.
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