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.
In the wake of the sentencing of Dharun Ravi for alleged bias crimes leading to the death of Tyler Clemente, I wrote an essay for Fox News’ opinion page about why, as a progressive, I oppose enhanced sentencing hate crimes laws — and believe we all should.
I fundamentally believe that the way to root out bias crime in America and bias in general is by acknowledging all of our inherent prejudices and judgments and dealing with them openly.
In that case, hate crimes laws create a sort of false comfort that suggests we are not infected by nor furthering bias unless we’re blurting out epithets or scrawling hate screeds. That’s a dangerous and ultimately defeatist message to send to a society that has much work to do in rooting out discrimination from every crevice of our existence, not just in crime.
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.
In the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, several commentators wrote artful letters to their black sons, warning of the reality of racial profiling and discrimination that still haunt us today. Subsequently, an either insanely ignorant or willfully obnoxious National Review columnist (now fired) named John Derbyshire wrote a letter to his two white children, spewing the sort of hateful stereotypes about black people that conservatives often hasten to argue are a part of America’s past, not present. As such, Mr. Derbyshire’s letter has nothing to do with actual black folks, but is a revealing warning about a certain subset of mostly white, mostly male conservatives who like to believe that racism and related injustices are merely myths concocted to disadvantage white people. I’d like to explain to my daughter, who is white, why this is a load of bullshit.
Read my full response at Colorlines and please, spread it around.
Like so many people, I’m deeply saddened and angry about the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin. And like so many people, I know that in no way is Trayvon’s murder an isolated incident. In my op-ed for Reuters, I explore what scientists tell us about implicit racial bias — and what it means for Trayvon, President Obama and America.
In one study, researchers used computers to generate several faces that were exactly the same except for the skin color — half were black and half were white. All respondents (yes, including black people studied for the project) were more likely to rate the black faces as showing greater hostility. In another study, scientists showed a group of subjects a video of one person pushing another person. When the “shover” was black and the “victim” was white, 75 percent of research subjects said the push was aggressive. When the “shover” was white and the victim was “black,” only 17 percent of subjects said the push was aggressive.
Implicit racial bias has also been found in what researchers call a “shooter bias” — in which subjects playing a simulated video game are more likely to mistakenly pull the trigger on unarmed black men than on unarmed white suspects. The phenomenon has been tested and proved with police officers, too.
Watching conservative attacks on Obama, it’s hard not to conclude that they are tainted by implicit bias. Consider: President Barack Obama is the first African-American president of the United States of America. From day one, conservatives have attacked the president’s religion, citizenship and essential patriotism. Conservatives condemned healthcare reform in general and the individual mandate in particular, even though the mandate was originally a Republican proposal. Republicans, who historically never met a tax cut they didn’t like, have opposed virtually every tax cut proposal that President Obama has put forth. Amidst high unemployment and a crumbling economy, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his number one goal was to destroy the president’s chance for re-election.
Now, I do not believe that Mitch McConnell or most Republican leaders or rank-and-file voters are overt racists. But their rhetoric often evokes the same racial animus that Zimmerman seems to have expressed. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has labeled President Obama “the most dangerous president in history.” Glenn Beck once accused President Obama of having a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” And long before he called Sandra Fluke a slut, conservative mascot Rush Limbaugh said: “Obama is an angry black guy.” The parallel imagery is clear: President Obama, like Trayvon Williams, is a dangerous, suspicious black man clearly up to no good, guilty of Governing While Black.
It’s a much longer piece. You can read it here. And please share your comments and help spread it around — this is a conversation our nation needs to have.
Lately, I’ve found myself having to explain why Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” is dramatically different from women themselves using the term in so-called “Slut Walks”. Somewhere between the complex answer of a dissertation on Critical Race Theory and the overly simple response of a one-fingered salute is the following:
You can download this PDF here.
In my debut post for Time Magazine’s website, I defend the honor of a great man that Andrew Breitbart is attempting to drag through the mud from his grave.
Derrick Bell, a professor of mine at NYU School of Law, was our nation’s foremost legal scholar on the persistence of racial discrimination in our economic, political and social institutions. The smear?
In 1991, students at Harvard Law School organized rallies to support Derrick Bell, an African American professor who was taking an unpaid leave of absence to protest the absence of any women of color on the law school faculty. A young Barack Obama spoke at one such rally, calling on his fellow students to “open up your hearts and your minds” to Derrick Bell.
Now conservatives are trying to smear Professor Bell as an anti-American, anti-white radical — hoping to smear President Obama by association. I respond:
It is absurd to suggest that just because President Obama once hugged Derrick Bell or assigned one of his legal essays for coursework, the President therefore embraces everything Professor Bell ever said or did. When the Founding Fathers enshrined free speech and freedom of association in our Constitution, they wanted to prevent us all for being pilloried for anything we might say but certainly for anything said by those with whom we’re loosely associated.
But at worst, these attacks create a dangerous chilling effect for scholarship that raises uncomfortable questions about our society, the sort of questions we should be facing head on, not hiding from.
Please read the entire essay here and help fight back against this ugly attack.
NEW YORK TIMES PROFILE
JOIN SALLY’S EMAIL LIST
FOR A GOOD TIME, FOLLOW
RUMORS ABOUT MELoading Quotes...
TV DOESN’T PAY THE BILLSMake a tax-deductible contribution via our fiscal sponsor, the Grassroots Policy Project
POPULAR TAGS2012 Election 2012 Elections barack obama budget capitalism civility Congress corporations debate debt deficit democrats economy feminism financial reform Fox News gay rights Glenn Beck government greed ideology inequality jobs marriage equality Mitt Romney Obama occupy wall st occupy wall street Paul Ryan popular education populism president obama progressive protests race racism Republicans Right wing sexism social movements taxes Tea Party unions values Wall Street