Black Power's Gonna Get You Sucka:
Right-Wing Paranoia and the Rhetoric of Modern Racism
By Tim Wise
July 10, 2010
Prominent white conservatives are angry about racism.
Forget all that talk about a post-racial society. They know better than to believe in such a thing, and they’re hopping mad.
What is it that woke them up finally, after all these years of denial, during which they insisted that racism was a thing of the past?
Was it the research indicating that job applicants with white sounding names have a 50 percent better chance of being called back for an interview than their counterparts with black-sounding names, even when all qualifications are the same?
Was it the study that found white job applicants with criminal records have a better chance of being called back for an interview than black applicants without one, even when all the qualifications are the same?
Was it the massive nationwide study that estimated at least 1 million cases of blatant job discrimination against blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans each year, affecting roughly one-in-three job seekers of color?
Is it the fact that black males with college degrees are almost twice as likely as their white male counterparts to be out of work?
Is it the data indicating that Chinese-American professionals earn less than 60 percent as much as their white counterparts, even though the Chinese Americans, on average, have more education?
Was it the study that found the lightest-skinned immigrants to the United States make as much as 15 percent more than the darkest, even when the immigrants in question have the same level of education, experience and measured productivity?
Perhaps they finally stumbled upon the evidence suggesting millions of cases of race-based housing discrimination against people of color each year, and this is what has them so incensed?
Or maybe their anger is due to the reports of blatant racism practiced by Wells Fargo, which was deliberately roping black borrowers (to whom they referred as "mud people") into high-cost loans, targeting them for these instruments, and even falsifying credit histories to make black applicants look like greater risks than they were, so as to justify the scam?
Was it the study demonstrating that e-mail inquiries about rental property submitted by people with white sounding names were 60 percent more likely than those with black sounding names to get a positive response from a landlord (meaning an indication that a unit was available for rent), even when the housing had been previously advertised as available?
Maybe they’re furious because of the way whites in the New Orleans area conspired after the flooding of the city to keep blacks from returning and being able to find housing on equitable terms, if at all?
Or maybe it’s because of the data from the Justice Department, to the effect that blacks are far more likely than whites to have their cars and persons searched after a traffic stop, even though whites, when searched, are more than four times as likely to have drugs or other illegal contraband on us?
Well then, perhaps it’s the recent revelations that police in New York City are blatantly profiling blacks and Latinos, stopping and frisking them in massive numbers, even though in 90 percent of all cases, the people they stop are released without any charge because they are found to have done nothing illegal?
Is the source of their anger the data showing that although whites and blacks use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates, African Americans are anywhere from 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug offense, depending on the year? Or perhaps the state level data indicating that in nine states, blacks are arrested at more than seven times the rate of whites, and in Minnesota and Iowa at rates that are more than eleven times greater than white arrest rates for drugs? Or perhaps the additional data that blacks are more than 10 times as likely as whites to be sent to prison for drug offenses, despite relatively equivalent rates of drug crimes? Or the fact that a majority of persons admitted to prison for drug offenses are black, even though there are about six times more white users nationwide?
Maybe they're beside themselves over the fact that millions of black men who are ex-felons and have paid their debt to society are permanently blocked from voting thanks to disenfranchisement laws that were devised for blatantly racist reasons? Surely they are upset that these laws have led to blacks being denied the right to vote after serving their time at a rate that is 7 times the national average?
Perhaps they’re enraged by the way white police officers conspired to murder a black man in New Orleans after Katrina, and then cover up the crime, or the way other whites formed a vigilante terror squad and went hunting for black people in the aftermath of the flooding?
Maybe it was that racist e-mail sent by the white Boston police officer to the reporter at the Boston Globe, in which he called Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates a “banana eatin’ jungle monkey?”
Then maybe it was the story about that high ranking racist in the Chicago police force who OK’d the torture of black men to extract confessions for years?
Then I bet they must have finally seen that story about the Philadelphia cop who refers to black folks as animals and niggers. That’s it, right?
Could it be that they’ve read and been moved by the dozens of studies that show the cumulative health effects of racism and discrimination on people of color, and which indicate that doctors do indeed treat patients of color differently, and worse, than their white counterparts? Or perhaps the research that finds how even black women with college degrees, decent jobs and good incomes have infant mortality rates for their children that are higher than the rates for white women who dropped out before high school? And the way that researchers believe stresses associated with racial discrimination are implicated in the worse fetal and neo-natal health of these mother's children?
Perhaps it’s the research that shows black students being suspended and expelled from school at far higher rates than white students, even though there are no significant differences in the rates at which students of different races violate serious school rules?
Maybe it's the research indicating that teachers set lowered expectations for children with black-sounding names, independent of observed ability, and even when compared to the child's own siblings who have less identifiably black names. These lowered expectations, based on presumptions of lowered competence and ability then result in lower performance by the stigmatized students.
Or maybe it was that troubling story on CNN about how white children and even many children of color seem to prefer white skin, and think that children with black skin are bad, dirty, mean and ugly?
Well then it must be the blatant stuff. Maybe they finally got around to looking at those images of Tea Party protesters and other assorted conservatives coming to rallies with signs advocating the lynching of Democratic party leaders, or portraying the President as an African witch doctor? Or maybe somebody informed them of all the times that conservative and Republican Party activists have sent around blatantly racist e-mails lately, like those portraying the white house lawn covered in watermelons, or once again with the witch doctor imagery, or likening Michelle Obama to an ape, or picturing the President as a pair of "spook eyes" against a black background?
Maybe they're angry at Tea Party leader Mark Williams for calling the President an "Indonesian Muslim" and a "welfare thug?" I mean, that's pretty racialized rhetoric, right?
Or maybe it was the Tea Party leader in Ohio who tweeted about how he wants to shoot Hispanic immigrants, to whom he refers as "spicks?" (sic)
Well then surely it must have been the story about Tea Party candidate for Governor in New York who sent e-mails picturing the President dressed as a pimp and featuring a group of African tribesman performing a traditional dance, which he referred to as the "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal?"
Perhaps what has them angry is the statement by that Arizona Congressman, to the effect that black folks were better off under slavery than they are today?
Maybe it was because of those guys over at the popular right-wing website, FreeRepublic.com who called the President's daughter, Malia, "typical ghetto trash," and a "whore" whose mother likes to entertain her by "making monkey sounds?"
Or perhaps they finally had enough when they heard about how Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was called a "wetback" by one of his constituents and told to go back to Mexico?
Or maybe it was that lawmaker in South Carolina who called both President Obama and Republican Gubernatorial candidate (and Indian American) Nikki Haley, "ragheads?"
Or perhaps they're upset about how the guy who sponsored the law in Arizona, ostensibly to catch "illegal immigrants" (a law they support), turns out to be pals with neo-Nazis? Or the fact that the organization that takes credit for writing the bill has longstanding ties to blatant racists and hate groups?
Or maybe it was the story about how National Review columnist John Derbyshire told Harvard law students that black achievement lags behind white achievement because blacks are biologically inferior to whites?
Well perhaps it was that story about the motorists in Prescott, Arizona who continually shouted racial slurs at artists who were painting a mural on the walls of a school, which featured children of color who go there? And certainly they must have been upset about the fact that initially the school was actually planning to lighten the subjects' skin color so as to appease locals and a right wing talk show host?
Or maybe they're irate because of the report that employees of the Department of Homeland Security have posted blatantly racist comments about Latino immigrants on web boards?
Surely it must be because of the evidence that uniformed American soldiers are joining up with neo-Nazi organizations and even flaunting their membership in such groups?
It is none of this. Neither the evidence of systemic discrimination against people of color in every walk of American life, nor the repeated examples of blatant racism directed towards people of color individually moves them.
But they're angry nonetheless about racism in America.
They're especially angry about the tax being placed on those who use tanning salons. Because this is racist. Against white people. No, seriously.
Oh, and the President criticized a white police officer for arresting a black man for a crime that, turns out, the black man didn't actually commit, according to state law. That Obama would do such a thing--namely, criticize an officer for making an unjustified arrest--means that white police officers are "under assault" from Obama, and that the President is trying to "destroy" the white officer, no doubt because he's white.
Oh, and since people of color disproportionately lack health care coverage, the President's plan for expanding coverage is obviously a racist scheme to get reparations for slavery.
Oh, and the President is deliberately trying to destroy the economy so as to pay back white people for slavery and hundreds of years of oppression.
Oh, and two black kids beat up a white kid on a bus in Belleville, Illinois--something that is obviously due to Obama being President.
Oh, and the President picked Eric Holder as Attorney General. Since Holder has said Americans have often been "cowards" when it comes to discussing race, this proves that Holder is racist against white people, even though he didn't mention white people. He said Americans, and Americans means white people. So he's a bigot. And so is Obama for picking him.
Oh, and the President nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. And she's a Latina, who notes that she sees the world through the lens of her experience, and that she hopes that experience would positively inform her decision-making. And that means she's a bigot. And the fact that Obama nominated her, as well as Eric Holder, proves that he "views white men as the problem" in America, and that the only way you can get promoted by Obama is "by hating white people." Like Tim Geithner, who most definitely hates your honky ass.
Oh, and the President also nominated Elena Kagan, and Kagan once worked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Marshall once said the Constitution as originally conceived--which, ya know, excluded blacks from citizenship--was flawed. Imagine. And this means that Marshall was anti-white, and anyone who worked for him must be too.
Oh, and the Obama Justice Department dropped criminal voter intimidation charges against three members of the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia (while obtaining an injunction against a fourth member). So this proves the Administration is allied with the Panthers, whose Philly leader proclaims that he "hates all white people," and Obama probably agrees with him, and is refusing to prosecute because he doesn't care about white folks' voting rights. In fact, the New Black Panthers are part of Obama's "army of thugs." Even though the same Philly leader of the group didn't support Obama for President, and has called Obama a "puppet" and "slavemaster." And of course, as a point of fact, the criminal charges against the other three Panthers were dropped by the Bush Department of Justice. And there have been no voters who actually claim to have been intimidated by the Panthers. And even a leading conservative Republican on the Civil Rights Commission says the incident is much ado about nothing.
Oh, and since the Justice Department is considering bringing federal charges against the white officer who killed Oscar Grant--a black man--in cold blood in Oakland last year, this proves that we've returned to the 1950s, only this time it's whites who are the victims of racist oppression. Because it's oppression to bring charges against a white cop who kills someone. Naturally.
Yes indeed, they all agree, Obama is a "reverse racist" who has a deep-seated hatred of white people, and who is like Hitler, and we know this because he's proposing a national service corps to help work on various community problems, and this is just like the Nazi SS, well, except for the murdering part. Or if not Hitler, then at the very least he's just like an "African colonial despot".
And for sure, Obama is the reason race relations are so strained: not because of the ongoing discrimination against people of color, which the data indicates is commonplace, or because of the incendiary rhetoric coming from conservative commentators. But because of Barack Obama.
Race relations could never be strained by say, for instance, having a white talk show host fantasize about murdering a black congressman with a shovel.
Or by another host calling undocumented migrants from Mexico "invasive species".
Or by spreading lies about how 5 million so-called "illegal aliens" were given subprime mortgages, as a way to blame the undocumented for the housing meltdown, even though there is no evidence whatsoever to support the fabricated claim.
Or by alleging that ACORN (a community-based organization comprised mostly of people of color) committed massive voter fraud so as to help elect Obama, even though there is no evidence that a single illegitimate vote was cast due to ACORN's voter registration efforts, and despite the fact that when a few ACORN operatives filed phony voter registration cards, it was ACORN itself that alerted election officials to the problem
Or by a prominent conservative commentator insisting that white men are experiencing the same kind of oppression that blacks faced for years, even as that commentator has previously reminisced fondly about the days of segregation.
Or by another radio host and prominent conservative author blaming "multicultural" people for "destroying" the country, or calling Arab Muslims "non-humans," or fantasizing about killing people in the "civil rights business."
Or by another radio host and prominent conservative author referring to the mostly black residents of New Orleans, in the wake of Katrina as "worthless parasites" and "human parasitic garbage" because of their high rates of welfare receipt. Even though, according to Census data, there were only 4600 households in all of the city receiving cash welfare at the time of the flooding, which was less than 4 percent of all black households in the city, and whose annual benefits came to only around $2800 per year.
Or by walking around with a sign suggesting that President Obama intends to put white people into slavery.
Or by saying that President Obama only won the election because he's black, and if he weren't black, he'd be a tour guide in Honolulu.
Or by saying that the only reason Colin Powell endorsed Obama was as an act of racial bonding.
Or by saying that Oprah Winfrey is also successful only because she's black.
Or by blaming the economic collapse on fair lending laws and lending to minorities, even though all the evidence suggests such laws and such loans had nothing to do with the housing or larger economic crises.
Or perhaps by having a right-wing talk show host announce a plan for conservatives to "take back the civil rights movement," and compare himself to Martin Luther King Jr. This, even though conservatives were almost uniformly opposed to the movement and King, and even though the talk show host's favorite authors, whose work he promotes regularly, viewed the movement as a communist conspiracy and referred to civil rights activists as animals.
Or by another conservative comparing himself to Dr. King, and speaking of how much he respects King's legacy, even as he--the conservative--has said he believes private businesses should have the right to discriminate on the basis of race.
No, none of those things could strain race relations, or further racism.
And certainly not when compared to a tanning booth tax.
While on the face of it, these kinds of right-wing inanities may seem so absurd as to hardly merit being taken seriously, it's important to step back and think about the internal logic of even the most outlandish claims. I mean, no one can honestly believe that health care reform is reparations. After all, what the hell kind of reparations is it where you have to get sick first in order to get paid? That's not a good hustle. And no one can really believe that some white kid got beat up on a bus because it's "Obama's America," as if the President had sent a text message to those black guys saying: HEY, YNOT BEAT SUM CRAKA ASS 4 ME, U DIG?
But the intellectual strength of the claims is not the issue. It doesn't matter. From a political perspective, even the most insane-sounding claim about Obama's supposed hatred for white people makes sense. It's a perfect way to prime white racial fears and anxieties, to say, in effect, they're coming for your money white folks, and then your children. In a nation where the population will be half people of color within 25-30 years, and where the popular culture is now thoroughly multicultural (and thus many of the icons don't look the way they used to), and where the President doesn't fit a lot of people's conception of what such a person is supposed to look like, and where the economy is in the toilet for millions, playing upon white anxiety is the perfect recipe for political mobilization.
They've said very clearly that they want their country back. And if we who oppose the right don't challenge these folks for the racists they are, or continue to shy away from making race an issue (as if it weren't already), they just might get it.
Tim Wise is the author of five books and over 250 essays on race. His latest is Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010).
Monday, July 12, 2010
The Right is "Taking Back" the Civil Rights Movement, Remember?
But Don't Jack My Genuis
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