Monday Reads: The Politics of Racial ResentmentPosted: April 11, 2016
I started writing this post in the morning. I have a feeling it’s going to take me awhile to pull it together so I should probably add a Good Afternoon just for good measure.
I was a small child during the early 1960s. My father was an avid newspaper reader for the two daily editions of our local newspaper and the newspaper read around the state of Iowa. That would be the Des Moines Register. I grew up watching Huntley & Brinkley around the dinner table. It’s probably why I’m still a bit of a news hound even though journalism is not my calling. Two things really influenced my childhood. The first was the TV images of the Vietnam War with the nightly news coverage of body counts and footage of jungle warfare. The other was the incredible, horrible film of angry white people and police as the Civil Rights Movement spread across the South. I doubt that I will ever forget watching hoses turned on children my age.
I was fortunate that I spent most of my weekends in Kansas City and a lot of my childhood travelling the country and the world. It opened me to new experiences and different people and I soon craved more than any white, small city suburb offered. It’s actually why I resent the gentrification of New Orleans. I do not want my Bywater neighborhood to reflect the cultural ennui of Minnetonka or the new Williamsburg.
Like most Midwestern cities, my town practiced Jim Crow by building interstates and railroad tracks to deter racial mixing. There were also unspoken laws about where to go and where not to go. By the time I got to high school and the school integration SCOTUS case took hold, it was obvious that I had grown up in place where there was just a different version of Jim Crow. The faces of ugly, angry white Nebraskans aren’t all that different from ugly, angry white Mississippi folk. We moved across the river to Nebraska when I was 10. So, we traded small town Iowa for the sterile burbs of Omaha.
In many cities, these dividing lines persist to this day — a reflection of decades of discriminatory policies and racism, but also of the power of infrastructure itself to segregate.
Look at racial maps of many American cities, and stark boundaries between neighboring black and white communities frequently denote an impassable railroad or highway, or a historically uncrossable avenue. Infrastructure has long played this role: reinforcing unspoken divides, walling off communities, containing their expansion, physically isolating them from schools or parks or neighbors nearby.
Research, in fact, suggests that American cities that were subdivided by railroads in the 19th century into physically discrete neighborhoods becamemuch more segregated decades later following the Great Migration of blacks out of the rural South.
Racism has been rotting down there at the roots of our nation since the first mercantilists hit the shores of the “new” world. It came with the first white Europeans and has stuck around. Just when you think we’ve progressed, we experience a backlash that shows exactly how deep those rotten roots have dug. I’ve written frequently about the Southern Strategy and how Republicans have played the racial resentment card to build a base that lets them enact their scorched earth approach to government. We’ve discussed how much of this has come to a head since the election of our current President who, at best, is a slightly right of center, establishment black man. What’s really struck me recently is how the cult of Trump and the cult of Bernie both display the incredible nature of white privilege.
Trump’s followers display naked racial resentment to a level we’ve not seen in some time. It’s translated itself into the Republican Party as a sidebar to “small government” and “state’s rights”. Racial Resentment has been a useful tool for the rich because it serves their goal of drowning the Federal Government in the bathtub. They’ve managed to frame any civil rights movement–recently to include GLBT rights–as an example of special privileges. Their real goals are to deregulate industries and destroy the central parts of the tax base thus enriching their donor base. Here’s a brief literature review of the concept of racial resentment from an academic paper linked in this paragraph.
There are a number of different measures of the new racism—including symbolic racism, modern racism, and racial resentment—but all share a common definition as support for the belief that blacks are demanding and undeserving and do not require any form of special government assistance (Henry and Sears 2002; Kinder and Sanders 1996; Kinder and Sears 1981; McConahay and Hough 1976). We focus on Kinder and Sanders’ (1996) concept of racial resentment because it is assessed by questions that have appeared in a number of American National Election Studies (ANES) and is the form of new racism most accessible to empirical scrutiny by political scientists.
Kinder and Sanders (1996) date the emergence of white racial resentment to the urban race riots of the late 1960s, a time of growing black political demands. In their view, resentment was fueled by the subtle racial rhetoric of a series of presidential candidates including George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. According to Kinder and Sanders, these political figures helped to create a new form of racial prejudice in which black failure was not the fault of government but rather caused by blacks’ inability to capitalize on plentiful, existing opportunities. They conclude that “A new form of prejudice has come to prominence … . At its center are the contentions that blacks do not try hard enough to overcome the difficulties they face and they take what they have not earned. Today, we say, prejudice is expressed in the language of American individualism” (1996, 105–106). They label this new form of prejudice racial resentment.
Racial resentment is measured with either a short scale comprised of four items or a longer version made up of six items that tap the notion that blacks don’t try hard enough and receive too many government favors (Kinder and Sanders 1996). Respondents are asked to agree or disagree with all six, or the first four, of the following statements: (1) “Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.” (2) “Over the past few years blacks have gotten less than they deserve.” (3) “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.” (4) “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.” (5) “Government officials usually pay less attention to a request or complaint from a black person than from a white person.” (6) Most blacks who receive money from welfare programs could get along without it if they tried.” Items 2, 4, and 5 are reverse scored in the final resentment scale. The first four of these items appear in the Henry and Sears (2002) symbolic racism scale, illustrating the empirical overlap between different versions of the new racism.
McConahay and Hough (1976) argue that new racism items such as those in the resentment scale provide a socially acceptable way of expressing general racial prejudice that was detected in earlier times by agreement with overtly prejudicial statements. From this perspective, racism could be assessed with a range of statements, not only those that reflect a sense of resentment, as long as they assess prejudice without doing so in a blatant fashion. In contrast, Sears (see Henry and Sears 2002) argues that symbolic racism is specifically defined by the combination of antiblack affect and traditional values such as individualism reflected in agreement with items in the resentment and symbolic racism scales. Kinder and Sanders concur with Sears and regard agreement with statements that chastise blacks for insufficient effort and a lack of individualism as an expression of racial prejudice.
There are differing opinions on whether the belief that blacks are undeserving of government assistance constitutes prejudice, regardless of whether this prejudice can be detected across a broad range of beliefs and actions in agreement with McConahay, or more narrowly in beliefs about a lack of black individualism as argued by Sears, Kinder, and colleagues. Concerns about the prejudicial nature of racial resentment arise, in part, from evidence of the tight link between measures of new racism and racial policy attitudes but not other forms of overt prejudice (see for example, Bobo 2000; Sidanius et al. 2000; Sniderman and Piazza 1993; Sniderman et al. 1991; Stoker 1998). The powerful connection between new racism and racial policy raises two central concerns: First, are the items that refer to government assistance in the racial resentment scale responsible for the link between resentment and policy attitudes because they both measure opposition to government assistance, as Schuman (2000) and others (e.g., Sniderman and Tetlock 1986) have claimed? Second, do new racism measures influence racial policy because they convey an ideological preference for smaller government and a belief in individual effort that has little or nothing to do with racism (Sniderman et al. 2000)? If the answer is yes to either one of these questions, the racial resentment scale faces a serious challenge as a measure of prejudice. We address the first concern briefly and then turn to address the second in greater detail because, in our view, it poses a far more serious threat to the validity of the racial resentment concept.
Consider Schuman’s (2000) concerns first. He suggests that some items in the racial resentment scale are so close to racial policy that they simply assess opposition to government intervention on racial matters and have little or nothing to do with prejudice (see also Sniderman and Tetlock 1986). For example, one question in the original six-item resentment scale asks whether blacks could get along without welfare assistance if they tried. This is uncomfortably close to a direct assessment of government welfare policy. Likewise, the statement concerning government officials paying more attention to black people could also be read as an assessment of government racial policy. Omitting these two items does not, however, undermine the powerful influence of racial resentment on racial policy (Kinder and Sanders 1996). Moreover, when Henry and Sears (2002) stripped the four remaining resentment questions of any reference to government treatment or assistance—for example, by removing the words “without any special favors” from the question that refers to the success of other minority groups—the combined scale (along with additional similar items) retained its strong link to white racial policy views. These findings suggest that racial resentment is more than a simple assessment of racial policy
Anyway, what got me started thinking about all of this was one comment Sanders made over the weekend and this display of appalling racism by children in Wisconsin who obviously are connected to Trump-supporting families. This latter is the overt type of racism and racial resentment that we’ve seen coming from the Republican side of the political spectrum.
White high school soccer fans chanted, “Donald Trump, build that wall,” at a group of black and Latina players from an opposing team last week in Wisconsin.
Some of the players from the Beloit Memorial girls varsity soccer team walked off the field during the game Thursday at Elkhorn Area High School after they were taunted with racial slurs and the pro-Trump chant, reported WISC-TV.
“They came off the field and weren’t able to finish the game because they were too upset and distraught over what happened to them,” said coach Brian Denu. “One of the girls was cradled in the arms of one of our assistant coaches for a good 15 to 20 minutes.”
Denu said the chant came from a small group of Elkhorn students, but he said it greatly upset his players.
“Those are just words you’ll never be able to take back from those kids and an experience that you wish you could take back,” Denu said. “It was really disturbing for them.”
Elkhorn school officials said they were investigating the “inappropriate/offensive comments,” which they attributed to “a student or two.”
These actions are generations removed from the screaming, angry white people that met Ruby Bridges at the steps of her school. It’s also several generations removed from the kid in my American Government Class in my very white small school District in Omaha whose parents transferred him because there were black people all over Benson High School. My government teacher checked the distribution at the time. They were transferring entire grades of students from one school to the other so some veneer of integration existed but barely. This meant it was possible to go about your classes without attending class with any one that you hadn’t gone to school with before the integration order. Also, the school only had a bout 16% black students transferred in so they were definitely a minority. So, we’ve gone from 60s and 70s kids to this which seems worse given the context of all the progress we’re supposed to have made towards a “more perfect union”.
However, pernicious white privilege hiding racist frames exists in leftist white progressives. This is what has really shocked me more than the overt Trump Supporter Racial Resentment politics. No place is this more obvious than in BernieBros. Once again, Bernie Sanders explained away Southern Democratic Primary voters not providing him with any type of victory because they’re more “conservative”. This completely discounts the large role that Black voters play in the Democratic Parties and elections around the South.
On ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Bernie Sanders about his campaign strategy at this stage of the race. The Vermont senator, making an oblique reference to his message to Democratic superdelegates, presented himself as a “stronger candidate” than Hillary Clinton. It led to an interesting exchange:
STEPHANOPOULOS: She’s getting more votes.
SANDERS: Well, she’s getting more votes. A lot of that came from the South.
I had one local BernieBro mansplain to me that Hillary and her supporters were “misleading” blacks. I was then told to grow up after I basically stated that African American Voters are not children So, at first I’m a misleading whore, then childlike. So, there’s the one two punch of white male privilege right there. Here’s the exact tweet and the link to the original tweet by Paul Krugman.
I also got this retort this morning on FB from another local BernieBro reacting to the Krugman tweet.
“Anyone who doubts that there is a strong conservative element among Southern democratic voters is simply not paying attention.”
My reply follows.
“Not simply paying attention to the demographics of Southern Democratic primary voters and recognizing that overwhelming minority population.”
These are local BernieBros btw. They’re not isolated from the South or from Black people in the traditional northern/midwestern sense of redlining. How is it that left of center democrats are not caught up in the resentment factor but still show such appalling ignorance of their own white privilege? Also, what is the deal with understating the political role of Southern Blacks? I’ve been active in Democratic Races here in Louisiana. You have to be pretty damn blind to not see the racial mix of the party. All of my local pols are black right up to my Congressman.
I’ve tried, at least in public, to avoid the term Bernie bro. I understand why the many women and people of color who are supporting Bernie Sanders for president feel erased by it. I can see why lefty white men feel maligned by the implicit suggestion that they are rejecting Hillary Clinton out of sexism rather than idealism.
Nevertheless, the term gets at a particular flavor of sneering condescension that some of his acolytes show toward many women—and, I have to assume, many people of color—who are skeptical about Sanders. If you want to see what I am talking about, I invite you to watch this clarifying moment from a proxy debate between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters that I took part in on Saturday.
Here’s the bottom line that illuminates an offending exchange.
It is hard for me to imagine Tasini speaking that way to a white man. Some might disagree, and there’s probably no way to quantify precise varieties of belittlement. All I can say is that I think many women will recognize it.
Some recent, further analysis by Steve Benen writing at MaddowBlog is close to my own in this post. I was happy to find this after I’d started this post which is why I guess I should say Good Afternoon again.
The result is a provocative rhetorical pitch from Team Sanders: Clinton may be ahead, but her advantage is built on her victories in the nation’s most conservative region. By this reasoning, the argument goes, Clinton’s lead comes with an asterisk of sorts – she’s up thanks to wins in states that aren’t going to vote Democratic in November anyway.Stepping back, though, it’s worth taking a closer look to determine whether the pitch has merit.First, it’s worth appreciating the fact that “the South,” as a region, includes some states that are far more competitive than others. Is there any chance of Alabama voting Democratic in the general election? No. Is there a good chance states like Florida and Virginia will be key battlegrounds? Yes. In other words, when talking about the region, it’s best to appreciate the nuances and not paint with too broad a brush. Indeed, even states like North Carolina and Georgia could, in theory, be close.Second, there’s an inherent risk in Team Sanders making the case that victories in “red” states should be seen as less impressive than wins in more liberal states. After all, some of the senator’s most lopsided successes have come in states like Utah, Kansas, and Idaho, each of which are Republican strongholds. (Similarly, Clinton has won in some traditional Democratic strongholds like Massachusetts and Illinois.)But perhaps most important is understanding why, exactly, Sanders made less of an effort to compete in the South. The New York Times reported last week on the campaign’s strategy headed into the Super Tuesday contests in early March.Instead of spending money on ads and ground operations to compete across the South, Mr. Sanders would all but give up on those states and would focus on winning states where he was more popular, like Colorado and Minnesota, which would at least give him some victories to claim.The reason: Mr. Sanders and his advisers and allies knew that black voters would be decisive in those Southern contests, but he had been unable to make significant inroads with them.It’s a key detail because it suggests this has less to do with ideology and more to do with race. The notion that a liberal candidate struggled in conservative states because of his worldview is inherently flawed – Sanders won in Oklahoma and Nebraska, for example – and according to the Sanders campaign itself, skipping the South was necessary, not because the right has statewide advantages in the region, but because of Clinton’s advantage among African Americans.Sanders wasn’t wrong to argue on ABC yesterday that “a lot” of Clinton’s lead “came from the South,” but it’s an incomplete description. It downplays Clinton’s success earning support from one of the Democratic Party’s most consistent and loyal constituencies: black voters.
Benen–see my bolded sentence above–makes the same argument as I. It’s less about ideology and more about race. It’s very hard to argue that it’s not a form of racism if you’re discounting the participation of a huge swath of the population basically by refusing to acknowledge one key demographic trait; race.
This all comes as a part of America seems to be coming to the realization that we actually have a race relations problem. A recent Gallup poll findings show some increasing concern but low priority.
- 35% of Americans are worried a great deal about race relations
- Number has more than doubled in past two years
- Race relations still ranks low among issues causing worry
This study indicates that while concern is stronger among liberals and Democrats, it is not enough to put the issue on the top of the priority policy list. I have noticed that you see very few white Democrats–other than those residing in the South–that spend much time talking about the obvious attacks on the Voting Rights Act and the necessary steps to correct it. In fact, when you looked at the case of Arizona—where the Act may have influenced the availability of voting machines–you basically had BernieBros accusing the Hillary Campaign of cheating rather than figuring out the obvious reason for the issues.
Jonathan Chait takes a stab at analyzing the strong black preference for Clinton. He chalks it up to the pragmatic nature of most
The Democratic primary is a reprise of the classic purity-versus-pragmatism conflicts that periodically break out in both parties. Purists (on the left and the right) cast voting in morally absolute terms. They believe a hidden majority of the electorate shares their preferences, and a sufficiently committed, eloquent, or uncorrupted leader could activate that majority. Sanders is a classic proponent of this worldview. He has portrayed conservatism as simply a false consciousness constructed by big money and a biased news media, and something that would, in an uncorrupted system, be reduced to 10 percent of the public or less. Pragmatists read the electorate much more pessimistically. They recognize that the other side votes, too, and, having lowered expectations of what is possible in the face of a divided country, recognize that progress will be incremental and weighed down by compromise — sometimes with truly odious forces. That is the history of even the most spectacular episodes of progress in American history. Abraham Lincoln, who was holding together a coalition of voters that included supporters of slavery, refused to support abolition until the very end. Franklin Roosevelt needed the votes of southern white supremacists, and had to design social programs to exclude southern black people in order to pass them through Congress.
No community in the United States is more aware of the power of its enemies than African-Americans. For most of American history, the franchise itself was denied to black voters, who leveraged their precious vote for whatever they could. That did not mean holding out for politicians who would treat them as equal human beings, but merely supporting the less-bad party. In the first half of the 19th century, writes Daniel Walker Howe, “wherever black men had the power to do so, they voted overwhelmingly against the Democrats” — despite lacking anything like a racially egalitarian party to support. The emergence of the Republican Party in the middle of the century provided a vehicle for African-Americans to exercise more leverage. When neither party offered any positive inducement, as they deemed to be the case in 1916, black civic leaders stayed neutral.
I have read a large number of twitters and the facebook comments of black voters. I can only imagine how it feels to be either described as easily misled or as racist because you want to take away white privilege simply to achieve civil rights. It’s about removing special privileges not gaining them.
Again, I just try to listen and learn. I’m fortunate that I live and seek out situations where I can increase my understanding. Race relations are high on my priority list because I am a Southern Democrat living in a majority black city who knows that we just all need to work together to get our country to a place where we all have the ability to succeed.
So, this did take a large amount of time and print. I’ll turn the discussion and post over to you for the day.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today.