Over the weekend, I played catch-up with a couple of DVRd episodes of Bones, classic nerd show that it is. If you don't know the show, it's centered on a forensic anthropologist ("Bones") and her team at a Smithsonian Institute knock-off--the "Jeffersonian Institute", in crime-fighting partnership with an FBI agent. In one of the episodes I watched, a sunken slave ship has been recovered, and the remains are brought to the Jeffersonian to be analyzed. The lab's supervisor, Dr. Camille Saroyan ("Cam", played by Tamara Taylor) is black, and why I'm writing about this is the way her co-workers responded when they first learn about the ship.
Although dealt with quickly, it was a complex mixture of shared revulsion and horror over the past it represented and special solicitude for Cam, who, it turns out, had a family ancestor on board. On one level, they all respond as one at a common human level, reacting as horrified as if they themselves were black, while on another level, because Cam is black, they know it's much more intense for her, even before it's known that she has an actual personal connection. They are simultaneously drawn together as a group and aware that Cam is naturally feeling isolated as well. It struck me as a typically liberal group response, intensified by their pre-existing relationships.
They are, of course, a team of scientists (primarily) and the tensions between scientific observation and analysis on the one hand and life its own self on the other are a constant presence in the show. The slave ship instantly cuts through the customary scientific detachment for all of them, and yet that scientific perspective in a way is what makes them take it seriously in a way that others might not. They know that they are part of the same historical and cultural fabric as the slave ship, those who owned it and those who drowned in it. Their shared professional identities serve to reinforce their shared cultural identities as racially integrated contemporary urban Americans. Their sympathies naturally transcend race out of lived experience, yet remain conscious of it. Both tensions and unforced sympathy are part of the mix.
Now, I'm quite aware that many conservatives might respond the same way. But it would not be similarly typical and consonant with their political ideology. Thinking about it further, thinking about Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and the Tea Partiers, I was struck by the thought that Limbaugh is just fundamentally uncomfortable with black people, at a level just as deep and uncontrollable as the level at which Cam's co-workers are comfortable with her specifically and blacks in general. Of course, Limbaugh is uncomfortable with blacks because he's uncomfortable with himself, they aggravate all his inner uncertainties, all the doubts he does not allow himself to consciously recognize, much less entertain, examine, and act to do something about. Liberalism--reinforced by science--is about critical reflection: on ourselves as well as our social surround (Kegan's level 4). Conservatism--traditional conservatism--is not. It is unreflective, defined by the social surround (Kegan's level 3).
But movement conservatism is reactionary, it is not just unreflective, but anti-reflective, and dominated by level 2 thinking, which sees the world in terms of durable categories (Kegan's term), or natural kinds, one of which is race. Now, not all conservatives are reactionaries. Not all are racists. But they recognize Limbaugh as one of their own--indeed as one of their cultural leaders. And they are as comfortable with him as Cam's co-workers are with her. And though not all Tea Partiers are racists, they are comfortable with racists in their midst. As comfortable as Cam's co-workers are with her. This is what it comes down to, I think: who, exactly are you comfortable with? Who do you look at and see as basically like you? Who is "us"?
You choose who you identify with. And in so choosing, you choose who you are.
A perfect counterpoint to these thoughts was provided by The Simpsons this Sunday, and noted by Chris Hayes, sitting in for Rachel Maddow last night:
The World Cup has ended, and with it South Africa's reputation has soared. The country has enjoyed a boost of free and entirely positive publicity from the event, in contrast to most reports from the Western media - which tend to focus upon the AIDS epidemic and the country's complicated politics.
South Africa today is a product of Nelson Mandela's work. It was Nelson Mandela's continuous (and mostly successful) outreach to South Africa's white minority ensured a degree of racial peace few dared hope would pass during after the days of apartheid.
Indeed, the more one explores the history of countries afflicted with similar problems, the more remarkable the man's achievement seems.
Beck says his 8-28 rally will "reclaim the civil rights movement." On the May 26 edition of his radio show, Beck claimed that the civil rights movement "has been so distorted and so turned upside down. It is -- it's an abomination what has happened." He said that his rally would "be an iconic event" and that "this is a moment, quite honestly, that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement." Beck also stated that though, at the rally, "we're not going to talk about the issues of illegal immigration or anything that's happening in Washington," the attendees of the rally "will reclaim the civil rights moment. We will take that movement, because we were the people that did it in the first place.
Well, not exactly. In fact, you guys were on the other side. And not just way long time ago. You've always been there and you still are. I'll have more words on this later. But I want to start off the day with cold hard numbers showing quite clearly the persistence of conservative opposition to the civil rights movement. To do so, I'm going to depend on the most reliable indicator of conservatism on the group level, and that is opposition to domestic spending. To establish that point--as well as its connection to hostility to civil rights--I'll need to provide some background data first.
Operational Conservatism & Racial Animus
It's long been established that the core of conservatism in the US is opposition to social spending, aka "operational" or "pragmatic" conservatism--and that this is correlated to opposition to black political power. These were two of many important findings in Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril's landmark 1967 book, The Political Beliefs of Americans: A Study of Public Opinion, based on surveys done by Gallup in 1964. I wrote about this back in early 2006 at my old blog, Patterns that Connect, in a post, "Conservatism As Identity Politics--Pt2: Hard Core Data ". (It was cross-posted at MyDD, but the charts are no longer there). Free and Cantril used three measures of libgeral/conservative ideology--self-identification, a set of questions devoted to ideology as they understood, and a set of five questions dealing with federal aid to education, Medicare, the Federal housing program, the urban renewal program, and the government's responsibility to do away with poverty.
The ideological spectrum was based on the following (from the book):
Ideological Spectrum (Statements presented with respondents asked to agree or disagree):
1. The Federal Government is interfering too much in state and local matters.
2. The government has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the free enterprise system.
3. Social problems here in this country could be solved more effectively if the government would only keep its hands off and let people in local communities handle their own problems in their own ways.
4. Generally speaking, any able-bodied person who really wants to work in this country can find a job and earn a living.
5. We should rely more in individual initiative and ability and not so much on governmental welfare programs.
This scale over-estimated ideological conservatives (for one thing, all the conservative answers were "yes" and we now know that other things being equal, people will answer "yes" rather than "no"), but there's little doubt that it did reflect something real, even if exaggerated: plenty of people with conservative sentiments none-the-less support the welfare state. This was neatly shown by comparing all three specturms:
And further clarified by this graphic comparison of the ideological and operational spectrums, which shows that almost all ideological liberals are operational liberals, while even a substantial plurality of ideological conservatives are operational liberals:
While this is obviously good news in itself, it also begs the question, since there are similar trends with respect to civil rights and women's rights, but we're still dominated by rightwing nonsense political discourse and can't get much of anything done despite having a significant Democratic trifecta, (a) What the fuck does it mean anyway? and (b) Why doesn't it mean more?
But first, a glance at some trend data showing what I was talking about regarding civil rights. While the most intense part of the struggle occured before the advent of the General Social Survey in 1972, there was still some very important shifts in attitude that the GSS managed to capture. And not the least of these was the shift that left Rand Paul's defense of private discrimination in the dust-bin of history. Lest anyone still buy his "I would have marched with Martin Luther King" shtick, here's how actual attitudes toward the "right to discriminate" were gradually turned from the overwhelming white majority position to a margin view:
(A great deal of race and gender politics is hidden from sight, which is why so much can be learned by studying what people aren't attending to. This diary discusses some examples from one of the most significant approaches being explored today. - promoted by Paul Rosenberg)
Just finished watching an interesting bit on C-Span's Book TV with Claude Steele talking about his book Whistling Vivaldi And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. He talked about a host of interesting experiments designed to activate "stereotype threats" and how they played out and how they could be counteracted.
A stereotype threat is a threat to our identity that is based in stereotypes - women aren't good at math being an example Steele offered - that suddenly confronts us with the fear that we're going to reinforce the stereotype. He pointed out that in such a situation our physiological reaction is literally fight or flight - our brains light up in all the areas that don't help us function cognitively. In one experiment, Steele and his associates tested a group of equally competent male and female mathematicians; they set them in a room alone and said "Take the test." The women did measurably worse on the test than the men - at odds with what they knew about them. So on the next round, they told the men and women "You may have heard that women are worse at math than men but on this test there's no history of that - men and women do equally well on this test." The women's scores were equal to the men's. Brain scans reveal that when we find ourselves in one of these settings confronted with stereotype threat, we end up dividing our attention and actually perform less ably precisely because we've got brain power going to responding to the threat.
In another situation, they told men they were going to have a conversation in a room (about one of two topics - either racial profiling or marriage and intimate relationships) and showed them pictures of the other men with whom they'd be talking; one set of pictures showed two black men, the other two white men; the participants (who were white) were then told, "Okay well I'm going to go get your conversation partners, I'll be back in a minute. Would you arrange the chairs please?" The real experiment was how the chairs were arranged. Those men discussion relationships and intimacy tended to place the chair close together no matter the race of their conversational partners; those told they were discussion racial profiling set them further apart. Thus far, no surprises. The big surprise was that the white men who demonstrated the least racist attitudes set the chairs further apart then did those who demonstrated more racist attitudes.
Shirley Sherrod, as most of us know by now, is the Agriculture Department official vilified this week after a distorted video posted by right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart went viral. When the facts were in, it was clear that Breitbart had engaged in an intentional and callous attempt to smear Ms. Sherrod, an African American, and the NAACP with a false charge of racism.
At first glance – and without the facts – Breitbart’s doctored tape seems to be credible, so much so that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asked for her resignation, and the NAACP quickly concurred with that decision – all in a span of just a few hours. But wait, let’s go to the whole tape, as Ms. Sherrod had urged. In it, we see the March 2010 meeting at which Ms. Sherrod described an incident that occurred 24 years ago, before she was an Agriculture official. Contrary to the viciously edited tape excerpts, Ms. Sherrod was really telling an admirable and uplifting story of redemption, respect, and racial justice. She had recounted how she had been called upon to help a white farmer save his farm at the same time that so many black farmers were losing. The unedited tape shows how she, the daughter of a man slain by a member of the Ku Klux Klan, America’s homegrown terrorists, had learned to overcome her initial misgivings and looked beyond race to treat all farmers – black and white – fairly.
Of course, the Politico story makes no "race card" claim.
Turning out those so-called "surge" voters -- who turned out for the first time to back Obama, but who sat out gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia last year -- has become the Democrats' central pre-occupation for the midterm elections, and the new Democratic effort to nationalize the election around Obama and his agenda mark an attempt to energize those voters.
Currently there are over 3000 comments to the Politico story, like:
"Pathetic...the very people who are his "base" are the ones who are the problem, the non-producers, the takers. These are the people who pay no taxes. Pathetic, absolutely pathetic."
Ahhh, the opening shot to garner the Hispanic vote as they work their amnesty legislative blitzkrieg through Congress, continuing their Socialistic attack on the Republic.
The racist president at it again. This white hating man should be thrown from power now, he does not reprent the American people, he represents hatred.
We as a nation are at a critical juncture-we are working to re-shape America's role in the 21st century global economy, and to create the jobs and the infrastructure that will help us create equal opportunities for success for all Americans. At the same time, we are living in a moment where our traditional notions of race and how we talk about it are changing. One question keeps coming up: with an African-American President leading our country, do we still need to think about and create solutions for historic barriers to opportunity? The answer? Absolutely.
As we reflect on our first year under Team Obama, and on the one-year anniversary of the historic American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus, our goals must be clear: we need to ensure that all Americans have access to the education, training, and jobs they need to succeed; and we must make every effort to bring opportunity to communities that were already hurting before the economic crisis. Historically, the groups who've been hurting the most are communities of color and women. Unfortunately, we've seen time and time again that access to full and equal opportunity is very much a mixed reality, and these groups are being left behind in ways that hard work and personal achievement alone cannot address.
A unique challenge faces advocates for meaningful dialogue on racial inequality and injustice in America. As people of color have made even modest gains in education, economic security, and professional opportunities over the past few decades, some Americans have increasingly insisted that racial discrimination is largely a thing of the past. Today that sentiment is more widespread and vocal than ever, just a few days after what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 81st birthday, and as Barack Obama marks the one-year anniversary of his historic inauguration as the nation’s 44th president.
Equal opportunity is a core national value, and Americans strongly believe that it should not be hindered by gender, ethnicity, race, or other aspects of who we are. However, President Obama’s important political victory threatens to eclipse the large body of evidence documenting the continuing influence of racial bias and other barriers to equal opportunity. Although the current economic crisis has encouraged a welcome focus on socioeconomic inequality, it has often been to the exclusion of racial justice.
The Opportunity Agenda has worked to find new and better ways to talk about equal opportunity and diversity, and the barriers that hamper them. Our latest work in this area is a memo, Ten Lessons for Talking About Racial Equity in the Age of Obama, laying out principles that can help facilitate productive communications on racial justice problems and solutions.
This memo is intended for communications with “persuadables”—that is, audiences who are neither solidly favorable nor unfavorable on these issues, but are capable of persuasion through the right approaches. This includes large segments of the U.S. public, as well as many journalists, policymakers, and opinion leaders who influence the public debate. The recommendations are derived from public opinion and media research as well as practical experience over the last year.
While the election of President Obama marks an incredible milestone in the progress we’ve made as a nation, we still have miles to go.
In his book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory by Yale historian David W. Blight describes in detail how the history of the Civil War-its meaning, cause, purpose and effect-was completely rewritten to reflect the views of Southern racist ideology over a period of 50 years after the war. Blight describes the interactions of three different broad visions of Civil War memory-reconciliationist, emancipationist and white supremacist-which contended with one another over time. Eventually, the reconciliationist narrative, which had its roots in revulsion at the sheer horror of the war itself, became completely subsumed by the white supremacist narrative, simply because the South refused reconciliation on any other terms, thus resulting in the virtual elimination of the historically accurate emancipationist narrative, which did not fully re-emerge until the Civil Right era in the 1950s and 60s. I wrote about Blight's book at some length in my December, 2008 diary, "American Amnesia: The Cost of Accommodating The South".
In turn, something very similar to the process Blight describes has been underway to rewrite the history of the Civil Rights Movement itself, and the recent uproar over Harry Reid's clumsy remarks about Obama's appearance and speech is a classic illustration of that process at work. Another example is the Facebook invitation I recently received to attend the Republican Party of Los Angeles County's "first annual" Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Awards Dinner. The event description began:
Please join the Republican Party of Los Angeles County as we honor two great Republicans who embody the courage and spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. - A Republican who stood for individual responsibility and spoke eloquently and boldly in defense of liberty and justice for all.
The dreams of Dr. King live on in scores of Republicans today. This year our first annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award will be presented to Star Parker and Walter Allen.
This crude attempt to reinvent King as a conservative Republican is laughable to anyone the least bit familiar with the real King, a democratic socialist well to the left of the entire white political spectrum. Most particularly, as I pointed out in my 1995 MLK Day essay republished here last night, "Martin Luther King - A Different Drum Major", King's concept of character-as reflected in his speech, "The Drum Major Instinct"-was the polar opposite of the acquisitive conservative ideal, touted by the likes of Parker.
So who even uses the word “Negro” anymore, much less the phrase “Negro dialect”? Apparently Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a conversation with reporters before Barack Obama became president.
To be sure, one has to wonder whether a guy who uses that kind of outmoded language has other anachronistic notions about us Negroes. But let’s look at the substance of what Reid actually said—then apologized for:
First, that Obama is lighter skinned, and therefore likely more acceptable to the broader public, than darker skinned African Americans. Obama’s skin color is a fact. And, sadly, lots of social science research and practical experience supports Reid’s conclusion about how the public receives and perceives African Americans of different hues.
1. I will inspire. I am one of the most charismatic orators of our generation, but as president, I’ve moved away from that critical element of my leadership.
While my speech to the Muslim world in Cairo and onreproductive rights at Notre Dame were inspirational—if I do say so myself—I haven’t brought that eloquence to my key domestic agenda items, or to my broader vision and goals as president. In 2010, I’ll recapture my eloquent voice, communicating the core values and human outcomes of my policies and presidency, then (and only then) explaining how the wonky details will help to achieve them. The values that I led with in my campaign were Community—the idea that we’re all in it together and share responsibility for each other—and Opportunity—the idea that everyone deserves a fair chance to achieve his or her full potential. Those values will return to prominence in my second year as president, and be joined by the values of Peace and Security in our foreign affairs and national defense. I may even dust off Hope and Change.
This is the first public polling I've seen on the race. Clarus Research Group (which is actually run by a former George Washington University professor of mine) has a poll out showing Mayor Adrian Fenty, who is up for re-election in 2010, at 43%/49% approval/disapproval and 34%/53% re-elect/someone else numbers. It also shows him losing 41%-37% to the DC Council chairman, Vincent Gray, but leading in a four-way race with Gray and two other DC Councilmembers. None of those potential opponents have announced, and Fenty has quite a warchest. In DC, the Democratic nominee is expected to easily win, so the September primary is the ballgame.
What is especially amazing is the cross-tabs is the numbers on race- Fenty, who is African-American (as are the other potential contenders), scores 60% approval among whites and 29% among African-Americans. His re-elect number among African-Americans is just 22%. It's unsurprising considering his worst performance is in Wards 6, 7 and 8- 7 and 8, on the other side of the Anacostia River, have the highest rates of poverty in the city and are 97% and 93% African-American, according to the 2000 census. This past weekend, the news came out that DC's unemployment rate hit 11.9%- the highest on record. I don't live or know folks in those wards, but the impact may be the hardest there, and there may be a general feeling of being left behind during his Administration. I recall reading an editorial in the Washington City Paper a month or two ago about the race- can't find a link right now, but my recollection of the quote was "All Fenty has to do is get his pal Obama to march with him down Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE [a main thoroughfare in Ward 8] and this primary will be over." I'm not sure with those kinds of numbers that will get it done, but it looks like he'll certainly need the help.
Giving my own take as a DC resident since 2006 (the year Fenty was elected), I'm lukewarm on him. He treats the DC Council as a fiefdom rather than a co-equal branch, doing stupid little things to poke them in the eye like end-running Administration contracts and nominees around them and refusing to distribute Washington Nationals tickets to Councilmembers. On the issues, I like the new bike lines the city DOT has installed and the new Circulator bus routes; like the numerous new playing fields throughout the city; like Fenty's commitment to signing marriage equality legislation later this year, but lukewarm on his LGBT record overall; strongly dislike Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's autocratic approach and battles with the unions. I generally think the city, is governed pretty well, at least where I live and frequent. On the other hand, I'm not terribly high on any of his potential challengers so far.
Caveats that the poll is of registered, not likely voters, and it was conducted before news came out recently regarding Chairman Gray's scandal re home improvement, but the straight-up re-elect numbers on Fenty and his personal approval ratings are what are most striking to me.
DC residents, any reactions to Fenty, his potential challengers, or the poll?
It's a sad irony that a President who wants to unite opposing factions presides over an increasingly entrenched and partisan political landscape. There seems to be no satisfactory compromise for both the health care and immigration reform debates. Well-worn rallying cries and talking points are tooled and retooled until the root issues are nearly forgotten. The situation is tragic because the people's needs are made secondary to an unending war between two political entities.
Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the South (and let's face it, most of the rest of America) was still segregated in spite of Brown v. Board of Education and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, and when South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were still governed by apartheid, a small group of young Africans started coming to this country to go to college. Barack Obama's father was part of that wave, but it wasn't just exotic cosmopolitan places like Hawaii that received African students. The modest sized (150,000 population at the time), virtually all-white city I grew up in, Lincoln, Nebraska, had some come our way as well, and the arrival of a couple of these families was a central part of my childhood.
My dad and mom were the host family of two different African students, from Rhodesia, who were brought to Lincoln with the support of our church, the first arrived around 1961 and the second around 1968. Both of the young men brought their wives with them, and one of them had a couple of children while here, while the second family came with two young ones.
It was an intense time in terms of racial politics in this country and around the world. Lincoln was a white enough city that I don't think my folks had ever been friends with a black person, and coming from highly segregated Rhodesia, I know that the Africans who arrived in Lincoln had never been friends with white people before either. The elementary school that I, and the children of those couples, attended had no other black children as far as I can remember. One of the most searing memories from my childhood was walking with the kids of the second family, the Chimonyos, to school. I was maybe10 or 11, the little girl Petonella was in kindergarten and the little boy Prayer was about 7, in 2nd grade I think. We would frequently hear catcalls of "nigger, nigger," and would get regular threats of being hit or a couple of cases having rocks thrown at us. I was not much of an athlete, so I didn't try to fight back, but I knew my parents would expect me to stand by those kids' side and hold their hands and comfort them when the bullies finally gave it up.
I am thinking on all this because 20 years ago today, my father died of cancer at the absurdly young age of 60. He would have been amazed at the world we're living in-Mandela was freed the year after his death, South African apartheid was finally ended, and most amazing of all, we actually have the son of one of the wave of African student who came to this country as President. The immigrants from third world countries who started arriving here in bigger numbers in the 1960s, and their children and grandchildren, have really begun to change this country for the better, and the fact that one of their children is President shows how far we have come. But in spite of all of this progress, we still have the bitter anger that I felt in the elementary school yard, we still have Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck and Pat Buchanan spewing their fear and hatred against immigrants and people of color. A whole lot has changed in the 40 years since I stood in that schoolyard holding the hands of the little ones in my care, and in the 20 years since my father died, but a whole lot of things haven't as well. We still have to fight the same battles: for immigrants and all people of color to be treated with respect; for those who are sick or are dying to be well cared for with dignity, in a manner of their choosing, as my father was lucky enough to do; for the poor of this world to have a change at a decent life and decent education and decent health care, as my dad wanted for all his life.
For my dad, it was his faith that gave him those values. To feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and those in prison. To welcome the stranger. To be our brother's and sister's keeper. To proclaim good news to the poor and let the oppressed go free. To show mercy and love kindness. Those are the values I was raised with, and when I hear Joe Wilson from the buckle of the Bible belt scream "You lie" at this President when he is talking about health care for all, I wonder how those values got so distorted.
So, Dad, wherever you are, thank you for raising me with those values and not the bitter angry ugliness of the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs, and Joe Wilsons of this world. A lot has changed since you left this good earth, but we're still fighting the ugliness. But I honor you and all those famous and unsung pioneers for human justice who have gone before us. I am thankful that there were people like you and my mom who welcomed the stranger, people who welcomed Barack Obama, Sr and so many other immigrants who have contributed to the quality of this country, and still are. The next time I write, I hope I'll be telling you that we finally have decent health care for all, and that we live in a country where immigrants are finally welcome.