Only a Pawn in the Game: The Political Manipulation of Whites

Over the holiday break, my best friend and I decided to invest in some “Day Trippin” to Chicago for a day dedicated to escaping the tribulations associated with living in a small town. Growing up in small towns, you are imprinted with the need some time to avoid major highways and explore the labyrinths of back roads that most outsiders are unaware exist. As we were taking in the new Bob Dylan CD I had bought myself for Christmas, a daunting song began to play that I had never heard before. “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” caught us both by surprise. “But he can’t be blamed…He’s only a pawn in their game.”

As we continued to listen in silence, we passed a house on a modest farm. Plainly out-front was the American flag being flown proudly upside-down. Next to the large flag pole were springfield5
Creative Commons License photo credit: vistavision
dead withering bushes and a weathered Black lawn jockey like this example [Photo Credit: vistavision] but with an apparent noose around the neck. The symbolism forced us to simply look at each other and shake our heads. My best friend, being a White male with no idea of fancy racial construct talks or academic racial pedagogies to throw out, surprised me with the comment, “He must be upset with what Obama is doing.” Then the words of the song rang louder in my head, “He’s only a pawn in their game.”

As we have watched the national news over the past two years, the country has witnessed a rise in the level of anger toward the direction of the country, and the person ultimately responsible for it−President Obama. I assert that this tide of frustration is nothing new. In fact, the tactics we are seeing today are simply the tactic of riding the wave of racial conflict for the purpose of political gain. Many swear by the philosophy that views the conflict-ridden racial affairs between Blacks and Whites within the United States as a natural and simple element of the natural order within our society that views White supremacy as entirely normal and even unavoidable. Many have taken the existence of racial conflict and used it to their political and economic advantage. It was used by Hitler in Nazi Germany toward the Jews, and it has and continue to be used within the United States.

Historically, this has been illustrated by the divide and exploit in the South before and after the Civil War. For example, slave masters at times would hire out their slaves as laborers to businesses in urban areas for extremely cheap rates that undercut White free labor. Instead of focusing their frustration out on the manipulation of business and slave owners, free White laborers vilified slaves themselves. Today, this same example can be applied to the outsourcing of jobs and illegal immigration. So called Right political leaders such as Senator John McCain, Governor Brewer of Arizona, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and other Tea Party legislators, have used covert racist tactics toward the issue of immigration to misplace the blame on the loss of jobs, threat to national security, and loss of American identity squarely on the backs of Mexican workers. The blame is never placed on the businesses, companies, or home owners that take advantage of these people for their own economic gains. This is foreseeable when one takes into account that politicians do not want to bite the hand that feeds them. Therefore they are obligated to protect the economically elite, but do so by manipulating the masses. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” The reaction from the average, mostly White citizens, is to decry foul and follow the pied pipers as they blow their whistle of righteousness.

Next, after the Civil War during Black Reconstruction (Era of the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, Civil Rights Acts of 1986 and 1875), newly freed Blacks enjoyed, for a short period, political power (elected officials, legislators, and etc.), own businesses, and property to farm. Black farmers even joined forces with the newly formed White farming Populist movement that demanded economic justice. White and Black farmers and workers joined together to stand against the ruling class that attempted to control their economic interests. This alliance threatened the existing economic and power structure in the South. Therefore, the ruling class appealed to working class White farmers through the implementation of Jim Crow laws. The institution of these laws was a symbolic message to all Whites that if you can’t have economic incentive, you at least have a racial one. In essence, “A South politician preaches to the poor white man…You got more than blacks, don’t complain…You’re better than them.”

Today, we see the racially divisive measures used in political maneuvering toward President Obama. From The birthers constantly getting television air time to spout that the President is not truly an American, people frantically crying on television that they want their country back, to tea party rallies that illustrate sign that depict the President as a communists and cartoon savage; the manipulation of racial overtone is evident. By listening to conversations the average White person is noting; the Kool-Aid has been drunk Mr. Jim Jones.

Another historic example can be seen by leaders during the suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, advocated alongside Frederick Douglass for the voting rights of both White women and Black men during the 1860s. But, once the fourteenth amendment was enacted, White women began to target Black males’ voting rights efforts for they felt the legislation, franchising Black men before White women, was an act of racial transgression. “What an insult to the women who have labored thirty years for emancipation of the slave now, when he is their political equal, to propose to lift him over their heads” (Catt, 1923, pp. 62–63).]

The anger felt by White women in the movement grew and was illustrated in White supremacist overtones. I argue that even the threat to grant Black men the right to vote was a political tactic to divide leaders of the suffrage movement from people like Fredrick Douglass. The sadistic beauty behind the tactics I have described to divide, conqueror, and exploit is that people are so entrenched in the construct of racial supremacy, and thus have become emotionally invested, create psychologically protective barriers, and become enraged; that they refuse to notice that the joke has been played upon them. They are in actuality−The Fool. All the while, those pulling the strings are continuing to secure their social and economic dominance. As I sit and write this, I am once again drawn to Bob Dylan:

“But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.”