Fanning the Flames of Intolerance and White Nationalism

During last night’s rally in Phoenix, Arizona, President Donald Trump further fanned the flames of intolerance and divisiveness—-flames that he has stoked and encouraged throughout his candidacy and presidency. Accompanied by individuals such as Ben Carson, the only black member of his Cabinet, and Alveda King, Martin Luther King’s niece, he appeared to try to offer an image of multi-racialism. It didn’t last long. Contradicting his own efforts at visual diversity, he deliberately mischaracterized his responses to white supremacist, Neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia by omitting his repeated reference to “many sides” as responsible for the violence. Trump failed once again to even mention the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer, who was run down by a car in an act of domestic terrorism. Heyer believed in standing up for those who were not heard.

Calling those who would allow Confederate statues to be removed, “weak, weak people,” Trump asserted, “They’re trying to take away our culture, they’re trying to take away our history.” Perhaps most troubling of all was the response of what appeared to be an audience of mostly white supporters, who cheered vociferously in support of ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the implied commitment Trump made in the rally to pardon him. Arpaio was convicted of federal crimes and criminal contempt in defying a court order to end racial profiling tactics against Latinos.

The resurgence of white identity politics and white nationalism in America has brought to the surface what Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin term the “backstage” of two-faced racism. As demonstrated by their research sample drawn from the diaries and journals of over 600 white students from across the nation. On the frontstage white protagonists may present themselves as color blind in front of diverse audiences. But in backstage settings of all white audiences, individuals made blatantly racist comments, actions, and emotions. Such comments were “tolerated, if not encouraged—and sometimes even expected” (p. 91). Trump’s rants, provocative comments, and equivocation regarding white supremacy and the KKK, have energized his base, normalized racist speech, and made it socially acceptable to bring comments and actions from the white backstage to the more diverse frontstage.

Take, for example, the findings of a survey of 600 white, non-Hispanic American adults conducted in 2016 by Ashley Jardina, an assistant professor at Duke University. The participants rated on a scale of 0 to 100 to describe how warm they felt about the Ku Klux Klan and Trump. Surprisingly, 11 percent rated the Klan at 50 degrees are higher and nearly one quarter rated the Klan between 10 and 50. On the same survey, the researcher found that 40 percent described being white as extremely or very important to their identity and 54 percent indicated that whites have a lot to be proud of. In addition, white identifiers were more likely to believe that the increase of racial or ethnic groups is having a negative impact on American culture. They also tended to believe that America owes white people more opportunities than they currently have. These results are consonant with Trump’s lament about the loss of (white) “American culture” in the rally.

Feelings of fear and lack of safety among racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, LGBT individuals, and members of Muslim and Jewish religious groups have increased under Trump’s administration. Incident after incident reinforces this feeling of alienation and a lack of safety among diverse individuals. A case in point is Trump’s sudden, unscripted twitter announcement that transgender individuals will not be allowed in the military.

Perhaps no more symbolic incident could represent the alienation of the Trump administration from cherished American values than Latino CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s recent interchange in a press conference with Trump’s white adviser Stephen Miller, in which Acosta quoted the Statue of Liberty’s inscription,

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Acosta was responding to the administration’s proposed skill-based immigration plan that would cut legal immigration in half and require that prospective green-card holders learn English before arriving in America. Acosta asked Miller,

Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them, you have to speak English? Can’t they speak English when they get here?

When Miller drew on a standard white nationalist argument about the origins of the poem on the Statue of Liberty, saying the verse had been added later, Acosta replied,

You’re saying that does not represent what the country has always thought of as generations coming into this country. Stephen, I’m sorry, that sounds like some national park revisionism. The Statue of Liberty has been a beacon of hope to the world for people to send their people to this country.

It is a time to be fearful for our democracy. It is a time to speak out for what we believe to be the values of this society. A friend recently reminded us of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s eloquent Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed. [Wiesel continued]. . . how naive we were. . . the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. . . . Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.

Liberal White Supremacy: Charlottesville and a Conversation with Justice

This past weekend, I was riding bikes with my ten-year old daughter, Justice, when she asked me what a white supremacist is. She had heard from her friend’s mom, a self-identified liberal, that white supremacists are people who think “whites” are better than anyone else. This prompted a long discussion between us about different types of white supremacists. When most liberals use the term “white supremacist,” they usually have a stereotypical image in mind of an uneducated, “white” southerner, who is an outspoken racist. They use offensive words regularly and are just not very good at hiding their racism. These white supremacists are psychologically useful to many liberal “white” people who want to divorce themselves of guilt and prove that they are good, non-racist people. These liberals subscribe to what Joe Feagin and Hernan Vera call “sincere fictions of the white self.” The ultimate goal of such individuals is to show that they are generally good people. They can easily do so by separating themselves from overt racists like the ones in Charlottesville. If they openly show their disgust of racist symbols, such as the confederate flag and the statue of Robert E. Lee, they can secure their place as non-racists. While it is important to challenge overt racism and racist symbols, it is equally important to denounce other more insidious and covert forms of racism in which liberal minded folks engage.

Liberal white supremacy is not outspoken. It manifests quietly in the kinds of acts liberals are quick to condemn and those they let slide. I see white supremacy in many of my liberal friends, who condemn the statue of Robert E. Lee and the confederate flag, but would never call their child’s principal or teacher a racist for promoting uncritical school celebrations of Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. To do so would make them feel uncomfortable and might put their children in an unfavorable position with school authorities.

So, every year, I find myself alone in challenging the school curriculum. The kind of homework Justice brought home in Kindergarten, which she immediately began to protest, included an endearing puppet of Christopher Columbus and a poem about how brave he was and how we should strive to be like him. Five years later, I went to Justice’s sixth grade orientation only to find a history textbook that portrayed Columbus sympathetically, noting a quote from his ship logs, where he describes indigenous people as: “Well-built people of handsome structure…and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts.” The book leaves out the part where Columbus stated, “With fifty men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Not a peep from liberal parents. At most, they can muster an uncomfortable stare or a thoroughly disgusted “Tsk!” Still, few are willing to call the school officials, who condone this curriculum, racists. In our liberal town, there is a statue honoring Columbus with an inscription that reads:

CHRISTOPHER
COLUMBUS
DISCOVERER OF AMERICA
IN 1492
FORESIGHT-FAITH-COURAGE
DEDICATED TO THE VALLEY RESIDENTS
OF THE TOWNSHIP OF WEST ORANGE
NEW JERSEY OCTOBER 10, 1992

So, this was dedicated on the five-hundredth year anniversary of 1492. At the same time in Genoa, Italy 20,000 people took to the streets in protest of the quincentenary. Where’s the outrage among liberals in the Northern U.S. against this statue and others like it?

The same problem is present at school celebrations of Thanksgiving. One year, I witnessed kids playing and saying that they were Indians. My liberal “white” friend, who I know is someone that cares about social justice and vehemently denounces white supremacists in Charlottesville, corrected her daughter by telling her she should use the phrase, “Native Americans.” She kind of missed the point. A correction in words is not enough to challenge the racist ideology that encourages “white” children to see indigenous people as caricatures to play. This also connects to a school curriculum and media images that treat Native Americans as objects of the past.

Instead of protesting these issues and calling them what they are, racist, most liberals just go along with them. They don’t want to start trouble, when it is in their own backyards, so they remain silent and complicit in their everyday liberal white supremacy. However, in the case of Charlottesville, a place that seems far removed from liberal bubbles in the North, it is easy for these same parents, who refuse to speak up other days of the year, to condemn white supremacy. These liberals also have a special hatred for Donald Trump and a special love for Barack Obama. These political opposites serve the same psychological function for a lot of liberal “white” folks. Enthusiastically embracing Barack Obama allowed “white” liberals to prove they didn’t have a racist bone in their bodies in the same way that hating Donald Trump did.

Since the election of Donald Trump, it seems that identifying as a liberal has become, to some, a radical act. I want to caution my liberal comrades against this. Consider what Malcolm X had to say about “white” liberals and conservatives:

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.

Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball through tricks of tokenism: false promises of integration and civil rights. In this profitable game of deceiving and exploiting the political politician of the American Negro, those white liberals have the willing cooperation of the Negro civil rights leaders. These “leaders” sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These “leaders” are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders.

The white conservatives aren’t friends of the Negro either, but they at least don’t try to hide it. They are like wolves; they show their teeth in a snarl that keeps the Negro always aware of where he stands with them. But the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the “smiling” fox.

The job of the Negro civil rights leader is to make the Negro forget that the wolf and the fox both belong to the (same) family. Both are canines; and no matter which one of them the Negro places his trust in, he never ends up in the White House, but always in the dog house.

Both types of white supremacy do not challenge the dominant white racial frame. In fact, they support it. Liberal white supremacists are concerned with finding evil racists that allow them to look good. They do not challenge the racial or economic status quo unless it is safe to do so and then only if it does not upset their social and economic positions. They would deny that they are white supremacists, because they do not say racist things, but they are just as culpable in maintaining the larger system of white supremacy.

Angie Beeman is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Baruch College. She is currently writing a book manuscript entitled, “The Limits of Liberal Ideology: Silencing Racism and Privileging Class in Progressive Movements.”

White Supremacy & Antisemitism After Charlottesville

Although I’ve always known my grandmother, Sara Atzmon, was a survivor of the Holocaust, it took me over 18 years to work up the courage to ask her about her experiences as a Jew in Nazi occupied Europe. As a child, I was terrified of knowing what my grandmother had gone through. On the other hand, as a student of Jewish history, I knew that these stories must be told to prevent their future reoccurrence. When we would discuss her experiences, I would ask about “the war”—always being careful not to ask about a specific incident, but allowing her to share what she was ready and willing to. One of her most vivid and often reflected upon memories was her recounting of the day the Nazi occupation force came to her rural farm to seize her and her family. She was always careful to note that the family who disclosed their Jewish identity was the same local farming family who had come by to sing them Christmas carols for many years. She made sure I understood that when antisemitism becomes promoted by the powerful (Nazis in occupied Europe) that the antisemitism of everyday “good” white Christians will surface for all to see clearly.

On August 15, 2017, the lessons my grandmother taught me began ringing in my ears so loudly I could barely hear myself think. With the election of Donald Trump, open and overt white supremacist demonstrations have once again become common place in the United States. I can see my Jewish friends across the nation begin to uneasily question our place as Jews in white America as I scroll through my Facebook feed. They have good reason to, as well. Despite a recent Pew Research study showing that 90% of Jewish Americans self-identify as white, white supremacists have clearly separated Jews from their socially constructed white racial category. For example, at the recent white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville Virginia, Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke told the crowd

the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause

while supremacist Richard Spencer taunted Charlottesville’s Jewish Mayor, Mike Singer, and asked the crowd how to pronounce his name. They answered by chanting “Jew, Jew, Jew.” Furthermore, a crowd of hundreds of white supremacists marched with lit torches, many of the participants proudly displayed swastikas and images of Hitler while they chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” (and English translation of the old German Nazi “blut und boden”). This recent uptick in overt and public displays of white supremacy begs the following questions: 1) Why are Jews targeted by white supremacists? 2) Where is the resurgence in white supremacy and racialized antisemitism coming from? 3) What can we do, as self-identified white Jews, to combat white supremacy?

To answer the first question, I turn to the work of linguist and cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, and sociologist, Joe Feagin. For the sake of simplicity, frames are worldviews that people operate out of in everyday life, and the white racial frame is the racial worldview that the vast majority of white actors in the U.S. and Western societies operate out of.

Central to the white racial frame is the view, or subframe, that most whites are virtuous actors. In addition, anti-“other” views are incorporated into this larger racial worldview—-taking the form of anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Latino, and others including anti-Jewish. In fact, almost immediately after terms like “race” and “black and white race” were developed by Europeans in the 17th century, elite white American men used these socially constructed categories to impose a non-white identity on Jews. For example, in 1654, Peter Stuyvesant, who governed the New Amsterdam colony described the first Jewish immigrants to the American colonies as “a deceitful race”—clearly separating them from the “virtuous” white Protestants whom were welcomed in New Amsterdam.

While racialized antisemitism has become less acceptable (yet still present and accepted in white backstage settings) after the 1940s fall of Nazi Germany—-leading most white Americans to impose an off-white identity on Jews-—white supremacists have held fast to this idea that Jews are non-white.

Now that we understand the links between white racial framing, white supremacy, and racialized antisemitism, we can move to a discussion of where this resurgence is coming from. Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey note the central role of elite white men in the production and reproduction of systemic white racism, systemic sexism, and systemic capitalism. This also holds true for racialized antisemitism—-a subframe in the larger white racial worldview that justifies and upholds systemic white racism. Today, elite white men, such as financier William H. Regnery II, continue to be at the center of the promotion of this white racial framing, much the way Peter Stuyvesant was in 1654—-complete with narratives of white virtuosity, and overt racialized antisemitism that work in tandem with various anti-“other” frames to reproduce systemic white racism. For example, Regnery has described his greatest political achievement as his discovery of white supremacist Richard Spencer! In addition, Spencer himself has noted that Regnery has played a “vitally important and indispensable” part in the formation of the so-called alt-right movement. Sadly, not much has changed in terms of the central actors who maintain and promote racism and racialized forms of antisemitism in the U.S. over the past four hundred years—they remain elite white men.

How can we combat white supremacy? My answer here is twofold.

1) As scholars of U.S. antisemitism, we must begin to focus on white, and particularly elite white, antisemitism—-a topic that is rarely discussed in studies of contemporary U.S. antisemitism in favor continued discussions of antisemitism in Muslim and black communities.
2) We must begin to work toward building coalitions with communities of color to combat white supremacy. This second goal will require self-reflection regarding the way we, self-identified white Jewish Americans, actively participate in, and passively support through our silence, white supremacy.

What do I mean by actively promoting white supremacy? I refer to the racist language and actions that some Jewish Americans engage in. For example, look to the AEPi chapter of the University of Chicago—a historically Jewish fraternity—and their leaked listserv emails in 2016. In these emails, that span from 2011 through 2015, these Jewish students sound much like white supremacists who do not target Jews. For example, these students planned to celebrate MLK Day at a fried chicken restaurant and regularly used the “N-word” as well as associated other slurs to refer to African Americans. They also regularly used labels like “terrorist” when talking about Muslim students. Yet, perhaps the most telling example of how their emails resemble old white supremacist rhetoric can be found in an email from July 2011. In this email, a member asks other members not to publicly use his newly given nickname because it has the N-word embedded in it. While he is careful to point out to them that he finds it “very, very, funny,” he also notes that it is “very, very, racist” and should be kept to private spaces (their backstage) unless “you need to satisfy your inner klansman.”

What do I mean by silence? I refer to the fact that there is often no outcry or action by leaders of the Jewish community when people of color are murdered by state officials, when Indigenous people’s lands and water are stolen by elite-white-male-owned corporations, and when the myriad of other everyday events occur which promote white supremacy and other aspects of systemic white racism in the United States. We must not be silent any longer and we must teach the next generation of white Jewish Americans to actively and openly engage anti-racist viewpoints and actions. Some groups, such as Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, have begun this work but need more active support from more Jewish Americans.

This is how we, as self-identified white Jews, begin to move toward dismantling white supremacy in America. This must happen now. By participating in, and being silent about, white supremacy, we are breathing life into it and spreading it. If we do not work against white supremacy, it is just a matter of time before our own white neighbors point us out as the local Jews.

Thaddeus Atzmon is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Texas A&M University. His current research focuses on the co-reproduction of systemic white racism and antisemitism in the United States. He can be contacted at tadd1145@tamu.edu

Elite White Men Ruling and Reducing Democracy

Bank of AmericaUnusual numbers of photos of elite white men are still in the news lately, since the our popular-vote-losing President Donald Trump has filled his cabinet and coteries of advisors with them. Most are from the right wing of the ruling white male elite, and that elite clearly remains in full power, as it has for att least four centuries in this country.

Indeed, in a recently published book Kimberley Ducey and I lay out the many ways in which the elite-white-male dominance system is central to the United States. It is, in effect, a triple societal helix linking together three major systems of social oppression: systemic white racism, systemic sexism (heterosexism), and systemic classism (capitalism). It is odd that no one yet, to my knowledge, has featured the whiteness or white-maleness of these capitalistic malefactors of wealth as a central feature of the often life-devastating economic, social, and political problems we still face globally. One can be sure that if these agents of mass social destruction were women or men of color that the reality of their gender and racial characteristics would be a constant topic of conversation by pundits and politicians, especially in the mainstream media. (To my knowledge there is only one serious academic research study that has ever interviewed a large sample of elite white men on their racial or gender views, one I did with two sociology colleagues. It appeared a few years back in a major Beacon Press book, White Men on Race.)

Come to think of it, elite white men (they named themselves “white” in the 17th century) created the modern Western (now much of the world) economic system. They created the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Or should we say, the Predatory Ethic and the Spirit of Exploitation. Arrogant greed and desire for European male dominance seem to be major motivations (and emotions!) behind the labor and land expropriation and exploitation euphemized by historians as “overseas exploration” and “settlement.” Certainly, powerful white men created, expanded, and maintained the often genocidal taking of millions of indigenous peoples’ lands in the Americas and the Holocaust-like Atlantic slave trade. Mostly white men created the oppressive realities of modern capitalism and North American slavery, and have made huge profits and wealth off of it, now passed along to their descendants, to the present day.

In recent centuries, elite white men have caused much death and destruction, probably more than any other elite group on the planet. White men are certainly not the only major sources of “democide” and related despotism, but they do seem to lead the list. (Consider not only the many indigenous genocides and Atlantic slave trade, but the Holocaust, Soviet gulags, Hiroshima atomic bombing [Its anniversary was yesterday]and Nagasaki atomic bombing, two massive world wars). While elite white men are not alone in such actions, the consequences of their actions have usually been more far-reaching, especially for the planet in general (for example, ongoing and soon massively destructive climate change) than have those of despotic not-white actors.

White men set up the Western legal systems reinforcing modern capitalism and North American genocide targeting millions of indigenous Americans and enslavement of millions of African Americans. They created the dominant white racial frame to explain and rationalize these often savage operations. That white racial frame is a dominant worldview that most white men, especially elite white male leaders, are still operating out of as they today exploit and oppress the world’s majority, the more than 80 percent of the planet that is not white.

And it was these elite white men, together with their white male acolytes, who reinvigorated a strong white-patriarchal frame, with its “great chain of being” notions (God at top, then angels, then European men, then European women, then “other races,” then animals, etc.). In the North American case, they easily extended this great-chain conceptual system to the racial oppression they had devised for Native Americans and African Americans.

These elite white men, centuries ago and now, generally see themselves as heroic and virtuous, even as they have created great destruction and misery for many people. Ronald Takaki speaks of this view of white men as centered on “virtuous republicans.” Note that in this centuries-old process most white men have had little sense of their own weakness and venality, but generally accented their virtues. Today, as in earlier centuries, most white men generally do not see their group’s major weaknesses, major errors, and frequent unvirtuousness. They certainly do not like to admit error. Indeed, elite and other white men now often blame the victims of their actions, as in the case of this white male commodity trader who blamed homeowners and moaned about “losers” with troubled mortgages, and not the banks now being bailed out with billions for playing the central role in creating the housing crisis.

So we seem to be moving today to what may well be a second “Great Depression” in this country’s history, yet this time one that is more than just economic, but is social, political, and political-economic in its downward anti-egalitarian spiral. We see omens of this in the array of reactionary elite white men tapped by our vote-minority president Donald Trump (he did not come close to winning a majority of voters) for his cabinet. The arrogant racial, class, and gender framing and related actions, current and future, of these and a few thousand other elite white men have yet to be problematized and examined thoroughly as the major “social problem” of our era. Indeed, to my knowledge, no such thorough racial, class, and gender examination has ever occurred in our mainstream media and other mainstream public discussions in this society. It simply is not possible to problematize the white male ruling group, as they have too much control to allow for significant problematization.

The still dominant white racial frame is more than a negative framing of the racial “others” in order to legitimate white racial oppression. At its very center, it positively and strongly accents white virtuousness, especially white male virtuousness. It has a dramatic arrogance about what is virtuous and what is not, about who is virtuous and who is not, and about where and when there virtue is exhibited. It assumes that an arrogant greed, a predatory spirit, an overarching patriarchism means white men should be at the head of society–that is, should be masters of the social universe.

Yet, it is the lack of virtue of a great many elite white men that has gotten much of planet Earth into this downward anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian spiral. This lack of virtuousness can be observed in their egocentric racial, class, gender framing — and in their greed, their lack of social intelligence, their lack of foresight, and thus their lack of public-regardingness. For example, a careful report on the “financial crisis and the systemic failure of academic economics” (by mostly European economists) makes quite clear the failure of the (substantially white male) economics profession to research and interpret the last global financial crisis called the “Great Recession.”

Why blame elite white men? Well, the men who have given us global economic crisis after global economic crisis have been overwhelmingly white and “educated,” often from leading universities, but not very good at egalitarian and justice thinking or in regard to the ethics of the “commons.” Then, there is the white collar crime, or at least corruption, that many have engaged in—which is for most rarely discussed in mainstream media. White collar crime and other corruption, economic and political, is usually pushed to margins of public discussion because this is the kind of behavior dominated by white men, especially elite white men. Such actions are often seen as not criminal, as normal, in part because white men wrote the laws about what is “abnormal” and “serious” crime. They decided what is to be punished, and how much. Thus, in recent economic “recessions,” millions of people have lost their homes, jobs, incomes, and pensions, yet we rarely see elite white male capitalists called-out, targeted, photographed, or treated as criminals whose greed or corruption has stolen or otherwise savaged lives–unlike hundreds of people of color who get such treatment by the mainstream media weekly.

Why blame elite white men? A reason, again, is that elite white men mostly control the major mass media corporations, and thus control how white men and their corruption get portrayed in society. They are the ones who force media portrayals of economic, political, and other social crises as situations for which “we are all responsible,” a crisis “no particular group” created. Yet, there are real people, real white male actors, who did in fact create many horrific inegalitarian realities that much of the world now faces.

In one of the most brilliant commentaries in the literature on racial matters, Chapter one of the Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois foregrounded the ways in which African Americans had come to be defined as a societal “problem”:

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? … I answer seldom a word. And yet, being a problem is a strange experience. . . .

So let us now instead define elite white men as the problem when it comes to many matters of contemporary societal oppression, societal inequality, human rights, and human survival.

Then, obviously but quite daunting, the next difficult step is figuring out how to organize and change all this, and thereby create a real democracy in this country and elsewhere, one where people of all backgrounds do have major input into and control of their economic and political institutions, and thereby of their lives.

More White Assaults on Affirmative Action in Admissions

Led by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the federal government has launched a frontal assault against the last vestiges of limited, race-sensitive affirmative action programs in college admissions. According to an internal announcement leaked last week to the New York Times, the Justice Department is looking for internal Civil Rights Division lawyers to work on

intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.

The announcement stated the project would be handled by the Division’s front office and essentially staffed by Trump’s political appointees, rather than by the Educational Opportunities Section of career civil-rights lawyers who normally address cases related to education. Upon further press inquiry, Justice Department spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores, said the purpose of the project was to “investigate one admissions complaint” filed on behalf of Asian-Americans, but the announcement was met with skepticism by career civil rights attorneys. Furthermore, the announcement stated that multiple lawyers were needed to work on “investigations” and requested that they submit resumes by August 9.

Trump and Sessions are playing on some of the public misunderstanding and confusion about affirmative action admissions programs in higher education. These programs are voluntary and represent the efforts of colleges and universities to create more diverse and inclusive campuses as well as to expand access and opportunity for historically underrepresented groups. These programs have been thoroughly vetted and tested by a conservative Supreme Court that has established a number of significant hurdles for colleges and universities in a series of cases culminating in Fisher v. University of Texas last year.

The new initiative by Trump and Sessions is deeply troubling for the following reasons:

1. This initiative seeks to eliminate holistic admissions review processes that would enhance campus diversity and yield the educational benefits for all students that the Supreme Court already has upheld as a “compelling state interest.”
2. It splinters minority groups by using Asian Americans as a proxy and pretext to overturn limited race-sensitive admissions programs. As Nancy Leong points out, “By framing opposition to affirmative action as concern for Asian Americans, opponents of affirmative action can protect the existing racial hierarchy — with white people at the top — while disguising their efforts as race-neutral rather than racially motivated.”
3. It unites the federal government’s legal strategy with the private legal efforts of wealthy, white elites who repeatedly have challenged race-conscious college admissions programs.
4. It does not address preference programs that favor alumni children and wealthy donors, groups that tend to be heavily and disproportionately white. Donald Trump himself is described as having benefited from the connections of his wealthy father in his transfer from Fordham University to the Wharton School as an undergraduate economics major.

Recall that just last summer the Supreme Court upheld the narrowly-tailored holistic admissions plan of the University of Texas at Austin by a vote of 4-3 in the appeal of Abigail Fisher in the Fisher v University of Texas at Austin case. Edward Blum, a wealthy white conservative entrepreneur and head of the one-person organization, the “Project on Fair Representation” founded in 2005, personally recruited Abigail Fisher, the daughter of an old friend, for this landmark lawsuit.

As Stephanie Mencimer points out, Blum is the brains behind the “effort to get the Supreme Court to rethink civil rights.” Blum has engineered at least a dozen lawsuits, four of which have made it to the Supreme Court, challenging what he perceives to be race- and ethnicity-based laws in voting, education, and contracting Blum guided the 2009 lawsuit, Shelby County v. Holder, that successfully challenged provisions of the Voting Rights Act and opened the door to voting I.D. requirements in Southern states. He has attempted to recruit Asian American plaintiffs in his suit against Harvard University, alleging that Harvard has held Asian American applicants to higher standards than other applicant. He has also filed suit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for its own statements relating to black enrollment. Not content with the outcome in Fisher, Blum has also now filed a new lawsuit alleging that the holistic review process at UT-Austin subverts state law and will be pursuing this suit with the conservative Texas Supreme Court.

In Affirmative Action at a Crossroads: Fisher and Forward, Alvin Evans and I chart the progressive change in the interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the Supreme Court from protecting minority rights to protecting majority interests in college admissions programs. The appointment of conservative judge Neil Gorsuch will only further solidify this direction. As Kristin Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law noted, Jeff Sessions

has a clear record of hostility to racial diversity. [She added] We will not stand by idly as the administration continue to hijack and obstruct this Division’s core civil rights mission.

In the view of leading scholar Carol Anderson, these new mostly white (male) assaults on affirmative action in college admissions build on white racial resentment and seek to punish minority achievement and aspiration. The attack on limited and legally compliant affirmative action programs designed to enhance racial diversity on college campuses is but another salvo in the (extraordinarily white) Trump administration’s clever strategy of pitting minority groups against each other in the effort to perpetuate division and thwart the inclusive goals of our pluralistic democracy.

Trump Encourages Police to Go After Latinos

President Donald Trump spoke to a group of law enforcement officials in New York on Friday, July 28th, encouraging them to go after people of color. His message, in part, was telling them “Don’t be too nice,” to suspects taken into custody for questioning. Law enforcement officials in the background had smiles on their faces and cheered as he said:

They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood stained killing fields. They’re animals. We cannot tolerate…as a society, the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people….But I have a simple message today for every gang member and criminal alien that are threatening so violently our people. We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you. And we will deport you.

It is easy to imagine whom Trump is referring to as “animals” who should be deported here. (He has famously done something similar before in referencing later-found-innocent black teenagers in a New York City Central Park rape case.) As Natalia Molina shows in How Race is Made in America, these are old racial scripts Trump is calling upon. Racial scripts are racial messages used over and over again throughout history in ways that can be reused and understood for “new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” (Molina p. 7).

The racialization of Latinos as heavily or disproportionately gang members, as criminal aliens, and as animals has been circulating in this country for a very long time now as has been documented by Feagin and Cobas in Latinos Facing Racism. So, it is easy to imagine who Trump plans to “find,” “arrest,” “jail,” and “deport” in his “simple message” to “every gang member and criminal alien.”

President Trump then went on to say:

And when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them being thrown in. Rough. I said, Please. Don’t. Be. Too. Nice. [Laughter] Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head….I said, you can take the hand away okay.” [Police Cheers and clapping].

This message by the president contributes to systemic racism in US society, defined by Feagin and Cobas as:

[T]he persisting racial hierarchy, the discriminatory practices, and the racist institutions integral to the long-term white domination of Americans of color. This group domination involves not only racialized institutions, the macro level of oppression, but also the micro-level reality of a great many whites repeatedly discriminating in blatant, subtle, and covert ways against people of color in everyday settings (p. 14).

Yet another generation of Latinos continues to be “othered” and to experience systemic racism in American society because the president is openly encouraging law enforcement officials to vilify them. Viewing Latinos with this racialized framing underscores Leo R. Chavez’s argument that Latinos have been socially constructed as a threat in the U.S., and Trump’s remarks to law enforcement are only the latest example from the bully pulpit. In a time of increasing presidential pronouncements and tweets as a way to make public policy, it is easy to see how Trump is dehumanizing brown and black males in his statement to police.

My heart aches for adolescent Latino, Native American, Black, and other youth of color who are coming of age in a country that continues to find ways to dehumanize them. I think of my cousins, my brothers, and my oldest son who is darker than my youngest son and I fear for them all. As Native American author Sherman Alexie states in his memoir:

I never directly feared for my life and career during a Republican presidency until Trump won office” (p. 228).

This normalizing of the calls for violence against people of color by the state in President Trump’s speech to the police should cause us all to fear for our lives, families, and friends. It should cause us to fear for our very country.

While Trump’s remarks drew condemnation from law enforcement leadership across the country, the cheering of the rank-and-file in the moment to his racist and repugnant comments remains deeply disturbing. Similarly, during the election his supporters also cheered and encouraged this type of racialized hate. For Latinos and other people of color who have lived with this kind of vilification for generations, it is likely we should expect more of this to come from the president and from those who have been emboldened by what Leslie H. Picca and Joe Feagin call frontstage racism. These are very scary times we are living in for people of color when hate is being openly promoted and supported by our government leaders from the most powerful man in the U.S. down to our street-level (police) bureaucrats.