Archive for white elites
White racism today remains “‘normal’” and deeply imbedded in most historically white institutions. Every such institution is still substantially whitewashed in its important norms, rules, and arrangements…it seems likely that a majority of whites cannot see just how whitewashed their historically white organizations and institutions really are.
The editorial piece discusses a recent submission from guest contributor of The Daily Princetonian and Princeton alumna, Susan Patton, who controversially declared that the women of Princeton should, “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” She goes on to say:
I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless… As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
Oh no, she didn’t!! Sorry, I was channeling a number of high school students I work with. But nonetheless, apparently from the slings and arrows she received for publishing her essay, Susan forgot the first two rules of the Ivy League:
1st RULE: You do not talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about the secrets of the Ivy League.
Douthat noted many of her ideological opponents deem her as a turncoat to feminism. Her betrayal of acknowledging a truth, which Douthat feels many who attend Ivy League institutions are conscious of, is Patton’s biggest crime. A truth that encompasses the ideas that these places of highly manicured lawns and pristine historically well-kept buildings are focused not only on the pursuit of academic excellence, but also the charge of preserving racial entitlement while safeguarding the advantages accrued over generations in order to be safely transmitted to the next.
Even though these institutions over the decades have visibly discussed racial diversity and applied a dash of the finest cosmetic makeup to cover their blemished pale skin, Ivy League schools continue to be, as Feagin states, “whitewashed.” The quest for meritocracy continues within the 21st century. The current mode of protecting white interests, access to power, and purifying the elite is constant in country that attempts to convince its people that they are living in a post racial society. Albert Memmi understood this mechanism of racial supremacy when he stated,
racists are people who are afraid…generally it is because one wishes to obtain or defend something of value…the necessity to defend an individual identity and a collective identity, against all who come from elsewhere and don’t belong, is in operation.
This is not a declaration that all who attend these settings are racist per se, but the institution itself and those that practice the dark arts of the white racial frame, are definitely protecting historically privileged White placement on a hierarchy while simultaneously dispensing unequal treatment for a marginalized people. Its systems do not freely and equally entitle Blacks and Latinos to the same resources, power, and empathy as predetermined for the privileged placement of Whites. This is definitely illustrated within their modest number of students and faculty of color.
But then again, what do I know. I was poor and attended a state school.
On January 15, 2013 the Oxygen network released a tentative statement about discontinuing the production of All My Babies’ Mamas. This reality TV show would peek into the life of the not-so-well-known U.S. rapper Shawty Lo who currently has 11 children by 10 different women, a 19 year-old girlfriend, and is rumored to have another baby on the way by his ex-girlfriend Jai Jai. Thankfully, on January 16th the network canceled the show after receiving almost 40,000 signatures from Change.org. In response to the cancellation requests, Oxygen V.P. Julie Rothman said, “[this show] is not meant to be a stereotypical representation of everyday life for any one demographic or cross section of society. It is a look at one unique family and their complicated, intertwined life.” Yet, Rothman’s statement leaves lingering questions. With all the unique families out there, why did Oxygen choose this family? Why didn’t Oxygen pursue a celebrity like Bill Clinton for a reality show? The focus could be upon Clinton’s many extra-marital affairs.
In the media, Black families have become representative of dysfunction. Americans have been laughing about stereotypical “Black people” for so long, such comic relief has become an addiction that many, like Julie Rothman, defend. Black parents often find themselves at the receiving end of media-based jokes about Black families. “Baby Daddy”/“Baby Mama” labels have become an omnipresent symbolic representation of broken Black families. The portrayal of unmarried Black mothers becomes yet another way in which dominant group values are juxtaposed against marginalized identities. These so-called “Baby Mamas” are most often caricaturized as being poor- but gold digging- welfare recipients who want nothing more than money, child support, and the latest hairstyle. Media portrayals frequently present uncaring mothers who leave their children in abject poverty while they go to receive beauty treatments or find another man to victimize in an effort to acquire more child support. These deleterious stereotypes become crystallized and reinforced through what the media decides to broadcast and rebroadcast to the public. For a more thorough discussion about media stereotypes of African Americans (see The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America by Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki (University of Chicago Press, 2001).
Now back to Shawty Lo. There are men from various racial/ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. who father children out of wedlock, including Levi Johnston (the father of Sara Palin’s grandson) and Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has seven children by five different women though he has only married twice. Yet a show called “All Clint’s Babies’ Mamas” ridiculing Eastwood would never occur to reality show producers. And the mothers of Eastwood’s children would not become sideshow attractions to his extra-marital exploits. Why? Because he is White + Male + Affluent and in the U.S. we humanize those who fit these intersecting categories regardless of their transgressions. Shawty Lo represents those who are Black + Male + “Ghetto” and persons who fit these intersecting categories tend to be reduced to the transgressions they make.
In “Al My Babies’ Mamas” the mothers of Carlos Walker’s (aka Shawty Lo’s) children are cast as laughable, sideshow attractions in a nation where the disproportionately high number of Black single mothers is no laughing matter. In 2011, it was estimated by the Annie E. Casey Data Center that 67% of Black children grow up in single parent households; and 38.4% of children in Black female-headed households live in poverty according to 2011 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Given Julie Rothman’s claims above, why didn’t Oxygen take the more humanistic route of creating a documentary on the struggles of single mothers instead of a reality show that ridicules them? A documentary would do a far better job of presenting lives that are “complicated” and “intertwined”. “All My Babies’ Mamas” would have only served to keep African Americans wrapped in and warped by age-old dehumanizing stereotypes.
Nicole DeLoatch is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park. L. Janelle Dance is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska and a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden.
This is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing, on January 1, 1863, the famous Emancipation Proclamation. The mainstream media have over the last few days recognized this date and commented on it, usually too briefly.
In the New York Times, scholar Eric Foner has an interesting commentary on this proclamation. Foner summarizes succinctly what many scholars have long documented and discussed:
Contrary to legend, Lincoln did not free the nearly four million slaves with a stroke of his pen. It had no bearing on slaves in the four border states, since they were not in rebellion…. [and exempted] parts of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. All told, it left perhaps 750,000 slaves in bondage. But the remaining 3.1 million, it declared, “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation did not end slavery in the United States on the day it was issued.
Lincoln also made clear in the proclamation that military necessity justified the proclamation, which got more emphasis than the moral justification.
Foner also points out that during the Civil War’s first couple of years Lincoln persisted in his dislike of slavery, but his view was that the (white) country could not handle thousands of free African Americans, so he
devoted considerable energy to a plan for ending slavery inherited from prewar years. Emancipation would be undertaken by state governments, with national financing. It would be gradual, owners would receive monetary compensation and emancipated slaves would be encouraged to find a homeland outside the United States — this last idea known as “colonization.”
Lincoln was voted a few years, by historians, as the number one U.S. president of all time. Presumably this is because he presided over the country during the difficult Civil War, and much action he took, such as the Emancipation Proclamation and belatedly accepting Blacks as Union soldiers, during that era deservedly gets this high level of praise.
Yet, few of the current discussions of Lincoln-–in this hagiographic mood the country is in–seriously focus on Lincoln’s extensive racist framing of U.S. society and what that has meant, then as now. Most historians dealing with Lincoln now touch on his racism, but only a few like Lerone Bennett, Jr., in his much debated but pathbreaking Forced into Glory, get to the heart of the matter. Even left historians seem to lack the conceptual tools to make sense out of Lincoln’s deep racism. Their discussion usually focuses on just a few of Lincoln’s views and actions, with an argument he got less racist over time–and not centrally on the much bigger picture of racial oppression being the foundation of the nation, then as now, and on the white racial frame that was essential to rationalizing that foundation, then as now. And not centrally on how the war and Lincoln, and the war’s aftermath, were shaped by and shaped that systemic racism and its rationalizing frame. And what it meant that Lincoln stayed racist in his views to the end.
Lincoln was a willing servant of that foundational racism. Several years before he became president, in his famous debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln demonstrated that he operated out of a strong version of the white racist frame. For example, he argued in that debate that the physical difference between the “races” was insuperable:
I am not nor ever have been in favor of the social and political equality of the white and black races: that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office or having them to marry with white people…. I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.
Soon to be called the “Great Emancipator” because of his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln had made his white supremacist views clear, and his racist framing would later be cited by southern officials many times, including in their 1960s struggle to protect Jim Crow segregation against civil rights demonstrators. They are still quoted by whites, especially in supremacist groups, today. One reason is clear: They reflect in some ways a deeply held white racist framing of African Americans as inferior to whites that is still all too commonplace.
At the time of the Civil War, a majority of whites, like Lincoln, in most northern areas held to a white-nationalist view of this country. African Americans were routinely seen as aliens. Across the country, in all regions, the overwhelming majority of whites held an image of this relatively new nation as ideally a “white republic.” Lincoln and other whites unsympathetic to the spread of slavery also saw the nation as fundamentally white.
Early on as president, Lincoln was willing to support a constitutional amendment (the first 13th amendment, which is ignored in the recent Lincoln movie) making slavery permanent in the existing southern states if that would prevent a civil war. Some members of the Republican Party talked with representatives of the southern planters and proposed a thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee slavery in the South. Lincoln was willing to accept this. However, the southern slaveholding oligarchy rejected this compromise proposal, apparently because they thought they could win a war.
December 18, 1865 is arguably the date of the real birth of a United States committed substantially, if still rhetorically and haltingly, to expanding human liberty. That was the day that the actual Thirteenth Amendment freeing all enslaved Americans was finally ratified. This legal action would not likely have taken place without the active resistance to oppression by African Americans, who thereby played a central role in bringing their own liberation. At base, it was not Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation that did the most to bring an end to slavery in these late years of the Civil War, but rather the active efforts of those who had been enslaved.
The African American soldiers and support troops in Civil War somehow get left out in most of the public discussions of US history, and in too many accounts of contributions as well. As a result of successful recruiting by the outspoken Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and other black (and some white) abolitionist leaders, during the last years of the Civil War several hundred thousand African Americans (men and women), many formerly enslaved, served as Union soldiers and support troops. Without them the war might have ended in a draw or worse. Lincoln was having trouble getting enough white men to right for the Union.
Like the black abolitionists, most of these Union soldiers and support troops undoubtedly held some version of a black liberty and justice counter-frame to the dominant white-racist frame in their minds. For example, the formerly enslaved John Washington, who ran away and became part of the Union Army’s support troops, described his new situation thus:
Before morning I had began to feel like I had truly escaped from the hands of the slaves master and with the help of God, I never would be a slave no more. I felt for the first time in my life that I could now claim every cent that I should work for as my own. I began now to feel that life had a new joy awaiting me. I might now go and come when I please This was the first night of freedom.
The next morning I was up early and took a look at the rebels country with a thankful heart to think I had made my escape with safety after such a long struggle; and had obtained that freedom which I desired so long. I now dreaded the gun, and handcuffs and pistols no more.
For formerly enslaved men and women, liberty and justice were much more than rhetorical abstractions. Their sacrifices on Civil War battlefields and behind the lines helped not only to free those enslaved, but also to put the United States on track to become a freer country.
Thus, this is also a day to remember and give thanks for the circa 500,000 African American soldiers and support troops, many formerly enslaved, volunteered for the Union Army at its low point. We should also remember the great “strike” of black labor against the treasonous Confederate slaveholders and other farmers–the thousands of black laborers who fled slavery to the North or sabotaged the slave plantation economy during the war.
Even President Lincoln belatedly admitted the Union forces would have had trouble winning indeed without the black volunteers for the Union cause. That is, in a very real sense, “the former slaves freed the slaves.”
Significantly for the country’s future, the antislavery white legislators who composed and fought for the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Congress understood it to mandate an end not only to slavery but also to the “badges and incidents” of slavery. (“Badges” referred to indicators of racial rank, while “incidents” referred to heavy burdens accompanying enslavement.) Senator Lyman Trumbull, an Illinois Republican, introduced the Thirteenth Amendment in the U.S. Senate in 1864. Two years later, when he and his colleagues sought passage of a comprehensive 1866 Civil Rights Act to eradicate those “badges and incidents” of slavery, Trumbull aggressively defended the view that this Thirteenth Amendment gave Congress the authority to
destroy all these discriminations in civil rights against the black man, and if we cannot, our constitutional amendment amounts to nothing. It was for that purpose that the second clause of that amendment was adopted, which says that Congress shall have authority, by appropriate legislation, to carry into effect the article prohibiting slavery. (This was, interestingly, quoted in the important 1968 Supreme Court decision, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., on racial discrimination in housing.)
That is, this white “Radical Republican” was thinking in systemic terms, and breaking to a significant degree with the white racist framing of Lincoln and others of his day.
Today, the final Thirteenth Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, should still be read as exerting significant pressure for the eradication of the many vestiges of slavery that appear in the guise of contemporary racial discrimination that is still at the heart of our systemic racism. We have in 2013 not yet ended the still widespread “discrimination in civil rights” against African Americans and other Americans of color.
Journalist and commentator David Sirota has an interesting piece about the reaction to some statements about the role of white men as the typical killers in the mass murders like the ones in Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown which he made in an MSNBC commentary and interview with Chris Hayes:
I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.
Calling out white men, and most especially elite white men, as a/the social or political problem is something I have written and lectured on for many years now, but it is still very rare for anyone, commentator or researcher, to even go as far as Sirota does in this important Salon article.
Toward the end of the article even he starts backing off on some of the logical implications of calling out white men and insisting that he is not calling for racial profiling of white men as potential killers. He notes that the current tempered and nuanced conversation of these mass killings is only occurring because “white guys” are the (usually unremarked upon) demographic so dramatically involved:
But the point here is that those tempered and nuanced conversations are only able to happen because the demographic at the center of it all is white guys. That is the one group in America that gets to avoid being referred to in aggregate negative terms (and gets to avoid being unduly profiled by this nation’s security apparatus), which means we are defaulting to a much more dispassionate and sane conversation — one that treats the perpetrators as deranged individuals, rather than typical and thus stereotype-justifying representatives of an entire demographic.
In my White Men on Race (With E. O’Brien) and The White Racial Frame book (soon out in a second edition in February) I have argued that these discussions such as Sirota raises barely begin to raise the issue of the role and significance of white men, particularly elite white men, in creating and maintaining our system of racial oppression, and the supporting social, political, and economic institutions that operate to protect that systemic racism and its white male regulators.
Here is a very brief overview of some historical points I make in that white frame book about that political background and current political reality:
The “founding fathers” created a U.S. origins narrative that was (and still is) substantially mythological, a story in which a mostly anti-democratic, often slaveholding, group of elite white men were said to be heroes championing ideals of equality and democracy for a new United States. These elite leaders created an imagined community, that is, a heralded “democratic” society in which all Americans supposedly shared comradeship. However, contrary to this mythology, the U.S. Constitution did not create a democracy where most adult Americans had the right to participate substantially and freely in political institutions. Native Americans and African Americans, constituting at least a fifth of the population, were excluded. (So were all women) As Vincent Harding has put it, the U.S. constitutional convention was “more like a poorly attended dress rehearsal, with most of the rightful and necessary performers and creators barred from the stage.”
From the beginning, the democratic rhetoric was usually more about public relations and the interests of the white elite than about creating actual democratic institutions. The new U.S. society was highly inegalitarian, with extreme inequality across the color line. The new United States was mostly led by white men who were overt white supremacists. It was a society that had no sense of shared comradeship among its white, black, and Native American residents. In 1843 no less a figure than former president and then member of Congress, John Quincy Adams, asserted in a congressional speech that the United States had never been a democracy because it had long been effectively controlled by a few thousand slaveholders. In this founding era U.S. political institutions were often openly proslavery, and an overtly white supremacist framing and dominance were asserted by many white leaders through these institutions until the ending of Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s.
Things mostly did not get better over time, as (especially elite) white men stayed completely in control of major institutions:
During the slavery and Jim Crow eras, the Supreme Court was a clear manifestation of white dominance, for only elite white men served on it. Examining the justices’ decisions on racial matters during most of the legal segregation era, one finds that they regularly reflect the dominant white-racist framing and routinely ignore or dismiss the civil rights counter-frames of Americans of color. Between the 1870s and the 1930s, Supreme Court decisions regularly eroded the civil rights that African Americans had theoretically gained under the 14th and 15th amendments that were added to the U.S. Constitution in the Reconstruction era. In the influential 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, a nearly unanimous court (one dissenter) upheld a Louisiana law requiring white-black segregation in public accommodations.
Things changed only because of centuries of protest by Americans of color, and then only as allowed by elite white men once again:
To the present day, the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court decisions interpreting it—almost all made over centuries by elite white men—have greatly shaped the basic contours of the legal and political systems, as well as other societal institutions. Important changes in the system of oppression, such as the official ending of Jim Crow in the 1960s, have come only when many whites have believed those changes to be in their group interest—that is, when there is what Derrick Bell has called “interest convergence” between the interests of the racially oppressed and the interests of whites, especially some in the white male elite.
When will any of the mainstream media call out and discuss various (elite) white male “social problems,” including problems of mass violence like at Newtown, as often and openly as they now do for non-white-male groups?
Have you ever wondered to yourself while watching a college football game on a Saturday afternoon why there are so many (often times a majority) black players on the field, but an overwhelming majority of fans and coaches are white? If you have not, rest assured you are not alone. The black athlete and everything else white seems to be the norm. The problem, however, is this racial standard continues to hamper blacks’ progression throughout US society, and is even more elucidated in the very institution one would expect the most progress to be made – sport.
When considering the historical and systemic nature of racism in the US (see Feagin, 2006), much more attention has been placed on economic, political, educational, and legal institutions. The institution of sport, however, tends to be overlooked. Perhaps this is the case because of its egalitarian façade that gets displayed to the public. What is not being shown is the real racial inequality that has and continues to exist in the leadership structure of sport. Most prominent is the multi-billion dollar industry of NCAA Division I collegiate athletics. For instance, according to Lapchick, Hoff, and Kaiser’s (2011) latest Racial and Gender Report Card for college athletics, black male student-athletes are overly represented (60.9% and 45.8%) in the two most revenue generating sports (basketball and football, respectively); however, black head coaches for men’s basketball and football are represented at 21% and 5.1%, respectively, and assistant coaches at 39.5% and 17.6%, respectively. Even worse, whites dominate (81.8%) the athletic director role as well. Considering sport represents a microcosm of society, reflecting its ideals, hierarchies, and problems (see Edwards, 1973; Eitzen & Sage, 1997; Sage, 1998), it is not surprising to see whites in a position that guarantees them the most abundant financial rewards. As a result of this white hierarchy, though, blacks wishing to enter the coaching profession continue to face racial barriers.
Hawkins (2001) argues the power structure of NCAA Division I predominantly white institutions of higher education (PWIHE) “operate as colonizers who prey on the athletic prowess of young black males, recruit them from black communities, exploit their athletic talents, and discard them once they are injured or their eligibility is exhausted” (p. 1). This colonial model seems fitting, given several researchers (e.g., Eitzen, 2000; Hawkins, 2001; Lapchick, 2003) have found that black student-athletes on PWIHE campuses are entrenched in a system that exploits them politically, economically, and racially. For those black student-athletes who do survive the abuse, they continue to find their professional outlook limited.
The notion of stacking in sport, or positioning of players to central or non-central positions on the field based on race and/or ethnicity, often surfaces as an explanation as to how whites carry on their dominance in sport leadership. Whites have traditionally placed themselves in more central positions, positions associated with greater interaction, leadership, and intelligence; while blacks have been situated in more peripheral positions, which are linked to less leadership, minimal interaction, and greater athletic ability. Brooks and Althouse (2000) found there to be a correlation between those higher up in the leadership ranks (e.g., head coach, athletic director) with past playing position. In particular, prestigious sport jobs are generally acquired by those who have played more central positions (e.g., quarterback in football, pitcher in baseball); thus, because blacks more often are relegated to peripheral positions (e.g., wide-receiver in football, outfield in baseball), blacks are often framed as less qualified to enter leadership positions beyond the playing field.
Further explanations (e.g., Sagas & Cunningham, 2005; Sartore & Cunningham, 2006) demonstrate blacks’ promotional and/or hiring coaching opportunities are thwarted due to the tendency of white decision-makers choosing white candidates (qualified and unqualified) over qualified blacks. This struggle for racial equality is more troubling given those with the final hiring decision (i.e., athletic director) perceive employment opportunities to be equal for blacks (Tabron, 2004), which ultimately trickles down to those wishing to enter the coaching profession (e.g., black student-athletes), since they perceive they will have to contend with racial inequality prior to and once in the profession (e.g., Cunningham & Singer; Kamphoff & Gill, 2008). This racist sporting reality, similar to wider US society, illustrates blacks have a long way to go for racial justice.
Michael R. Regan, Jr.
Texas A&M University
Law professor Paul Finkelman has an important commentary piece in the New York Times on two recent books on the “democratic” icon and famous founder Thomas Jefferson. Much of what most Americans believe about Jefferson’s everyday life in regard to racial matters is fictional or distorted in the direction of our “good” founders are “great liberty and equality advocates” in both thought and everyday practice.
A leading scholar of slavery and our “founding fathers,” Finkelman has much to say about this matter, especially in regard to the very interesting new book by Henry Wiencek that presents much data on Jefferson’s lifelong commitment to slavery and abuse of those he enslaved, including his sexual coercion of the young Black teenager Sally Hemings (see here). Finkelman argues that even Wiencek–who argues the younger and more egalitarian Jefferson becomes more of a hypocritical and money-oriented slaveholder as he ages — is too kind to Jefferson, especially in his early decades:
Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views . . . he tried to justify through pseudoscience. . . . when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, announcing the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” he owned some 175 slaves.
Finkelman adds that Jefferson was not the supposedly “good slaveholder,” the oxymoronic phrase often used for numerous slaveholding founders and other white slaveholders:
He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks.
And Wiencek’s book provides much more evidence of Jefferson’s brutality toward those he enslaved.
Thomas Jefferson is still a top democratic icon for a great many Americans, especially white Americans — with little critical recurring or public attention being given by whites to his everyday practice of extensive and often brutal slaveholding. Jefferson is also a founder (with intellectuals like Immanuel Kant) of early Western “race” framing that aggressively celebrates the white “race’s” superiority in most areas and puts down “inferior races” such as (enslaved) black Americans. You can see this most dramatically in his famous and only major book, Notes on the State of Virgina (see my analysis of Query 14 in that aggressively white-racist-framed chapter of his book here).
Well into the 21st century few Americans, especially few white Americans, know this bloody founding history, and remarkably few seem willing to learn it and examine its implications for our contemporary and still systemically racist society. Why is the historical truth on systemic racism so hard for most whites to accept and publicly discuss in this society?
Note: Paul Finkelman has a very good book, Slavery and the Founders, that I can recommend to you if you want to know more of the hard truths of our founding, slaveholding era and about the slavery-protecting US Constitution crafted by famous founders.
This is a very interesting time to live in this country, indeed. We just re-elected the first African American president, Barack Obama, yet he is a man who has for the most part carefully avoided talking about issues of US racism in order to win twice. He often provides the country with the colorblind rhetoric from the soft version of the white racial frame, even as he strengthens and expands, often quietly, much of the civil rights protection and enforcement neglected by his conservative predecessors.
In the 2012 election Senator Obama won an estimated 50.8 percent of the total popular vote (when all is finally counted), compared to 52.9 percent in 2008. This resulted in a likely 332-206 electoral vote victory (including Florida, which is still counting), lower than the 365–173 figure for 2008. According to the exit polls whites made up 72 percent of total voters in this election, down a bit from 2008. Whites gave Obama a lower percentage of their votes (39 percent) than they did John McCain in 2008 (43 percent). Romney got a majority of the white vote nationally and also in all but one (New York, barely an exception at 49 percent) of the 18 major states in which exit polls were also conducted. About 89 percent of those who voted for him were white.
A close look at exit polls indicates that Obama lost all the white age and gender groups. Media discussion of his winning the youth and female vote are quite misleading, because it was the youth and women of color who provided the majorities for him, not whites. Indeed, Obama only got 44 percent of whites under 30 and 42 percent of white women. Obama lost these white age and gender groups by substantial percentages, most dramatically getting only 35 percent of white men.
It was, again as in 2008, voters of color who provided the margin of victory for Obama, and their percentage of the electorate increased from about to about 26 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012. Black voters gave him 93 percent of their votes; Latinos, 71 percent; Asian Americans, 73 percent; and others of color about 58 percent. The percentages for Latinos and Asian increased significantly from their 2008 percentages of 67 and 62 percent respectively, while the huge black percentage was down just a little from 95 percent in 2008.
So the overwhelming majority of white men and a substantial majority of white women went for the Republican Party, and lost this one rather significantly, at least in the (undemocratic) institution we call the electoral college.
I have not seen a tabulation of the new congressional figures for next year’s new Congress, but in spite of some moaning by white male commentators on the right about the “loss of the country,” white men still control Congress overwhelmingly. The current 112th Congress, like all previous congresses, is disproportionately and overwhelmingly white male. In this 2011-2013 Congress, the Senate is 96 percent white in composition, with just two Latino, two Asian American (both from Hawaii), and no black senators. Some 81 percent are white men. The House is 83 percent white in composition, with 72 percent of members being white men. In addition, the very top political leadership of the U.S. Congress and the White House has for centuries been white male–with only two rather recent exceptions (Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, both in the 2000s) since the country’s founding. Also, in the economy, whites, and mainly white men, have dominated the major institutions to the present day. About 95 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 firms are still white men. And among Forbes magazine’s 400 wealthiest Americans, those worth at least a billion dollars, 86 percent are white men. A modest loss of some political power seems to mean a “loss of the country” for many of these folks.
Henry Olsen, vice president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has a very detailed statistical analysis of the polls and predicts that President Obama will win tomorrow. He presents a detailed argument on no less than the National Review online, the programmatic heir of a racist white conservative tradition started by William Buckley, Republican intellectual and supporter of Jim Crow segregation and South African apartheid.
Olsen accents the extraordinary whiteness (especially southern whiteness) of the Republican Party and the 2012 vote, with an omission of the long historical context that other analysts of politics and racism like me have provided, but his conclusions are fascinating and must be very disturbing to Romney’s loyal base. He, not surprisingly, does not dig into the systemic racism of the past or present that lies behind his statistical figures.
He concludes much like more scholarly analysts with detailed historical and contemporary analyses that no matter the result, the Republican Party is in deep trouble:
Win or lose, we are in the twilight of the Age of Reagan. Romney’s efforts have almost recreated the Reagan coalition, but in today’s America that is no longer enough. To prevail in 2014 and beyond, the Republican party will need to learn to adapt its principles to new times and new voters. Echoing Rabbi Hillel, Reagan summoned conservatives to action with two related questions: If not us, who? If not now, when? We must take on this challenge anew as we undertake our rendezvous with destiny and remake the conservative majority Reagan bequeathed to us.
By new voters, he means the voters of color who are likely to make up more than a quarter of tomorrow’s voters, and increasing percentages in the future.
In “post-racial” America we have recently had numerous commentaries, even in mainstream media, about the whiteness of Romney and his “base.” Recently in the Washington Post, journalists Jon Cohen and Rosalind Helderman summarized this discussion, which is likely to increase in temper after the election:
The 2012 election is shaping up to be more polarized along racial lines than any presidential contest since 1988, with President Obama experiencing a steep drop in support among white voters from four years ago.
They point out that late in the 2008 campaign John McCain was only ahead of Obama by about 7 percent (with Obama eventually losing by 12 percent), but in current 2012 polls Romney is up over Obama by a huge 23 percent among white voters. Only 37 percent of white voters have said they will vote for Obama in the recent Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll. And some analysts have suggested, as of last summer, that Obama needed at least 39 percent of the white vote to win. Thus, they conclude that
The slippage among whites is something of a setback for Obama, who campaigned on bridging the racial divide in his election and has sought to minimize rifts that have arisen in his presidency.
Cohen and Helderman view this as a significant barrier still to Obama’s election, one that will require him to bring out his base in very strong numbers. They seem to think that Romney is a bit ahead in national polls, although yesterday’s polls put Obama slightly ahead nationally and generally ahead (as he has mostly been for some weeks) in the within-state polls in the so-called swing or battleground states. (See Nate Silver’s summaries)
The reasons for this mixed-state-national pattern include not only Obama administration actions benefiting certain northern white worker-voters (for example, the auto industry bailout) but very substantially the fact that voters of color are still very strongly in Obama’s political corner.
As Adia Wingfield and I have underscored (in a book whose second edition will be out in the spring), Obama succeeded in the 2008 election substantially because he got overwhelming majorities of voters of color–two thirds of the Latino vote, nearly two thirds of the Asian American vote, and more than two thirds of the Native American vote. He is polling very well among these groups in 2012 surveys as well.
The Post journalists briefly note the longterm implications of such voting patterns for what is effectively the “white party,” the Republican Party, of the United States:
Dismal support for Republicans among minorities is a long-term problem for the GOP in a rapidly diversifying nation. Fully 91 percent of Romney’s support comes from white voters.
Whatever happens Tuesday, the obvious politicized whiteness of the Republican Party will doom it eventually to permanent minority status, if the dramatic trend to whiteness is not soon curtailed.
With moderate Republicans like Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, former chair of Joint Chiefs General Colin Powell, and Powell’s right-hand man, retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson supporting Obama, the handwriting is on the proverbial wall. Wilkerson recently made this strong and barbed comment on the Ed Schultz television show:
My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people — not all of them, but most of them — who are still basing their positions on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that’s despicable.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the mainstream discussions of these white voting patterns is how seldom they even note, much less analyze, the centrality of systemic white racism in making sense of the great hostility and organized opposition of many white voters to President Obama. This white racism is not new, nor is it just about some white bigotry–for it signals much more in the way of white racial framing of the society, and of white fears and anger over racial and demographic changes currently underway in the country and likely to be more dramatic in the near future – an argument I have developed extensively in my recent book, White Party, White Government. There, too, I show how, from the beginning of U.S. political parties, that systemic racism has been central to their development, strategies, and efforts on U.S. society.
Even in this “land of the free” and well into the 21st century, there are numerous aspects of our undemocratic political-economic system that are not openly discussed and extensively analyzed in mainstream settings, especially by whites, including most in the white elite. Very revealing, itself.
I just published a short article on the Obama years, the 2012 election, and systemic racism at TheSocietyPages.com. It may be of some interest, given all the political news. I begin thus:
We are not a fully democratic country. We never have been and now are moving only very slowly in that direction. To understand the 2012 election and key political events in the Obama Era, we must look at the larger societal context—at institutional fundamentals. Systemic racism is central in that institutional context, and especially in our political system. Our political institutions were built by elite white male founders (40% of the participants at the U.S. constitutional convention being slaveholders and many of the rest profiting off the slavery system).
These men and their descendents built political institutions to protect their racial and class interests, and many were undemocratic or anti-democratic: A U.S. Constitution aggressively designed to protect enslaved property; a U.S. Senate representing land areas and powerful whites far more than ordinary people; an unelected Supreme Court of elite whites trumping acts of Congress; and an elite white male president chosen by an undemocratic electoral college. There are too many undemocratic capitalistic institutions to list, all also made and maintained mostly by elite white men substantially to protect their political-economic interests.
You can access the rest of it here. I draw substantially in this article on a new book (White Party, White Government) that has been out a few months, one that deals with the larger elite white (male) control of all major aspects of our political system since its beginning in the late 18th century.