Our Post-Truth Culture: Institutional and Individual Consequences

This presidential election has become the perfect storm of “post-truth” politics and racism. It is reflected by the fact that an unqualified “know-nothing” like Trump could be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate. Trump’s disregard for ethics, extreme egoism, and racist solutions to complex policy problems, which include banning all Muslims, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and bombing our enemies into the stone age, will have institutional and individual consequences if he is elected as the next president.

In an article entitled “Why We’re Post-Fact,” Pomerantsev states:

[W]hen Donald Trump makes up facts on a whim, claims he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Twin Towers coming down, or that the Mexican government purposefully send ‘bad’ immigrants to the US, when fact-checking agencies rate 78% of his statements untrue but he still becomes a US Presidential candidate—then it appears that facts no longer matter much in the land of the free.

Indeed, facts must not matter with the American electorate as the latest polls show Clinton and Trump very close, with 44% of the public supporting Clinton and 41% supporting Trump. What are the consequences of voters’ preference for “truthiness” over facts and feelings over reason?

Institutionally, the normal “self-correcting” checks and balances and separate institutions we cherish aren’t working. Pomeranstsev argues that while politicians have always lied at least they used to care about constructing a coherent and logical narrative, but not anymore.

At the individual level, the consequence is allowing a new level of racism that was unacceptable. Now we see an increase in aggressive frontstage racism as opposed to what Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin have documented as backstage racism, the sort that used to take place among whites at a fraternity party. In our new era one doesn’t have to feel embarrassed for being openly anti-Muslim or anti-foreigners.

Institutionally: Trump is a presidential candidate who makes his employees sign non-disclosure statements and says he’d consider doing the same in the White House if elected president. Does Trump believe that forcing people who work for him to refrain from later criticizing him or his actions publically would be legal in his role as president? So much for the federal Freedom of Information Act, not to mention the First Amendment right to criticize public figures without being sued for both libel or slander established by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In Sullivan the Supreme Court established the

principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

Not so for Donald Trump. If Trump is elected we will see more than just constitutional First Amendment protections or public policies disregarded.

Some may question how much damage electing Trump for president can do. After all, the U.S. has survived bad presidents before. Some may even argue we have a constitutional framework of checks and balances and separation of powers that will serve as self-correctors in our system. Some may even contend that electing Trump will produce a counter-leftward political movement. As a good friend once said, “If we’re living through the 1950s again it must mean we’re going to have another 1960s.” Perhaps. However, because of the lack of importance on truth in our political climate this presidential election may show us that the normal “self-correcting” checks and balances and separate institutions we cherish aren’t enough to protect us against some real damage to our ideals and institutions.

Individually: This presidential election has also resulted in increases in open racism. It seems many Trump supporters feel liberated to openly and freely harm and insult people of color using Trump as a justification. For example, Isaac Chotiner made the point in Slate that anti-Muslim attacks are on the rise. Chotiner provides one example of a woman calling another woman “Muslim trash,” and a “terrorist,” before spilling a drink on her and stating she was going to vote for Trump because he would send Muslims away at a Starbucks in Washington D.C.

Another example where perpetrators of hate crimes have specifically mentioned Trump is the brutal attack in Boston on a homeless 58 year-old Latino that left him with a broken nose, battered body, and face drenched in urine. The two brothers who committed the hate crime claimed they targeted him because he was Latino and because they were “inspired” by Trump. These examples, while anecdotal, underscore the rise in hate groups since George W. Bush left office. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center hate groups, especially “Patriotic” white hate groups have been on the rise since the start of the Obama administration, and have been ticking upward since 2015. Trump’s white-framed racist and nativist presidential campaign will have negative consequences beyond this presidential election cycle for ethnic and racial communities.

This presidential election is operating in a political climate where substance and truth matter little. If we don’t start caring about facts and how we treat our fellow human beings regardless of their religion or race it will prove to cause long-term damage to our institutions and to race relations.

Post-Truth Culture and the White Racial Frame: Presidential Politics

To understand the 2016 presidential election and its potential consequences it helps to look at it through the lens of what Jeremy Gordon referred to in a recent NYT’s article as our “post-truth culture.” Gordon made the point that the popularity and addiction of professional wrestling, “reality tv,” and other forms of inauthentic entertainment—where “the blurry line between truth and untruth” only increases the appeal to audiences—have seeped into presidential politics as well. Gordon states,

For a while, it became trendy to insist that the 2016 presidential election, with all its puffed chests and talk of penis size, seemed more like a wrestling pay-per-view event than a dignified clash of political minds. In politics, as in wrestling, the ultimate goal is simply to get the crowd on your side.

Getting the crowd on “your side” leads to electoral victory. And Trump is a master at getting the crowd on his side. Despite switching political parties at least five times and being married three times, voters on the far right are most definitely on Trump’s side viewing him as a family man of conservative values. For example, in a National Public Radio report by Kirk Siegler, conservative Mormon Janalee Tobias said of Trump,

Donald Trump wants to make America great again. Think about what made America great in the beginning: There were laws and people came here legally and didn’t have their hand out.

Siegler wraps up the story by stating that Tobias believes Trump is a good family man who abstains from alcohol, two important pillars in the Mormon religion. Never mind that Trump marketed a brand of Vodka in 2006 under the slogan “Success Distilled.”

“Post-truth” may be the modus operandī of the Trump campaign, but it is nothing new when it comes to US politics and policy as one of Stephen Colbert’s best skits on Comedy Central on “truthiness” demonstrated a decade ago when he told us he would dismiss the facts and instead go with his guts when delivering the “news” for the nation. Colbert included the war in Iraq and how it just felt right that Saddam Hussein was gone as example of truthiness. However, scholars of Latin America have known that the “blurry line between truth and untruth” and truthiness have been a dominant part of U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War. The CIA’s overthrowing of the democratically elected President Árbenz in Guatemala is just one example.

Post-truth politics have domestic policy consequences as well, especially when it comes to lies about our racial past and current racial inequality. As Joe Feagin argues in his book White Party, White Government,

In these myth-filled narratives, the Protestant “settlers” came to North American with modest resources and dreams of liberty, and drew on religious faith, virtuousness, and hard work to create prosperity in a land allegedly populated by some thinly scattered “savage” Indians.

Most of us have also heard the narrative that the U.S. is a land of opportunity where can achieve the American Dream if they just work hard enough; however, empirical measures of racial inequality including a racial wealth gap, disparate levels of educational attainment, segregation, and the most prominent example, law enforcement abuses should dispel this belief. Yet it doesn’t. Why? Because we also live with what Feagin calls the white racial frame, which consists of a broad racial framing of society that includes racial stereotypes, narratives, images, emotions, and discriminatory actions. Feagin states,

The dominant frame has persisted now over centuries only because it is constantly validating, and thus validated by, the inegalitarian accumulation of social, economic, and political resources.

This theory helps to explains why there are still vast differences today among whites and people of color while at the same time a strong-held belief that the U.S. is a land of opportunity, freedom, and equality for all. Therefore, this presidential election is showing us the product of the intersection of a culture steeped in “truthiness” and the white racial frame. We should not be surprised to simultaneously have the most diverse electorate in the history of this nation—with people of color comprising 31% of the electorate—and also to have the Republican presidential campaign entrenched in white supremacy narratives and traditions.

This explains how Mormons such as Tobias can believe Trump doesn’t drink, or why the middle class voters believe that Trump understands them. A white respondent in the Atlantic who was asked why he supports Trump thus stated:

Speaking from the right, I believe that Trump embodies the frustration and rage of the white middle class. This is his main support base and is an evershrinking group that no longer feels they have a voice. Politicians pay lip service to the middle class but spend no time helping them. Black lives matter more and illegal immigrants who break the law get a free pass. Evangelical Christians in this country no longer feel that they have the right to religious freedom and have watched what they perceive as a sacred institution in marriage gutted. All the while, politicians they voted for to represent them just plain don’t. Now enter Trump.

People of color have a different view of things. Our reality is that America is a society where, as a mother of an eleven year-old bi-racial son, I will not allow him to wear a hoodie out in public. He is too tall and strong looking, his hair is too long, and his features are too dark to be safe if he does. And when he turns sixteen I will not only teach him the rules of the road, but also the rules of engagement with the police before I let him drive.

The truth is the U.S.’s racial demographics are changing, and this scares the “evershrinking group” of whites because self-serving political candidates like Trump are telling them they should be scared with nativist policy proposals such as banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. As Jacobson points out, these types of fear tactics led to the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II, and are now being recalled as the correct thing to do by many. The consequence of our post-truth politics and the white racial frame may be a disruption to normal political cycles the likes of which we have not seen before. And this should scare us all.

Trump’s Speech: Emoting White Supremacy

I just watched Donald J.Trump accept the GOP nomination and his speech was a delivery device for white supremacist rhetoric. Trump’s speech proved popular with that audience, as David Duke, noted white supremacist, tweeted his congratulations:

The language Trump used, terms like “too politically correct,” “law and order,” “war on police,” the “illegal immigrants spilling over” borders, murdering “innocent young girls,” and, of course, the repeated use of “our country” in an auditorium filled with whiter-shade-of-pale white people, are all dog whistles that signal a core white supremacist message: White people built this nation, white people are this nation.

Don’t believe me? Check this is line drawing:

white men buildings

The drawing originally appeared in Tom Metzger’s newsletter, W.A.R. (White Aryan Resistance), and I included it in my book, White Lies (Routledge, 1997).

Part of the argument I made in that book is that white supremacist rhetoric is gendered. That is, white men are viewed differently than white women. The second part is that the language used by extremists is actually echoed in the mainstream. So, for example, that image from Metzger is uncannily similar to this (recent) ad for a series on the History Channel:

men who built america

The message is the same in the extremist publication as in the television ad. Both put white people at the center of the narrative about the country’s history. (updated 9:10am to add:) This is also the same message that Steve King (R-IA) was making when he asked the (rhetorical) question: “where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”  And, Trump himself is a frequent re-tweeter of white supremacist accounts. One analysis estimates that a whopping 62% of Trump’s re-tweets are of accounts that have white supremacist connections.

Steve King on white people


It’s too easy to point and laugh at the white supremacists in the funny outfits (like Trump’s dad), while we fail to pay attention to the way white supremacy operates in our own institutions and families.

I called the book ‘white lies’ because such narratives distort the truth about whose labor actually built the wealth in this country: African, Latinx, Asian and Native people. That labor, and the wealth and products created by it, were routinely plundered by white people.

This is the lie of Trump’s speech, too.

As he would have it, white people (those in included in “our”) are somehow more entitled, deserving or worthy of being here than anyone else. It’s the idea at the heart of white supremacy. But, fact checking Trump doesn’t seem to be working..

One of the examples I used to make my case about the connection between extremist and more mainstream rhetoric was Pat Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech, which declared that there was a ‘culture war’ for the ‘soul of America.’

Pat Buchanan was once considered on the far-right of the Republican party, but in the past few years, the party – not to mention the country as a whole – has tilted far to the right. Buchanan’s once extreme views, are now regarded as mainstream. And, tonight, Trump delivered what amounted to a ‘dumbed down’ version of Buchanan’s 1992 speech.

What Trump is better at doing than most is emoting white supremacy. He’s galvanizing people based on feelings, not facts.

Trump wearing a hat

He ended his speech tonight with the repetition and variation on “Make America Great Again,” replacing great with Strong, Proud, and Safe. The fact that Trump’s message has been so effective with 14 million people suggests that there are lots of people who are feeling weak, ashamed, and afraid.

Sociologist Thomas Scheff, who studies emotions, argues that the emotion of ‘shame’ is perhaps the most powerful feeling and that it runs underneath many social problems. Most violence, he argues, is caused by a response to shame. It’s my guess that this undergirds much of Trump’s appeal, particularly around race. The line about “We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore,” is a way of saying, “I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of the offensive things I say or do.”

Is there a political strategy to galvanize a set of emotions that run counter to the fear that he is spinning into political gold? I don’t know, but desperately wish I did.

Research Brief: Reframing Race and Policing as a Public Health Issue

The policing and criminalization of Black men in America has several origins: the prison industrial complex, socially sanctioned lynching, stop and frisk, and zero tolerance, as Keon L. Gilbert and Rashawn Ray  point out in their recent article in Journal of Urban Health. This graphic illustrates some of the key ideas in their research.

Gilbert and Ray on race and policing as a public health issue

Download this infographic as a PDF.

Gilbert and Ray use a framework they refer to as Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to question how justifiable homicides affect Black men continue to occur with such alarming frequency. These researchers use PHCRP to argue that the excessive use of force applied to Black men during encounters with law enforcement should be seen as a public health challenge.  The PHCRP framework advocates for health equity with theories and methods drawn from critical race and public health scholarship. PHCRP has several principles based on its four focal areas:

  1. Contemporary patterns of racial relations
  2. Knowledge production
  3. Conceptualization and measurement
  4. Action

The authors question this legacy of policing in three substantial ways. First, racial stratification leads to unequal life chances due to the way current research criminalizes Black men of all ages. Second, criminalization of their race and gender limits health identity formation for Black men. Lastly, prejudice and racism lead to a negative experience for Black men within the criminal justice system.

PHCRP also provides principles that confirm inform policy aimed at correcting this legacy of policing in order to achieve health equity for Black men. This includes:

  1. The collection of data on death by legal intervention
  2. The repealing of stop and frisk laws nationwide
  3. The implementation of Community Review Boards
  4. The establishment of accessible mental and preventive health services

Thus, Gilbert and Ray use PHCRP to demonstrate how critical race theory offers solutions to build more equitable relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.  Find more research on race and policing here.

~ Melissa Brown is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Maryland and social media manager for the Critical Race Initiative




Ida B. Wells — Happy Birthday Today!

[Note: We are repeating this 2008 review of a biography of Ida B. Wells on her birthday today. And in honor of her central role in founding a very early Black Lives Matter movement.]

There is a new biography out about Ida B. Wells, the anti-lynching activist and one of the founders of the NAACP. The biography, called IDA: A Sword Among Lions, is written by Paula Giddings (who also wrote When and Where I Enter), and promises to be the definitive biography of Wells. It’s just been released, so I haven’t read it yet, but it’s at the top of my reading list once my current book project is complete. Here’s the excellent review the Washington Post written by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, a professor of history at Yale (rather than posting an excerpt, I’m including the entire review here because it’s so well done, book cover image from the same source):

Ida B. Wells was in England in 1894 when she heard that white Southerners had put a black woman in San Antonio, Tex., into a barrel with “nails driven through the sides and then rolled [it] down a hill until she was dead.” The 31-year-old Wells, a black Southerner, was seasoned to the widespread phenomenon of mob torture and murder that went by the shorthand “lynching”; in fact, she was abroad on a speaking tour denouncing it. Nonetheless, she shed tears over the latest “outrage upon my people.”

Her call to speak out against lynching had come just two years earlier, when a Memphis mob murdered her close friend and neighbor Thomas Moss. The incident started as a dispute among white and black boys playing marbles, but it quickly evolved into an excuse to murder Moss, a successful businessman who was drawing patrons away from a nearby white grocer.

White Southerners explained to Northerners that they lynched only when they had to: when black men threatened, assaulted and raped white women. Wells was determined to expose that lie. As the murders of the woman in the barrel and Thomas Moss attest, white Southerners also killed black women and economically threatening black men. And even when the mobs tore apart a black man who had been found with a white woman, it wasn’t always rape. Sometimes, Wells declared in print, the man was not “a despoiler of virtue,” but had succumbed “to the smiles of white women.” Her editorial in Free Speech, the black weekly she co-owned in Memphis, led white residents to destroy the newspaper’s office and threaten to kill her. But even after she was forced into exile from the South, she continued to proclaim — as a banner headline over one of her articles in a New York paper declared in 1892 — “The Truth About Lynching.”

For speaking plainly about rape, sex and murder, Wells lost her home and her livelihood. For the rest of her life, she had to defend her reputation against both white and black people who called her a “negro adventuress” and “Notorious Courtesan.” A black newspaper editor suggested that the public should “muzzle” that “animal from Memphis,” and the New York Times dubbed her “a slanderous and dirty-minded mulatress.”

Wells was an orphan and a poor, single woman who supported her younger brothers and sisters through teaching and journalism. She recognized that “my good name was all that I had in the world,” yet she would not be silenced. Wells used words to fight white Southern lynch mobs, an indifferent white Northern public and, sometimes, black critics who felt that her outspokenness undermined their agenda. Southern white supremacy was cruel and crazy, and she was the rare person who could see beyond the cultural insanity in which she was immersed. For that she paid dearly.

Paula J. Giddings tells several larger stories as she narrates Wells’s life. Foremost among these interventions is a history of lynching and opposition to it. She spares no details as she tracks the development of spectacle lynchings at the turn of the century, when lynching became a premeditated act, hundreds of people converged on the scene, and the mob sometimes tortured the victim all day before killing him or her in the evening.

In exploring Wells’s early life — she was born to enslaved parents in 1862 in Holly Springs, Miss. — Giddings also paints a rich portrait of black life during Reconstruction. She movingly recounts dashed African American hopes in Tennessee in the 1880s and ’90s as white Southerners tightened segregation. Wells, for one, refused to accept it. When told to move to a blacks-only train car, she refused, bit the conductor as he threw her off the train, filed suit against the railroad and won $500 in damages.

Finally, Ida becomes a national history as Giddings skillfully recounts the great migration of Southern African Americans to Northern cities in the first decades of the 20th century. Wells moved from Memphis to New York to Chicago, where she married attorney Ferdinand Lee Barnett Jr. in 1895. There she confronted a new set of problems as a social worker and neighborhood organizer, but she also gained a modicum of power through local politics and women’s suffrage. Giddings describes the tensions within the black women’s club movement, which fought locally and nationally to ameliorate Jim Crow, and excels in portraying the sexism of black male civil rights activists and their white allies.

Despite a long and influential career in journalism, social work and politics, Wells has not received the recognition she deserves. She left an unfinished autobiography, and other authors have dealt with her activism in various contexts. Giddings set out to write a definitive biography and has succeeded spectacularly. Ida gradually brings us to see the world through Wells’s eyes; as she shops for a new seersucker suit that we know she can’t afford or feels betrayed when fellow activists try to leave her off the list of founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, we come to love this brave and wise woman.

Read it and weep. Then give it to the last person who told you that ideals are a waste of time.

Can’t wait to read it. [edited to add the next paragraph…thanks to Joe for the suggestion.]

Wells, when she is recognized, is usually acknowledged as a journalist and an activist, but she was also an important early sociologist and social theorist. Kathy Henry, in a sociological analysis of her feminist and anti-racist ideas writes:

“In the latter part of nineteenth century, social theories from Ida B. Wells-Barnett were forceful blows against the mainstream White male ideologies of her time. . . . Wells-Barnett’s social theory is considered to be a radical non-Marxian conflict theory with a focus on a “pathological interaction between differences and power in U.S. society. A condition they variously label as repression, domination, suppression, despotism, subordination, subjugation, tyranny, and our American conflict.” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.161). Her social theory was also considered “Black Feminism Sociology,” and according to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998), there was four presented themes within the theory: one, her object of social analysis and of a method appropriate to the project; two, her model of the social world; three, her theory of domination and four, her alternative to domination. Although those four themes were present in her theory, one could assume that the major theme above the four was the implication of a moral form of resistance against oppression, which is not farfetched seeing that oppression was the major theme in her life.”

Wells’ life and social thought are important examples of taking race and gender into account simultaneously.

“Making America Great Again”: Race, Resentment and Donald Trump

As I wrote in my 2011 book, At this Defining Moment, the dominant narrative to emerge from the American media concerning the 2008 U.S. presidential election was that with Barack Obama’s victory, the U.S. had finally turned the page on its dark history of racial strife, and was well on its way to definitively vanquishing the problem of race. The clear evidence of the past 8 years, however, is that this sentiment was woefully premature. The U.S. is a deeply polarized nation at this time with regard to issues of race and social justice, and nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the startling and disturbing presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

The Man, in His Own Words

Donald Trump’s rise and fervent populist appeal initially baffled, astounded, and flummoxed political observers from all sides of the political spectrum. For months, he grabbed headline after headline with his noxious, racially tingled rhetoric, flagrant anti-immigrant nativism, “frat-boy” masculine bravado, sexual boasting, general aura of crudeness and total disregard for the accepted rules of political discourse. Surely, it was at first believed, Trump’s campaign would be a short-lived farce.

A real-estate tycoon and reality television show star, Trump had never held political office and demonstrated very little knowledge of foreign or domestic policy; and his “exceeding flexible positions on different hot-button issues” meant that he would never pass muster as a true “conservative” with a capital C. In response to the major challenges facing the U.S., Trump had offered only a string of exceedingly vague, boastful proposals, to include ending illegal immigration by building a “big, fat beautiful wall” along the entire U.S./Mexico border, and turning the country around by “hav[ing] so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning.”

Trump has largely built his 2016 presidential bid around a series of inflammatory statements articulated around the axes of race, nation and immigration. He has advocated establishing a database to register American Muslims, killing the extended family members of suspected terrorists, torturing military enemies and overturning the 14th amendment to end birthright citizenship. Following the June 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, he went as far as to propose “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Much of Trump’s rhetoric has also centered in on “Mexicans.” “When Mexico sends its people,” he told an enthusiastic crowd gathered at his campaign kick-off in June 2015,

they’re not sending their best. . . . .They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

The candidate caused an uproar in early June 2016 with his repeated insistence that the U.S.-born federal judge Gonzalo Curiel was unfit to preside over a lawsuit against him because the judge’s parents had immigrated from Mexico. And though Trump claims to “have a great relationship with the blacks,” in February 2016 he gave a wink and a nod to the American white supremacist movement, by repeatedly refusing to disavow the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, saying that he needed to do some “research” before he could distance himself from any group that might be “totally fine.” The day after the interview, Trump issued a brief disavowal, blaming “a bad earpiece” for his earlier failure to disown the KKK.

The Clear Choice

The Trump campaign, however, was not a farce. And it soon became clear that Trump succeeded not in spite of his inflammatory speech, but because of it. In the Republican primary, Trump easily defeated more than 15 declared rivals, including 9 state governors and 5 U.S. senators. Desperate, organized efforts on the part of GOP leaders in early 2016 to thwart Trump’s pursuit of the nomination met with utter failure. His campaign boasted in early June that Trump had won more primary votes than any other Republican candidate in history, a claim that several media outlets subsequently verified as true.

Trump is reviled by the American left, which views him as pompous, uninformed, racist, nativist, misogynistic and anti-American, or some combination of the above. In an interesting twist, Trump has come to be perhaps equally reviled by much of the conservative intellectual class. A wide swath of prominent thinkers to the right-of-center have condemned Trump, describing him as a crude “megalomaniac” with no actual allegiance to the conservative cause, “epically unprepared” to be president, and likely to destroy the Republican party. In the words of one conservative journalist,

Donald Trump has risen to become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee over the strenuous objections of just about every rightist who’s ever lifted a pen.

Members of the Republican establishment, for their part, have been bitterly divided over the candidate. While some openly support him, others, such as former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have vigorously denounced him. For the majority of Republican elected officials, however, Trump appears to be an albatross wrapped around their necks; the clear, if inexplicable, choice of their base, a man that they must hold their noses to accept and endorse through gritted teeth.

Making America Great Again

Trump is now one of two people that will become the next president of the United States. His run-away success in the race thus far comes despite condemnation from the American left and the conservative media and the limited, grudging support of GOP insiders. Trump’s rise cannot, therefore, be explained on the basis of conventional political allegiances and the normal workings of the two-party system. The key to his ascendency lies, instead, in his ability to appeal directly to the rage and aggrievement of a powerful key demographic- working and middle-class white American men, and his concomitant promise to elevate white American manhood again to its rightful place of dominance and superiority.

There are clear parallels, in my reading, between Obama’s first race for the White House and Trump’s current bid. In the 2008 campaign, Obama figured as a kind of black “messiah” or “savior” figure among white liberals, endowed with “superhuman powers” to “redeem” white Americans and to heal the nation’s racial wounds (Logan 2011).

Trump occupies a similar role in this race among his supporters on the right. He figures in the election as a populist superhero, a crusader and champion of the cause of a right-wing white masculinity that perceives itself to be profoundly imperiled and deeply aggrieved. Brash, braggadocios, and unapologetic, Trump’s racialized, patriarchal rhetoric articulates a rage rooted in a deeply felt loss of racial and gendered entitlement. For an angry, dying brand of white American masculinity, he stands as validation, spokesman, and belligerent defender.

Trump’s candidacy can be described as a response to Obama’s presidencies (race) to Hillary Clinton’s rise (gender)—both made him more possible, more likely at this time. He is also a response to the “dog-whistle politics” of racial and gendered resentment and the blatant obstructionism of President Obama’s policies practiced by Republican leaders during the last 8 years. But the anger and aggrievement fueling Trump’s rise have much deeper roots as well; grounded in a decades-long resentment of those- “minorities,” immigrants, feminists, gays and liberals – who have usurped “our” country and taken away “our” freedoms. Whereas white males have been the losers in American culture for decades now, Trump boldly declares that he is a “winner,” “always” winning. Whereas the U.S. has for too long been going down the drain, Trump proclaims that he will “Make America Great Again,” restoring to prominence the powerful triumvirate of whiteness, masculinity, and American global dominance.

The election thus, has come to reframe the broader culture war in the United States. What is at stake is a definition of who and what America is, who is a person, who has rights, who is fully entitled, and who is a pariah. Just how far should we take this “equality” thing anyway. As one journalist writes,

This election is a referendum on the existence and civic participation of Americans who are not white men — as voters, as citizens, as workers, as members of the military, as presidents.

However haltingly and painfully, change is coming to America. But a core of white American men- many of them Trump supporters- are in open revolt. Railing against the cultural and demographic shifts taking place in the U.S., they have pledged allegiance to the demagogue and authoritarian that gives voice to their rage. Trump now elevates and legitimizes the most base instincts and bigotry of certain portions of the electorate. Thus it is assured that, even given his likely electoral defeat, there are many more years of ugliness and conflict around race, immigration and a host of other issues, to come.

Dr. Enid Logan is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota.

Latino Voters Have Had Enough


Woman Holds Latino Eligible Voter Sign


Politicians have conveniently vilified Latinos for political gain for far too long. Coming of political age in California where Republican Governor Pete Wilson, who was described as too “wonkish” and “underwhelming” successfully won a second term as governor largely because of his anti-immigrant campaign tactics, I have heard racist commentary to prop up politicians for as long as I can remember. According to law professor Ian Haney López, politicians have been using coded language to disguise racist messages to win electoral support among whites in what he refers to as “dog whistle politics.”

Haney López demonstrates how this tactic has successfully been used by both political parties since at least George Wallace and the Republicans regained control of the South; however, it is about to implode this presidential election. The dog whistle fell into the wrong hands with Trump this time. Consequently, it will have disastrous results on the Republican Party during this presidential election cycle—some of which we are seeing already as Republican donors are not giving their money and long-time Republicans, such as George Will, are leaving the party.

Why aren’t dog whistle politics going to work during this presidential election? Two simple reasons: changing racial and ethnic demographics and immigration politics.

Demographics. According to a PEW Research Center finding, eligible voters from ethnic and racial groups will comprise 31% of the electorate making this the most racially diverse electorate in U.S. history. Furthermore, the largest number of Latinos will be eligible to vote in U.S. history at 27.3 million – up from 23.3 million in the 2012 presidential election. Of these Latino voters, PEW researchers point out: Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half (44%) of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016—a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters.”  This brings me to my next point.

Woman Holds Latino Voters: Making History Sign Aloft


Immigration politics. The recent Supreme Courts 4-4 ruling that halts President Obama’s executive actions protecting undocumented immigrants will matter even before the issue is addressed by the Court again. This is because an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens. As my co-authors and I detail in our study of undocumented Latino youth, Living the Dream, the racializing effects generated by our broken immigration system have had a permanent impact on their lives. These young Latinos have missed out on countless opportunities growing up—from participation in extracurricular activities and attendance at elite colleges where they have been accepted to being separated from their parents who have been deported. For most of these Latino youth, the U.S. is the only country they have ever known and it has attacked them and their families yet again with this Supreme Court decision. Most of these Latinos have grown up in mixed-status families and a majority of all Latinos voters have personal connections with someone who is undocumented.

Clearly, immigration matters to Latino voters. This presidential election will remind Republicans—who are supposedly all about family values and personal responsibility—that the personal is political for Latino voters and their families, as I’ve noted at NBC Latino News.

While the Republican Party falls apart before our eyes—in large part because of the racist messages by Trump—one can assume this will impact the other branches of government as well. With a Democratically controlled Senate and a new Democratic president that is sympathetic to immigration reform a new liberal Supreme Court majority will soon follow. All this will prove to be a window of opportunity to finally pass comprehensive immigration reform and may eventually threaten the race-based gerrymandering that has contributed to building today’s Republican advantage in the House.

Of course, all this will only happen if Latinos and other people of color turnout out in record numbers. I am hopeful that the results of this election show us all that the days of dog whistle politics are numbered.

~ Maria Chavez is Associate Professor of Political Science at Pacific Lutheran University and a regular contributor to Racism Review.

The Fourth of July: Different Meaning for Frederick Douglass

On this Independence day it is well to remember yet again a probing and candid speech, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” given by the formerly enslaved and probably greatest 19th century American, Frederick Douglass, at Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, at the peak of North America slavery (indeed, about 230 years into that era). His insightful words are never more appropriate than today, when we as a country are in several ways moving backwards on the rhetorical promise of “all men are created equal.”



In this era Black Americans were usually not allowed at 4th of July celebrations in the slaveholding South, apparently because many slaveholders feared that they might get an idea of freedom from such events (as if they did not already have such an idea!). Also, Black residents were often discouraged from attending such festivities in the North.

It is in this very dangerous and hostile national racial climate that the great Douglass–increasingly, a leading intellectual of his day and the first Black American to receive a roll-call vote for US President (later on, at the 1888 Republican national convention!)–was asked by leading citizens of Rochester to give an address at their Fourth of July celebrations. He gave them this stinging indictment of racial oppression:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too-great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

But later adds:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave-trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words from the high places of the nation as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the Jaws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our doctors of divinity. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish them selves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon all those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass with out condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh jobbers, armed with pistol, whip, and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-curdling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul The crack you heard was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me, citizens, where, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

And then concludes with this:

Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.

The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign.
To man his plundered rights again

Sadly, our system of racial oppression still persists, even as most white Americans are in denial about its deep and foundational reality. Yet, there remain many people like Frederick Douglass today who still fight to remove this “yoke of tyranny” from us all. May they flourish and prosper. We should remember those now and from the past who fought racism most on this day to celebrate freedom.
Some forty-two years later, in the last speech (“Lessons of the Hour”) he gave before his death—at an AME Church in DC, on January 9th, 1894—Douglass made these comments as he watched southern and border states hurtle toward bloody Jim Crow segregation, the new neo-slavery system:

We claim to be a Christian country and a highly civilized nation, yet, I fearlessly affirm that there is nothing in the history of savages to surpass the blood chilling horrors and fiendish excesses perpetrated against the colored people by the so-called enlightened and Christian people of the South. It is commonly thought that only the lowest and most disgusting birds and beasts, such as buzzards, vultures and hyenas, will gloat over and prey dead bodies, but the Southern mob in its rage feeds its vengeance by shooting, stabbing and burning when their victims are dead. I repeat, and my contention is, that this “Negro problem” formula lays the fault at the door of the Negro, and removes it from the door of the white man, shields the guilty, and blames the innocent. Makes the Negro responsible and not the nation….. Now the real problem is, and ought to be regarded by the American people, a great national problem. It involves the question, whether, after all, with our Declaration of Independence, with our glorious free constitution, whether with our sublime Christianity, there is enough of national virtue in this great nation to solve this problem, in accordance with wisdom and justice.

He concluded thus, his very last words ever spoken in public:

But could I be heard by this great nation, I would call to to mind the sublime and glorious truths with which, at its birth, it saluted a listening world. Its voice then, was as the tramp of an archangel, summoning hoary forms of oppression and time honored tyranny, to judgment. Crowned heads heard it and shrieked. Toiling millions heard it and clapped their hands for joy. It announced the advent of a nation, based upon human brotherhood and the self-evident truths of liberty and equality. Its mission was the redemption of the world from the bondage of ages. Apply these sublime and glorious truths to the situation now before you. Put away your race prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another. Recognize the fact that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worthy of protection as are those of the highest, and your problem will be solved; and, whatever may be in store for it in the future, whether prosperity, or adversity; whether it shall have foes without, or foes within, whether there shall be peace, or war; based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of compliant or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever.


Are Asian Americans Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action?

Asian American communities are clearly split on whether affirmative action in college and university admissions disadvantages Asian American applicants. Add to this the fact that some institutions do not even consider Asian Americans as underrepresented minorities (URM’s) in their employment outreach efforts or student enrollment processes.

Complaints filed with the Department of Education suggest that being Asian American can be a disadvantage at some Ivy League institutions. Take, for example, Michael Wang who had a perfect ACT score and had taken 13 Advanced Placement Courses. Wang filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education after not being admitted to Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, alleging discrimination based on race. According to Princeton sociologists Thomas Epenshade and Alexandria Radford’s study of eight selective public and private universities, Asian American applicants at these institutions received a 140 point penalty compared with whites. In the view of commentator Hrishikesh Joshi, since affirmative action addresses historic injustice such as that faced by Asian Americans for generations, it is difficult to understand how this reverse differentiation argument can be applied to Asian Americans when compared to whites. The exclusionary educational treatment of Asian Americans today is reminiscent of the strategies by which elite universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton limited Jewish enrollment beginning in the 1920’s and continuing into the World War II period.

Opposition to affirmative action by Asian Americans includes the complaint filed by the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) with the Departments of Education and Justice in May 2016, noting the decrease or flat level in Asian American student representation at Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale over the past twenty years as a result of “holistic” admissions review processes that consider race as one factor among many. In addition, the Project on Fair Representation, a one-person organization run by Edward Blum, a wealthy conservative entrepreneur who initiated the Fisher v. University of Texas lawsuit among other legal challenges, has filed suit against Harvard University based on the alleged differential treatment of Asian Americans. The Harvard suit charges that Harvard has set admissions quotas for Asian American students and subjected them to higher standards than other students as well as to stereotype bias.

So why the sudden interest in Asian Americans as reflected in Blum’s efforts to recruit Asian American students to his cause?

As Alvin Evans and I point out in Affirmative Action at a Crossroads: Fisher and Forward, this move is designed to splinter the interests of ethnic and racial minority groups. In an article in the UCLA Law Review, Nancy Leong underscores the fact that conservatives who oppose affirmative action are misusing Asian Americans to portray the “wrongs” of affirmative action. They have not shown an interest in major issues that impact the well-being of Asian Americans such as fair housing, voting redistricting, and employment opportunities. By characterizing the harm of affirmative action as applying to both whites and Asian Americans, conservatives can mask their underlying opposition to programs that disrupt racial hierarchy through the alleged “harm” of affirmative action. As Leong explains,

affirmative action opponents wish to conscript Asian Americans into their opposition because doing so makes them look less racist.

By contrast, consider the fact that in employment processes for federal contractors under Executive Order 11246 and Chapter 60 of Title 41 of the Federal Code of Regulations, minority groups are considered in aggregate rather than separately. Since all minority groups face forms of oppression historically and up to the present day, this broader grouping of minorities acknowledges the need to address the common barriers faced by minority groups within institutions, agencies, and corporations that receive more than $50,000 in federal contracts and have 50 or more employees.

We know that Asian Americans face significant barriers in their upward mobility. As Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou underscore in their recent book, The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Asian Americans are extremely limited in their representation in leadership positions at the academic department and university administrative level, and make up less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and 2 percent of college presidents. To assert that Asian Americans as a “model minority” do not need assistance in overcoming social and institutional discrimination overlooks the structural, organizational, and behavioral barriers they face as members of an American minority group. In their insightful interview study, The Myth of the Model Minority, Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin indicate that the subtle and even blatant forms of stereotyping and discrimination faced by Asian Americans is an untold story and represents “a very harmful invisibility (p. 3).” Because Asian Americans lack a constituency, have few public intellectuals, and have failed to organize effectively as a minority resistance group, forms of discriminatory treatment can be exercised without fear of retaliation.

The need for Asian Americans to work collectively with members of other minority groups for racial and social justice is best summed up by Frank Wu, Chancellor of the University of California’s Hastings College of Law:

Add to that the anger over college admissions, which has been portrayed by demagogues as inexorably pitting Asian Americans against African Americans (and Hispanics) — a framing that is as inaccurate as it is inflammatory to all involved — and there is a mess that foreshadows the worst of our changing demographics. It likely confirms the negative perceptions of white observers.

Homophobia, Religion, and Racism

On June 17th 2015, nine beautiful Black individuals who were having Bible study at a church in Charleston, NC lost their lives to a White, racist gunman who revealed in his manifesto that he thought Blacks were “stupid and violent.” The killing demonstrated how prevalent racism is in the U.S. today, especially in the way it echoed the 16th street Baptist Church killing of four innocent black girls at the hands of White Supremacist in 1963. It was particularly painful because the church for many Black people represents liberation and comfort, and has been and is still the location for community organizing against racial oppression. It was in the Black church that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave many of his most powerful sermons on love and justice and if you know the Black church like I do, it is where the pastor always yells “Our God is an on-time God. Now let the church say ‘Amen’ ” and the congregation would repeat the Amen.

But the church has not always been a space for love and hope for everyone, especially for sexual minorities and gender queer people. Almost a year after the Charleston shooting, forty-nine queer Latino and Afro-Latino individuals lost their lives to another deranged gunmen, but unlike the White supremacist’s suggestions of us being “stupid and violent,” many church goers have said instead that we “reaped what we sowed” and in essence deserved our deaths for rejoicing in our sinful lifestyles. In fact, many of us might recall the painful video from 2009 of the dangerous ministries of Patricia and Kelvin Mckinney as they tried to exorcise a “gay Demon” from a young Black 16 year old boy. Not long after the Orlando slaughter of the 49, a Latino Christian pastor wished more of the “sodomites would have died.” These stories remind me of the pain I had to endure, Sunday after Sunday, as my pastor said “Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner” and posited that it wasn’t homophobia he was pedaling but the “truth of God, and the church says Amen.” The positions of the church made it difficult for my Latino mother and Black father to accept me as I am for years. Hell, it made it difficult for me to accept myself for years.

The social sciences were not any better for me as a queer person of color. Sociologist Mark Regnerous, a tenured University of Texas (Austin) faculty member and deeply religious Christian man, used the auspices of “science” to conduct a well-funded yet inherently homophobic study about the dangers of same sex parenting. Despite the study being widely debunked by the scientific community, it has been cited and used in countries in Africa and in Russia as justifications for legislation that jails and murders sexual minorities. The Black sociologist George Yancey, no doubt a hero to many Black Christian academics, defended Regnerous’s work and continues to describe homosexuality as a sinful “choice,” despite the overwhelming amount of research that suggests sexual minorities have no more control over their orientations than heterosexuals. In fact he states that being Black or a woman is not a sin, but homosexuality is, therefore suggesting that sexism and racism are somehow more oppressive than homophobia. This thinking is common in the church and among numerous Black and Latino scholars. And this same religious thinking–that we somehow are choosing to engage in our “deviant lifestyles”–is what leads religious extremists like the Orlando killer to do exactly what he did.

A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that the LGBT identity is highest among younger, non-white, and low income individuals. Similarly, a great number of hate crimes and attacks are on LGBT peoples including many transgender women of color. We are fighting racism in our gay communities, and homophobia and transphobia in the straight community. We are fighting for our sexual worth among sexual minorities and for the right to use the restroom among heterosexuals. No matter how much time passes, we are constantly fighting.

And so today I am again getting ready to fight, and the source of my anger and pain is the many people who use the church to hide their thinly veiled homophobia and hate. And I will take this fight to the couple that tells me I have a “gay demon” while they have demons of hate and misunderstanding, to the so called Black intellectual who claims to love the sinner and hate the sin, as if the two can be separate to me, to the Latino pastor who falsely associated my love for another gay man with pedophilia, to the many race scholars who stay silent because they think they can fight racism without fighting sexism and homophobia but do not understand that they cannot. I am here to tell all of them that the blood of the victims is on their hands too, that they contribute to this hate in varying ways and that they have done more to kill us slowly than the shooter did when he snuffed out lives in mere seconds. I am mad as hell and I am ready to fight to live, because too many of my brothers and sisters have died. And while I’m on the topic of choice, now is the time for you to make a choice, to abandon your homophobic ways and join me in this fight or continue to be the bullets that filled the killer’s gun. NOW let the church say “Amen.”

Jesus G. Smith is an advanced Ph.D. student in sociology at Texas A&M University