Cyber Racism & The Future of Free Speech (updated)

Two new cases of cyber racism – one in Moscow, the other in Denver – are both making news for the way that they highlight new forms of racism and for the way that they challenge our ideas about free speech.

In Moscow recently, A 21-year-old received a one-year suspended sentence for forming a racist group on the popular Vkontakte social network.  In Russia, forming a racist group on their equivalent of Facebook was illegal because it violated Russia’s anti-extremist laws.   This kind of action on a social networking site is not viewed as “free speech” worthy of protection.   So, what about in the U.S.?

Clavier Apple
(Creative Commons License photo credit: JeanbaptisteM )

Just last month, a former City of Denver employee Joel Pousson, 46, a former clerk at the City and County of Denver’s planning department, was arrested in August after authorities traced a racist, hate-filled e-mail to a computer in his Littleton home. Poussan, who is white, allegedly sent the email to an African American woman who works as a Human Resources Manager on the same day Pousson was notified that he was being terminated.  In the email, Pousson repeatedly called the HR Manager a “n***” and suggested that she was now being targeted by the KKK (a very brief excerpt:  “Because now the Klan has your name and address. And there are plenty of Klan members needing stroke with the klan. … Call it an initiation And the sheet-wearing ghost that takes you out, he gets a lot of rank.”)  The reason that Pousson’s email was not considered “free speech” is that both the State of Colorado and the City of Denver have laws against “Ethnic Intimidation/Threats,” and Pousson’s email was prosecuted under this law.

Whether it’s a group organizing online or an individual sending email, the promotion of racism in the public domain threatens the sense of safety and security for those who are the targets of such cyber racism.  Sometimes, it can also be the precursor to racially motivated violence.  But, even if there’s no explicit threat of violence, racial hatred promoted online runs counter to the ideals of racial equality liberals say they value.

Yet, in the U.S. there’s very little dialogue about cyber racism, in part I think because of the liberal tenet that hate speech just an unfortunate consequence of free speech, even though that’s not true in Europe and other western democracies.  And, free speech according to most of the leading intellectuals writing about the Internet, is considered the highest ideal, as in a post today by Tim Wu at The Chronicle of Higher Ed.  In the piece (which previews a new book he has from Knopf), Wu deftly connects the early crusades against Hollywood movies by Catholics to current efforts to limit speech on the Internet by pressuring technology firms:

These firms are already under strong pressure to censor from powerful governments, religious groups, political parties, and essentially any outfit with a reason to want information suppressed.  The Turkish government, for example, demands that Google take down mockery of the nation’s founder, not just in Turkey, but everywhere. The Church of Scientology has never stopped demanding of anyone who will listen to remove criticism of its practices from the Internet, usually claiming copyright infringement.

Wu’s assessment, like that of Mike Godwin and other cyberlibertarians, about the importance of free speech is flawed because it rests on an analysis of information as existing apart from political and social context.   In such an analysis, “information” on the Internet is content free and should all be treated the same. I do agree with Wu, however, when he writes about what managing speech looks like today:

This is what speech management looks like in 2010. No one elected Facebook or YouTube, and neither one is beholden to the First Amendment. Nonetheless, it is their decisions that dictate, effectively, who gets heard. What’s the answer? There is no easy answer. Monopolies like Google, Facebook, and Hollywood have certain advantages: That’s why they tend to come into existence. That means the American public needs to be aware of the dangers that private censors can pose to free speech. The American Constitution was written to control abuses of power, but it didn’t account for the heavy concentration of private power that we see today. And in the end, power is power, whether in private or public hands.

While Wu evokes “power” at the end of this passage, he doesn’t go quite far enough in his analysis of how power shapes what constitutes information.  Here, Wu is trapped within the same larger (white) frame as other scholars writing about the Internet without considering race.  Within this frame, all “information” is the same offers no mechanism for evaluating claims for racial or social justice against the protection of free speech.   Such a supposedly value-neutral frame for discussing free speech as separate from a social and political context systematically disadvantages some members of society and while it privileges others.   To go back to the two cases of cyber racism I discussed at the top of this post, seeing all speech as neutral “information” would then mean that the racist group organizing online in Moscow and the racist email sender were both entitled to have their speech protected to defend the right to free speech.

Taking a stand against cyber racism isn’t a threat to the future of free speech.   I don’t think we have to defend racist groups online in order to value free speech.  And, I don’t think we have to defend  the actions of people like the guy in Denver who sent the racist emails in order to value free speech either.

Outside the U.S., other democratic nations have taken seriously Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  This article requires countries such as Australia, NZ, the UK and Canada which are parties to the Convention to “declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred…and also the provision of any assistance to racist activities.” However, complying with this article in the global, digital era is no easy task.

Writing about the Australian context on today’s JWire, Peter Wertheim has a smart column in which he notes the difficulties of battling cyber racism across national boundaries when the U.S. acts as a haven and Internet companies (ISP’s) are recalcitrant, even proud, of hosting racist content.  Wertheim writes:

ISP’s lack the knowledge and insight into racism to enable them to make an informed decision about whether a particular publication has crossed the line into racial vilification or harassment.  More to the point, web-sites often generate advertising revenue for their owners, and the owners pay the ISPs. In social media platforms, the more viewers and discussion, the more advertising revenue can be created, and this advertising revenue usually goes directly to the platform provider. ISP’s and platform providers have a clear commercial interest against any form of regulation, and in being as permissive as possible.  The final decision about whether or not to allow an allegedly racist publication to remain on the net should not rest with them.

Ultimately, even though the law is not the whole answer to cyber racism, it must be a critical part of the answer.  Without the ultimate sanction of the law, the scourge of cyber racism will continue to grow unchecked.  Like other contemporary scourges, such as terrorism and environmental degradation, cyber racism operates across national boundaries and governments acting individually cannot deal with it effectively.

Wertheim’s observation that Internet companies “lack the knowledge and insight into racism” to enable them to know what to do when faced with racist content is an astute one.  I’ve worked in the Internet industry and I don’t think that the people there are evil, but have never learned to think critically about race or racism.   Unlike that MCI commercial from the 1990s, the advent of the Internet has not meant “here – there is no race.” In fact, the advent of the Internet means that we need to be smarter about the new forms of racial hatred – like cyber racism – rather than dismissing them as just the price we pay for free speech.

As Werthiem points out, the law can’t be the whole answer but it “must be a critical part of the answer” is spot on, I think.   And, as Wu notes, these decisions are already being made by those at the helm of Facebook and YouTube.

Cyber racism is a real problem of the Internet era but we shouldn’t confuse taking action against it as a threat to the future of free speech.   In fact, it’s quite possible to balance free speech and concerns about cyber racism.  Indeed, we must in this global, digital era.

Updated 11/16/10 @ 5:18PM ET: Just saw this on Twitter via @hopenothate:  The BBC reports that in the UK, a man has been jailed 15 months for uploading racist video clips calling for a “racial holy war” on YouTube.   Local law enforcement officials are quoted in the piece as saying: “Publishing something that is abusive and insulting and that is likely to stir racial hatred is against the law and [law enforcement] will work with the police to prosecute robustly anyone who does so.” This is not a threat to free speech, but rather recognizes that free speech has to be weighed in the balance with protecting the rights of those who are targeted by racist speech.

Mexican Immigrants Portrayed as Multiplying “Rats”–White Official



The Tennessee report has discussed the comments of a Tennessee state representative thus:

Rep. Curry Todd remarked during a Fiscal Review Committee presentation this week that the idea of government-funded care for pregnant women [Mexican immigrants] who cannot prove they have United States government permission to be in this country struck him as not unlike inviting a rat infestation. The Collierville Republican made the comments after asking CoverKids program managers whether the state checks the citizenship status of care recipients. . . . [They] responded that CoverKids doesn’t provide medical coverage to pregnant women, but it does offer “unborn coverage …. ”Rep. Todd responded: “Well, they can go out there like rats and multiply, then, I guess.”

These comments have a strong resonance with aspects of old European and US white-racist framing of “undesirable” peoples seen as not white, and as vermin. There is the famous and viciously anti-Semitic film, The Eternal Jew (1940, Der ewige Jude in German), which was made under the control of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels and directed by Fritz Hippler.

One summary of the film notes that early shots in it show

…a pack of rats emerging from a sewer, juxtaposed with a crowd of Jews in a bustling street of a Polish city. . . . The narration says that, as rats are the vermin of the animal kingdom, Jews are the vermin of the human race and similarly spread disease and corruption. Unlike rats, however, the narrator continues, Jews have the uncanny ability to change their appearance and blend into their “human hosts.”

Vicious vermin imagery has also been applied to African Americans and numerous other Americans of color. Now immigrants of color are being aggressively targeted nationally in much the same way. Have some of our white legislators kept such racist imagery and language deeply in their racist toolkits, to apply as needed to Americans of color they are hostile to when considering government aid programs? Would this legislator have said this so assertively about poor white folks in his state?

Are They Really New “Hispanic Leaders”? Another Take on the Last Election



Over at creators.com, Miguel Perez has a very important analytical piece on the new supposed Hispanic “Republican leaders” who won in this last election. He argues they are Hispanic, and elected, but they are not really Hispanic leaders–because for the most part they were elected by non-Latinos and a majority of Latino voters voted against them:

If they have vowed to follow conservative Republican/tea party agendas that are clearly anti-Hispanic, can we really call them Latino leaders just because they have Hispanic surnames? . . . no one calls Clarence Thomas an African-American leader, because that Supreme Court justice is known to stand against his own people on many issues.

These often Tea Party oriented Hispanics want to move backwards, he argues, on civil rights and related issues, so how could a majority of Hispanic voters be expected to endorse them. He gives some interesting statistics:

In most of the top races across the country, among Latino voters Democrats beat Republicans by nearly a 2-1 margin. Only in Florida, where Cuban-Americans traditionally favor Republicans, were some GOP candidates able to surpass Democrats among Latinos. In many races in which the Republican winner was a Latino … the majority of the Hispanic vote went for the Democrat. It happened in New Mexico, where Republican and immigration hard-liner Susana Martinez was elected governor … without the majority of the Hispanic vote. It happened in Nevada, where Brian Sandoval — another anti-immigrant advocate — became the first Latino governor, without the majority of the Hispanic vote. And it happened in various congressional races in which Latino Republican candidates sold their souls to the racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant movement just to get elected.

Most Latino voters, he argues, know that Spanish surnames are not enough, and they know that stereotyping Latino immigrants is attacking their families or communities. The impact, he suggests, may have been enough to keep the U.S. Senate Democratic, because Latinos gave 65 percent of their votes to the wining Democratic candidate in California. Some 81 percent favored the Democratic candidate in Colorado, with 68 percent also going for Reid in Nevada.

Somos Republicans Condemns Extremist Republican Leaders



Mother Jones online has a very interesting article on a Hispanic Republican group (Somos Republicans) that is sharply criticizing some white members and leaders of the Republican Party for their “extremist” and nativistic views, as the party becomes more controlled by far-right members. Their letter to the leadership targets the views and likely committee positions of Texan Lamar Smith, probable chair of House Judiciary Committee, and Steve King, probable chair of House subcommittee on immigration:

Steve King has used defamatory language that is extremely offensive to Hispanics, which is found in numerous congressional records. We believe Steve King’s behavior is not appropriate for a high-level elected Republican who might be in charge of a committee that handles immigration rules. Steve King and Lamar Smith have adopted extreme positions on birthright citizenship, and promise legislation that would undermine the 14th amendment of the constitution, which both swore an oath to uphold.

After noting that the Lamar-King views have chased many Latinos to the Democratic Party, they add this:

We ask that you review Mr. King’s and Mr. Smith’s congressional statements desiring to “pass a bill out of the House to end the Constitution’s birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants,” or what Steve King has made reference to “anchor babies.” We find both this rhetoric and this un-constitutional conduct reprehensible, insulting and a poor reflection upon Republicans because we don’t want our Party to be viewed as the Party of changing the United States Constitution.

They note some Hispanic Republican candidates (including Cuban Americans) that won with the help of Hispanic voters, but then note that

Hispanics also vehemently and strongly rejected those Republicans that utilized harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and opted for a Democrat, as it occurred in the West Coast, Colorado and Nevada.

Pointing to the 2012 election they add this worry:

Most of those states with the highest number of Electoral College delegates reside in highly populated Hispanic states such as California, Texas, Florida and New York. Hispanic Republicans have proven to be reliable for an average 30% voting bloc when it comes to voting for the Republican party, however, as proven with the 2010 midterm elections, one can see that GOP candidates such as Jan Brewer, Tom Tancredo, and Sharron Angle dipped just below that 30% when you take a look at the 2010 midterm exit polls. In fact, one can see in looking at the exit poll data that 40% of the Latino vote in Arizona went towards McCain while a mere 27% of Latinos voted for Brewer.

And they accent this:

With Representative Lamar Smith who represents Texas, our party cannot afford to risk losing Texas during the 2012 Presidential elections if he were put into a position that would create a toxic anti-Hispanic environment.

The Latino Vote: Impact and Future



What will the impact of the Latino vote be in future elections? Their impact in the 2010 midterm elections provides some insight. We’ve seen the first election where the non-Cuban Latino vote has swung very much in a different direction than the “average voter.” In other words, independents swung towards Republicans in this election. Latinos did not. If anything, Latinos swung more towards Democrats. What does this tell us for the future? Latinos will not be able to be ignored quite so easily by either party.

The Democrats cannot take Latinos for granted in ways they have taken the black constituency for granted. According to Paul Frymer, African Americans have been “captured” by the Democratic party. Because African Americans are a loyal Democratic base, they do not get courted by the Democratic party the way they would if they tended to shift towards the Republican party. According to Nate Silver the 2010 midterm elections were about deepening partisanship rather than realignments of any kind, so Silver contends that Democrats will be in a position to make some modest gains in 2012. However, in my estimation, Silver’s analysis will only be true if the Democrats do not ignore Latinos in 2012.

The Republicans face a demographic problem as the Latino electorate grows. More and more states will become out of reach for them, including big states like California and some day Texas if they can’t figure out a way to appeal to Latino voters. According to Angela Kelley, Marshall Fitz, and Gebe Martinez of The Center for American Progress:

Latino voters…protected incumbent senators in Nevada, Colorado, and California and decided the balance of power in the upper chamber. Their vote also affected governors’ races in several states where they turned out in strong numbers for Democrats who defended them. Also noteworthy, they were decidedly cooler toward Republican Latino candidates who didn’t stand strongly in support of immigration reform.

They go on to state:

A major reason why Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Democrats this year is that Republicans were viewed by the community as embracing harsh policies like the Arizona law and opposing common sense measures like the DREAM Act. That will have to change if Republicans want to take over the White House in 2012 from President Obama, who understands the political clout of the Latino vote.”

Latinos represent 19 million eligible voters according to the Pew Research Center. They also preferred Democrats to Republicans in the 2010 midterm election (64% to 34% respectively.

Latinos are not a homogenous group. They can be of any race; they can be first generation Americans, or from families dating back to the U.S. for five generations or more; they are culturally diverse group with origins from many different Latin American countries all with unique historical connections in the United States. However, there are some generalizations worth making: their policy needs are not being addressed by either party and they share experiences that link them to both parties. Both political parties must start appealing to Latino voters.

But will this happen in the 2012 election? It would be wise for both political parties to begin paying more attention to Latino voters. It would be even wiser if Latino interests such as employment opportunities, poverty, education, immigration issues, housing, and civil rights policies were incorporated into policy agendas. When some of the issues begin to be incorporated systematically into either party’s agenda then Latinos will see that their needs and their future in America matters. As the largest racial and ethnic group in the country, we are as the saying goes, in this together. And Latinos will continue to flex their electoral muscle and make a difference as the 2010 midterm elections demonstrate.

Rarely Told: Voters of Color Save Democratic Party from 2010 Disaster



Why did the Democratic Party do so well in California and some other places (like Nevada) when they had political problems elsewhere? A savvy political post at dailykos makes it quite clear why:

… the voting patterns of non-whites, who overwhelmingly supported the Democratic ticket. While Democrats weren’t the most effective at the national level … it was a different story in California, where Latinos comprised a whopping 22 percent of the state’s electorate, according to the Los Angeles Times. And they voted overwhelmingly Democratic, supporting Brown over Whitman by a margin of 55 points. Whitman said she wanted to be “tough as nails” on undocumented immigrants; her campaign chair was Pete Wilson, who is still persona non grata because of the odious Proposition 187, which denied all public services to undocumented immigrants; she gave a callous and condescending debate response to an undocumented student who inquired as to her position on the DREAM act; and if that weren’t enough, the scandal regarding the treatment of her undocumented housekeeper whom she unceremoniously fired after many years of service perpetuated the existing narrative about Whitman’s hostility to Latinos, and towards lower-income people in general. … The increased turnout among these voters, who lean towards Democrats, likely caused a ripple effect in many of the downballot races.

So, trashing Latino voters and their goals and concerns – and those of other voters of color who also voted in substantial majorities against Republican Party folks — cost Republicans the election in numerous places. But this gets little national news. Why do you think?

Also, one would think the Democratic Party officials would get that message nationally, but as yet they still seem to prefer to play more to their corporate backers than to their base.

The Republican Party officials, some of them at least, seem to partially understand this issue, even as they still say they will not act on this insight:

State Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring said the election results confirmed that party leaders and candidates needed to build stronger relationships with non-whites…. “The reality is that Democrats have strong relationships with urban and immigration communities that Republicans have not had, and that must change,” he said. “It is not only a matter of politics; it is a matter of mathematics.” But Nehring stressed that he was not advocating a change in Republican policy. “Republicans have stressed for decades that we support legal immigration and oppose illegal immigration,” he said. “Despite saying that, that message has not resonated. It is not only a matter of how we talk about this issue, but how other people hear us.”

Oh, really, not about the anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, frequently racist message itself? And then there is the future of this country’s racial demography, which is ever more Latino folks and other Americans of color. One day soon, at this rate, the Republicans will be lucky to have any significant number of Republican officials in many US areas.

Sentence in Oscar Grant Trial: No Justice, No Surprise

Today, Judge Robert Perry sentenced former BART cop Johannes Mehserle to two years in prison, with credit for time-served, in the killing of Oscar Grant.  The killing was already ruled involuntary manslaughter (no surprise, given that there were no African Americans on the jury) but Mehserle could have received as much as 14 years for shooting Grant who was laying face down on the train platform with his hands cuffed behind his back at the time.

(Image from Flickr CC CaptainTim)

It’s unlikely that there will ever be anything approaching justice for the Grant family in this case.  They’ve lost a son, a brother, a father, a partner.  There is no justice in the fact that right now – not fifty or sixty years ago – that the shooting an unarmed black man by a white cop results in a more lenient sentence than a case of dog-fighting case.  Now, don’t get it twisted, I think cruelty to animals is wrong, but I don’t think that it makes any sense that Michael Vick should get a longer prison sentence than Johannes Mehserle (h/t to @MrDaveyD for making this point on Twitter), but I’m not surprised.   We’re living in the new Jim Crow, after all.

The call for a harsher sentence in the particular case of Mehserle, and the grave injustice to Oscar Grant and his family, should not distract us from addressing the larger issue of the systemic racism which perpetuates this injustice on a grand scale.

Degrees of Freedom: Prejudice and Bigotry as Temporal Levels of Social Distance

If the Nobel Committee issued prizes for social science research, Robert Park, Ernest Burgess and Emory Bogardus would have been top candidates for contributions to the empirical study of prejudice and bigotry. The social distance scale, conceptualized initially by Park and Burgess, and later quantitatively measured by Bogardus, is an elegant method for calibrating how members of groups are willing to interact with members of other groups. The cumulative scale describes progressive degrees of social contact or social distance. Many sociologists of course know about this scale and it is one of the instruments in our tool box; but the recent brouhaha over Juan Williams’s statements about ‘people in Muslim garb’ brought to my mind the ubiquity of prejudice and stereotype.

Is it easier for Americans to stereotype one another? Is stereotype or profiling (born of a certain prejudging) a part of the grand American narrative? How different are we in this characteristic from other countries? It is not right, using this short-hand to characterize people we don’t know; it is convenient to do so in the anonymity of public spaces. September 11 has only given some of us more reason to do so. This happens on a daily basis and it signals that we are still very much socially distant from one another. Muslim Americans and Arab Americans are only now finding this out because they have become targets of this public mood for prejudging. This is the subtext of assimilation; if one cannot get past profiling, prejudging and stereotyping, one begins to do the same thing – a cycle that only feeds into how distant we are from one another.

Below is the social distance scale – I ask all who read this piece to honestly measure their temporal levels of social distance. Pick any group, any group at all and insert them into the scale and measure your level of prejudice and bigotry as an American (or not) towards this group. Pick more than one group – indeed, pick all the identifiable racial/ethnic groups in America. And, be true to yourself! For each question, give a yes or no response. My contention is that the degrees of freedom yielded by the dichotomous values you score will not vary by much from one group to the next (pardon my corruption of the term!).

Would you be willing to admit or accept (insert group)
• To close kinship by marriage?
• To my club as personal friend?
• To live on the same street as my neighbor?
• To be a co-worker in the same occupation?
• To citizenship in my country?
• As only visitors in my country? Or
• Would you be willing to exclude (insert group) from my country?

Social distance is both metaphoric and geographic – we do not live physically close to one another and our prejudices keep us psycho-socially separate.

Racist Texting: Examples of Backstage Racism



The other day I was at lunch with my best friend. As we were laughing at the minuscule things childhood friends find amusing, we were interrupted by his beeping cell phone. He had received a forward text from a friend. After reading, he sighed and said, “Take a look at this crap,” as he quickly handed me his smart phone. The message read, “What would you get if Sammy Davis Jr mated with Bo Derek? Answer: A 10 of spades.” His phone suddenly beeped again notifying him of an additional message. Another person attached to the original text then forwarded the list of friends another joke. It read, “A Mexican and a nigger are riding in car . . Who’s driving? A cop!” After my immediate reaction of anger, I asked him if this was the first time he has received racist text forwards. He noted that, “These groups of guys send stuff like this all the time. I just delete them.” The interesting fact is that I knew his other Midwestern small town White friends since I was in high school. They always seemed to go out of their way to greet and talk to me whenever I saw them in public. I sensed they were not the most enlightened fellows, but my Black “spidey senses” never went into overdrive when I was in their presence.

What few people know is that this type of behavior is worldwide. For example, a UK Councillor was recommended for “equality and diversity training” for forwarding racist jokes on his cell in June 2010. In July 2005, four policemen in the UK were fired for exchanging and sharing racist text messages. Also in the UK, it was first reported in 2008 that a service called 118-118 Joke Service, sent out daily jokes that included racist jokes to its subscribers. A Muslim student, Kameron Abbas, then 21, received the following:

1. What’s the difference between ET and an Asian? ET got the message and went home.
2. How do you save a drowning Pakistani? Take your foot off his head.

With little research, I ran across several websites that one could draw from in order to send very racist jokes to friends . The most ridiculous and asinine comment made on one page asserted “Please note that these nigger jokes are only for information purpose. These are not meant for any sort of controversy or to hurt anybody’s feelings. A joke is a joke. If you are easily offended, we suggest you not to read these jokes.” The use of texting and forwarding offensive racist jokes is simply an example of the 21st century “Backstage Racism”. With the political circus that is evolving, racist evidence has been shown on Facebook and Tweeting. People such as Sarah Palin and Republican Minnesota State Senate candidate Mike Parry. Just last week, the national news reported the homophobic Facebook rants from an Arkansas Public School Board memberthat advised that “It pisses [him] off though that we make special purple fag day for them. I like that fags can’t procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other AIDS and die.”

Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin explain and discuss how racial attitudes and behaviors demonstrated by Whites in private settings are more freely expressed with racially like peers. The fact that everyone attached to my best friends forwarded text were White, exemplifies this line of thinking. Moreover, this example illustrates that the white racist framehas indeed added new mannerisms and techniques that facilitate century-old White ideologies toward marginalized populations in a period of time many blindly called “post-racial.” (On the dramatic expansion of racist activity to cyberspace, see Jessie’s pathbreaking Cyber Racism book.)

Sadly, we who are conscious and familiar of the many faces of racism and oppression cannot simply take the road of “deleting” as my best friend has traveled. We must confront these people and simply state, No. No, we will not be a part of this frame. No, I will not allow the marginalization of any people. Even if we upset those were speaking to, we must take a stand. To me, if I lose a so-called friend, it is simply one less person I would have to account for on my Christmas list. More money…more money. But I digress, in regards to my personal story, instead of wasting my breath of explaining racism, the white racial frame and its impact, marginalization, conflict theories, and matrix of domination to these leptons. I decided to send them a text of my own from my phone to the so called leader in the forwards. It read, “How do you get a racist to laugh on Sunday? Tell them the joke on Friday.”

Another Ad Attacking Latino Immigrants: Senator Vitter Appeals to White Racism

Political ads such as David Vitter’s new anti-immigrant ad are not only misleading, but they are immoral.

This ad, similar to Sharon Angle’s anti-immigrant ad against Harry Reid, is racist, reprehensible, and unfortunately effective. If this type of scapegoating were not effective, political strategists wouldn’t utilize them. It makes me wonder what needs to change to make this kind of hatred become ineffective, and then subsequently fade from the political process.

Political science professor John Geer argues in his book, In Defense of Negativity that negative campaigns, at least with regards to presidential elections, are positive for the political process and for democracy. Geer contends negative ads provide information about opponents’ weaknesses that help voters make choices, as well as motivate Americans to go to the polls. In short, according to Geer, negative ads contribute to a healthier democracy, even if not a more civil one.

However, the problem with Geer’s rosy view of negative ads is that he fails to consider the effect on the groups being targeted beyond the politician who is being trashed. Geer fails to acknowledge the consequences of how Americans can feel justified—dare I saw vindicated—in their xenophobia and/or racist views towards the latest target of scapegoating for all that is wrong with society when negative ads such as the current ones by Vitter or Angle reinforce irrational fears. One wonders if candidates elected with the assistance of messages of racial hated will be more inclined to support policies with similar animi.

As a Latina who has grown up being viewed as a foreigner at best and a criminal illegal at worst, this stigma can be quite harmful. Who cares if more people will vote in a particular election with more erroneous information? So, maybe negative ads do increase participation, offer misguided choices, and improve the overall health of democracy (if one defines any participation, even ignorant participation as a positive) as Geer maintains. The cost to our civic discourse, or to the quality of our democracy, which in this instance is the acceptance into the mainstream of public discourse of racism against Latinos is not worth it. These costs need to be considered in any analysis that justifies negative ads, particularly ads like the recent anti-Latino ads.

Is there a public policy solution that would reduce the effectiveness of these racist political ads, and then reduce their use? Nothing obvious or easy. Well, if the public becomes less racist towards Latinos (I’m not going to hold my breath) or if Latinos become an effective voting bloc and make it political suicide for any politician to consider approving (even tacitly approving) and airing such ads, then perhaps yes. As the largest ethnic and racial minority group in America, with projections to become at least a quarter of the population by 2050, until Latinos become an effective voting bloc (at least a bloc voting against this kind of treatment, even if not a bloc in the traditional partisan sense), this kind of ad will not change. Because if Latinos wait for the willingness of white voters to ignore racist appeals I think we will be waiting a very long time.