Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Race Is How Class Is Defined In America."


Alternet.com has two essays on the subject of how race is how class is defined in America, "Why Elites Want to Mask the Suffering of Poor Whites," and "Charlie Rangel Is Right: The Evidence is Overwhelming That the Tea Party is in Fact a Group of 'White Crackers.'"

From the first article by "Chauncy DeVega," "Why Elites Want to Mask the Suffering of Poor WhitesWhite elites and opinion leaders are wary of poor white people because they expose the defects of capitalism.":

"NBC's recent story on how 80 percent of Americans will be living at or near the poverty level in their lifetimes was accompanied by the above photo of a 'poor white family.'

"The heart of the the AP's report on the (further) economic imperilment of the American people is focused on the rise in 'white poverty', and the struggles faced by the 'white working class' in the time of the Great Recession.

"Images that feature human beings 'work' in communicating political and social meaning because of how the viewer 'reads' them. As such, there are stated and unstated assumptions which the person who is 'seeing' applies to the 'object' of their gaze.

"For example, the White Gaze views a photo of a young black man wearing a hoodie and whose pants are sagging and sees a person who exists in a state of criminality, and is a social predator.

"A photo of a white man wearing a suit and walking down Wall Street in New York will be seen by the White Gaze as representing a 'respectable' person and a 'hard worker' living the 'American Dream.'

"In reality, the former may be on the way to his 3rd job, has never been in prison or arrested, and takes care of his aged parents and siblings. The latter could be a child-molesting murderer and rapist, who is also embezzling millions of dollars from his clients.

"White and male--and Whiteness more generally--views itself as benign and harmless. Black and male--and Blackness more generally--is viewed by White American society as dangerous and pathological. The power of images is how they harness and channel assumptions about how various types of personhood find representation in, and are configured by, a broader system of dominance, subordination, privilege, inclusion, exclusion, and hierarchy.

"NBC.com's photo is an example of those processes at work. There we 'see' two overweight white women with a young child, and thus make social and political assumptions about gender and class. We see a small home and generalize from that visual about how 'poor people' live, and more importantly, 'what type of people' they are.

"Images also give the viewer permission to empathize or to condemn the subject. Are these 'good' people or 'bad people?' What is my sense of obligation to them? Does my sense of community extend to people like them?

***

"Stereotypes serve as cognitive short-cuts which the viewer, and we as a society, use to categorize and evaluate the relative worth of whole groups of people. The way that images of white, 'poor', female, 'overweight', 'unattractive', bodies are processed by the viewer is a reflection of how we as a society think about race, class, and gender. These concepts exist individually while also having meaning in relation to one another.


"Moreover, in America, because of the Calvinist-Horatio Alger-Myth of Individualism and Upward Mobility, claims on poverty necessarily involve moral judgments.

"The black single mother is a 'welfare queen' who is 'lazy' and has 'bad morals.' The poor white person is a 'redneck' or a 'hillbilly' with all of the stereotypes and assumptions implicit in such language.

"Consequently, poor white people are one of the few groups which can me made fun and mocked in American culture without consequence or public sanction.

"White elites and opinion leaders do not want to talk about poor white people because that would expose the defects of capitalism. These same elites also avoid discussing white poverty because it would undermine how they have historically been able to mine white supremacy to mask inter-class conflict and exploitation among whites in the United States.

"'Race is how class is lived in America.' Consequently, the leaders in the black and brown community care about poverty as a general issue because it disproportionately impacts people of color.

"White privilege extends to all white people in America. Black and brown folks have to deal with both the colorline and other types of inequality in American society. Moreover--and I do believe black and brown elites are more correct than not in this choice and instinct--there is a deep belief, one hard taught by American history, that poor and working class whites will consistently choose to serve the interests of rich white people because of the psychic wages that are paid to them by Whiteness. As such, why focus the limited political capital of the black and brown community in a time of crisis on solving a 'white' problem?

"Poor and working class whites may have much in common with poor and working class people of color. But, their greatest allegiance is doing the work of white racism against their own immediate class interests. From Bacon's Rebellion forward, with some notable deviations, this has been one of the key themes in American history.

"However, the new white poor are not the stereotypes drawn from the exploitative TV show Honey Boo Boo.

"They are the former middle class and non-college educated whites who worked in the skilled trades or as low-level municipal and public functionaries. Many of them are invisible as they couch surf with friends, or move back in with their aging parents or other relatives. The new white poor lost their homes and are living in motels (if they are lucky). Other members of the new white poor are sleeping in their cars, one of the last possessions that marked them as 'middle class' after their IRA's and 401k's are drained, the credit cards maxed out many months ago.


"The new white poor are the students in some of my classes who share with me how they are using their student loans to support their parents; thus they must pass their courses or the whole family will be homeless. The new white poor are those college students that universities are having to accommodate with showers, lockers, dorms, and other supports because many of them quite literally have no where to go when the school day is over, and when the academic year has ended.

"The white poor are not toothless rural folks sitting around smoking meth and making moonshine as they are depicted in the American popular imagination. They are your neighbors, in the suburbs, rural areas, and our cities, that are right next door, and trying to get by while maintaining their dignity.

"The type of white poverty stereotyped by the lede photo on NBC's news item is a caricature that is easy to mock and deride. Those poor white people are an alien Other. 'Respectable' white folks (and others) mock them, because poor whites represent a basement below which the white middle class imagines they cannot fall beneath.

"It is much harder to minimize and ignore the now poor white folks who are the former members of the middle and working class that shop at Trader Joe's or Target with their SNAP cards and pittance of remaining unemployment monies, praying that no one they know sees them, and then get back into their paid off SUV and drive to a parking lot to sleep for the night with their kids, and who then wake up early the next day to wash up in the McDonald's bathroom.

"The mainstream news media will likely not show you a picture of failed white suburban domesticity in the Age of Austerity and the Great Recession. The Fourth Estate are not truth tellers. They support the status quo and the powerful.

"As such, a meaningful discussion of white poverty in the Age of Austerity is not an approved topic for the public discourse even while 'we the people' are suffering everyday."


Which brings us to the second piece, again by "Chauncy DeVega," "Charlie Rangel Is Right: The Evidence is Overwhelming That the Tea Party is in Fact a Group of 'White Crackers'":

"In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Representative Charlie Rangel stated that the Tea Party is akin to the 'crackers' who fought against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Predictably, Rangel’s description of the Tea Party was greeted with claims of 'reverse racism' by conservatives, the Right-wing media, and their black conservative lapdog apologists.

"Precision is important when discussion the relationship between race and language.

"Cracker is a word used by African-Americans to describe white people who are racist and bigoted towards them.

"While the exact origins of the word cracker (or its other version 'cracka') have not been determined, it was most likely based on the sound that an overseer’s whip would make as it tore and scarred the flesh of black human chattel. Whatever its etymology, the word 'cracker' is in no way equivalent to the word “nigger”.

"To point: Black folks yelling cracker did not systematically deny whites their civil rights, burn them alive, enslave and rape them by the millions, mutilate their bodies, or leave them hanging from tree during spectacular lynchings. Likewise, African-Americans never enforced a several centuries long regime of racial terrorism against white people, dehumanizing them through the use of language intended to legitimate their oppression and exploitation.

"As comedian Louis CK so deftly observes, 'is there even a word in the English language that a black person can use to hurt a white man’s feelings?' No.

"The feigned offense and hysterical response by the Right-wing media to the use of the word 'cracker' by African-Americans, as seen several weeks ago during the Trayvon Martin murder trial, and now in the aftermath of Rangel’s interview with The Daily Beast is simply one more example of the White Right crying the victomology blues in order to gin up support for their sick fiction and delusion that white people are now oppressed by racial minorities in the United States during the Age of Obama.

"Rangel’s suggestion that the Tea Party is comprised of white crackers is actually a claim that can be empirically evaluated. If a cracker is a white person who holds anti-black animus and feelings—what can range from 'old fashioned' open and public bigotry, to 'backstage racism' and more subtle types of implicit bias—then what does the actual evidence tell us about the Tea Party GOP and its members’ racial attitudes?


"In the most obvious and public examples, Tea Party rallies have featured signs depicting Barack Obama as an African 'witchdoctor' or 'savage.' Tea Party supporters have also carried signs emblazoned with the Confederate flag, or used monkey and ape imagery to describe the country’s first black president at their rallies.

"Silence and complicity is endorsement: the attendees at these rallies were not rejected or condemned by their fellow Tea Party members; rather, their racist message was embraced and supported.

"When combined with the Tea Party’s support of Birtherism, a racially degenerative picture is painted which suggests that black people are closer to animals and apes than full human beings. Moreover, from this perspective Barack Obama is not a legitimate president because he is not white, and is thus some type of perennial Other, one who cannot be reconciled within the tradition of White 'Real America.'

"Leaders in the Tea Party have been caught sending racist emails and other communications to their colleagues and supporters that have contained vicious stereotypes of Barack Obama and his family as primates, the White House overrun with watermelons, and the President as a pimp.

"Given the record number of assassination threats against the United States’ first black president, and the rise in the number of White militia groups during his tenure, the repeated association of Barack Obama with ape imagery is highly dangerous: research in social psychology demonstrates how an association between black people and apes subconsciously primes white test-takers to support violence against African-Africans. In this way, racist humor works as an appeal to violence by the White Right, and conservatives more generally, against the United States’ first black president.

"Rangel’s claim that the Tea Party is the heir, both metaphorical and literal to those who opposed the Civil Rights Movement, is not empty rhetoric. In fact, there are direct connections between the language, organization, and political philosophy of those who opposed bringing down Jim and Jane Crow of years ago and today’s Tea Party GOP.


"Fred Koch, the patriarch of the Koch family, was a founder of the white racist organization known as the John Birch Society, which along with the White Citizens Councils (and other White reactionaries) actively opposed the civil rights of African-Americans.

"His sons, Charlie and David Koch, are carrying forward this work through their opposition to school desegregation efforts. In keeping with their elder's politics, the Koch brothers are behind the faux populist Astroturf Tea Party movement.

"The Tea Party, and the Republican Party in mass, have embraced the legacy of the Confederacy (and by implication, those who opposed the Civil Rights Movement) by using the rhetoric of 'nullification', 'States’ Rights', and 'secession', as well as advocating for a 'Second Civil War' to combat Barack Obama’s policies and (twice) election. It is no coincidence then that appeals to the racial tyranny of the Confederacy by the White Right have accompanied the election of the country’s first African-American president.

"The opponents of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement also used similar language in their campaign of 'massive resistance' against the Black Freedom Struggle.

"In addition, the Tea Party recycles and circulates a childish and facile understanding of the framers and the Constitution as a means of gathering and maintaining support. The Confederacy and opponents of the Civil Rights Movement also used the same imagery of Washington, Jefferson, and the Founding to legitimate the righteousness of their anti-democratic struggle against Black Americans' full rights and citizenship.

"Sophisticated public opinion research on the racial attitudes of Tea Party members, as well as those people who identify with that movement, has revealed that both groups are much more likely to harbor anti-black racial attitudes and prejudices. The consensus of these researchers is that the Tea Party is a movement and set of attitudes laced with what social scientists have termed “white racial resentment” and 'symbolic racism.'


"Recent research by New York University’s Eric Knowles adds an additional level of nuance and detail to our understanding of how white racism is a strong component in Tea Party GOP ideology. As Dr. Knowles explained to the online publication The Raw Story:

"Knowles and his colleagues examined 316 white participants’ racial attitudes, ingroup identity, and identification with tea party over a period of nine months. The researchers found identification with the tea party was associated with anti-black prejudice, libertarian ideology, social conservatism, and belief the nation was in decline.

“'It’s important to note that the results concerning racial prejudice are correlational: across all three time points, prejudice was associated with support for the tea party,' Knowles explained.

"Supporters of the Tea Party actually become more 'white identified' the longer they are affiliated with the organization. It is not only that racists are attracted to the Tea Party—which they are—but, that the Tea Party is a white identity organization which primes and gives conservatives a vocabulary to project their racism through the use of ostensibly 'neutral' and 'colorblind' rhetoric.

"Knowles develops this claim more as he observes:

"Our evidence tells us that, if anything, getting into the tea party leads to increases in white racial consciousness. As we describe it, the tea party may act as a political ‘racialization’ experience. Whites may get into the movement for race-neutral reasons (e.g., they’re libertarians or social conservatives), but doing so makes being white more important to them.


"Harvard University’s Theda Scokpol and Vanessa Williamson interviewed Tea Party members while researching their book The Tea Party and the Remaking of American Conservatism. Their findings suggest that Tea Party members believe that people of color have a 'plantation mentality', are lazy, and lack a proper work ethic. These are the core elements in what is called 'modern' or 'symbolic racism.'

"Conservatism and racism have converged in post-civil rights era America. The Republican Party is the United States’ de facto 'White' political party. Consequently, as one of its most extreme factions, it then follows that the Tea Party is the flag bearer for white racial resentment and modern racism in the Age of Obama.

"Not all conservatives are racist. But, most racists are conservative…and they have found their natural home in the Tea Party GOP.

"To borrow from Rachel Jeantel, a political organization that lures and attracts white racists cannot help but be full of 'creepy ass crackas.' Representative Charlie Rangel simply stated a plain on the face truth about the Tea Party that is supported by a critical mass of evidence—anecdotal, systematic, and empirical."
(Chauncey DeVega, a pseudonym, is editor and founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes. His essays on race, popular culture and politics have been published in various books and Web sites. He can be reached atchaunceydevega@gmail.com.)


Underlying Skokpol's and Williamson's thesis that the core elements of the, "...Tea Party members believ(ing) that people of color have a 'plantation mentality', are lazy, and lack a proper work ethic" is the fact known by African Americans for ages: the white lower classes can be used by race-baiting fascists like the Koch family because it gives the whites, the "creepy ass crackas," a feeling of superiority.

The strategy of the Koch brothers and all racists in history up to the current time is that the "Tea Party is the flag bearer for white racial resentment and modern racism in the Age of Obama."

And one of the most important sentences in the second essay by "DeVega" is: "Not all conservatives are racist. But, most racists are conservative…and they have found their natural home in the Tea Party GOP."

Racism is un-American, and for those Conservatives that are racist - well, it isn't hard to complete the syllogism.





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"It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations....
The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They
also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more."

Winston Churchill, Roving Commission: My Early Life, 1930.


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