Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How racism hurts white people too

I've been suggesting all along that what Romney said about the 47% on that video tape is not something new for Republicans. And now Ta-Nehisi Coates has nailed that assessment with an article titled We Are All Welfare Queens Now. He starts out with the infamous Lee Atwater quote about the Republican's Southern Strategy.
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me -- because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
He then goes on to explain that, while blacks are the target, whites get hurt in the process too.
More to the point, as tactics aimed at suppressing black citizenship become more abstract, they also have the side-effect of enveloping non-blacks. Atwater's point that the policies of the Southern Strategy hurt blacks more than whites is well taken. But some whites were hurt too. This is different than the explicit racism of slavery and segregation...

You can paint a similar history of the welfare state, which was first secured by assuring racist white Democrats that the pariah of black America would be cut out of it. When such machinations became untenable, the strategy became to claim the welfare state mainly benefited blacks. And as that has become untenable, the strategy has become to target the welfare state itself, with no obvious mention of color. At each interval the ostensible pariah grows, until one in two Americans are members of the pariah class.
When he refers to the fact that black America would be cut out of the safety net as it was first developed, he's talking about the fact that FDR had to appease Southern Democrats in order to get Social Security passed. He did that by inserting rules that had the effect of excluding most black people from eligibility. Those rules were later reformed.

Tim Wise made this point too...suggesting that the lack of support for a strong safety net in this country is rooted in racism.

What we see here is the natural progression from creating disdain for anyone who needs a helping hand because that hand happens to be black - to the utter contempt for all social programs that our children, veterans, and elderly depend on by throwing them all in the rubric of "the welfare state." As Coates title suggests - we're all welfare queens now.

Coates ends his article on an optimistic note about the likely result of this kind of integration.
In all this you can see the insidious and lovely foresight of integration which, at its root, posits an end to whiteness as any kind of organizing political force. I would not say we are there. But when the party of white populism finds itself writing off half the country, we are really close.
As the saying goes...from your lips to god's ears.


  1. Could that be what Atwater meant when he said he was getting rid of the race problem by getting abstract? He had to have known the southern strategy was unsustainable in the long term. We're at the point now that the consistent tax cut solution is being mocked by a black president. The southern strategy was brilliant. It forced the victims to learn how to fight back. The side effect is that you can't engage saying racism. Your opponent just says you're imagining things. You fight back by saying we're all in this together. The victim gets abstract by saying we'll change the way things are being done. And the victim uses campaign slogans like forward. A positive vision is the best way to deal with hate.


    1. "The southern strategy was brilliant. It forced the victims to learn how to fight back."

      This is one of the very best observations I've ever read on the subject. Yes, I agree completely with you.

    2. I wouldn't be surprised if Atwater knew that the Southern Strategy was unsustainable in the long term. I honestly don't believe Atwater was personally a racist. His biggest flaw was his willingness to use racism to help his party win elections.

      And although I'm sure the Southern Strategy has taught victims how to fight back, at the same time, Atwater's death at age 40 in 1991 speaks volumes to me on a more transcendental and even spiritual level that the Southern Strategy couldn't last.

      I'll put it to you this way, Ross Perot isn't the only thing blamed for Bush 41's defeat to Clinton in 1992. Atwater knew of Clinton and saw him as a threat. However, Atwater came down with cancer before he could do anything about him. Karl Rove learned everything he knows today from Atwater, but Atwater was much better at spinning.

  2. Another thing to note is you really can't talk about cutting right now. So you're really going to cut Head Start and Pell Grants? You can't hold on to the Southern Strategy without looking like an asshole. The GOP now has that idiot base tethered to it. Some diseases take longer to take the victim then others. When the repubs committed itself to catering to white supremacy it was writing up its own death warrant. It isn't wise to cater to racism when it's in decline.


  3. Another part of this discussion should be the fact that the GOP's policy solutions are completely contrary to every actually-existing model of long-term growth in modern economies since the 1930's. Aggregate demand is necessary for macroeconomic stability (which itself is predicated on growth). The "welfare state" or, as Habermas put it, the state "steering mechanism," is required. This is not a debate among people who actually deal with the real economy. "Supply-side" economics was never anything other than an advertising gimmick. The GOP can implement its policies, but unless we get people growing food in droves it would only result in macroeconomic decline, if not collapse.

  4. The dog whistles are not really about blacks any more. They are about anyone who doesn't fit an increasingly narrow definition of "out people". The Republicans have painted themselves into a corner by becoming increasingly more obscure in their statements about just who constitutes "those people". At one time, "those people" were blacks and made up only about 18% of the populous. In Romney's comments, "those people" are now up to 47%. Before long, "those people" will be the 99%.

    One could only hope that this strategy becomes an easily recognizable political loser before that happens.